Before going to Daytona International Speedway last week, Kaz Grala and Fury Race Cars made Stewart-Haas Racing with Biagi-DenBeste a promise.
They promised to return a decade-old car with minimal racing history to the team unscratched.
They did this not knowing Friday’s Xfinity race at the restrictor-plate track would include multi-car incidents involving 17 and nine vehicles respectively.
Fury Race Cars, a team only five races old and racing week-to-week, had secured sponsorship for Daytona. But among the fleet of cars given to it by Grala’s former team JGL Racing, there wasn’t a superspeedway car.
“About two weeks ago we started making phone calls and putting feelers out saying, ‘Hey, this is the last race these steel-bodied cars could even be legal to run on a restrictor-plate track, does anyone have some extra ones, backup cars?” Grala told NBC Sports two days after he finished fifth at Daytona. “We weren’t thinking show cars at the time, but just any spare car they didn’t plan on running that weekend that would be obsolete after this weekend.”
Enter Stewart-Haas Racing with Biagi-DenBeste.
They had a car. One that traced its origins back to Evernham Motorsports, a team that ceased to exist after 2008. From there it was owned by Richard Petty Motorsports. Then it went to Biagi-DenBeste Racing and finally Stewart-Haas Racing, who entered a partnership with Biagi-DenBeste in the Xfinity Series this season.
The car had never run a lap for SHR and with steel bodied cars in Xfinity going extinct after Saturday’s race, the team was prepping to turn it into a show car.
“I was excited about it because it was a car,” Grala said. “It might have been a show car, but Biagi and obviously Stewart-Haas always have good plate track cars so I knew it had potential. … As long we stayed out of the carnage … It’s just a lot easier to think about it beforehand than to actually get it done.”
After starting 38th due to qualifying being cancelled, Grala finished 13th in Stage 1. He then dodged his first bullet on Lap 82 when he managed to navigate his No. 61 Ford through a 17-car wreck that took “5 years off my life.”
After a Lap 88 restart, the caution returned a lap later for a three-car incident. Grala was ninth. But the 19-year-old driver felt something wrong with his car, which was loose under caution. Determining his right-rear tire was done and so was his race, he slowed to pit road speed as the rest of the field returned to racing speed.
Grala returned to the track in 24th with the field bearing down on him.
“That pack was getting a lot larger in my mirror and I was just praying that something was going to happen and there’d be a caution,” Grala said. “Sure enough my spotter said, ‘Oh, they’re wrecking behind you.’ I look in my mirror and I see smoke and sparks and a caution’s out.”
A nine-car wreck with three laps left in regulation led to Grala restarting 15th in overtime. On the last lap, he moved from the bottom to the high lane, which “panned out really good” for Grala, as momentum allowed him to push Christopher Bell and Justin Haley to the front and him to a fifth-place finish in a spotless car.
It was his second top five of the season and the first for Fury Race Cars.
“Looking at it from our organization and what we were able to do with that old show car, fifth is good no matter what,” Grala said. “We didn’t have a single scratch on our car. We didn’t even have so much as a donut. (The flat tire) must have been a stroke of bad luck, but you say that, but it’s hard to say whether it was a blessing in a disguise or not. Because obviously there was that big wreck. Whose to say whether we would have been ahead of it, behind it, in the middle of it had we been where we should have been. It’s easy to look back on it and say ‘I think we would have been better off.’ Who knows?
“All I know is that the way it did work out, it worked out for us.”
Grala announced on Twitter Tuesday his team was unable to secure sponsorship for this weekend’s race at Kentucky Speedway, but that Fury has sponsorship for the July 21 race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Without attempting to qualifying for every race this season, Grala will be ineligible for the payoffs were he to be inside the cutoff line at the end of the regular season. He left Daytona 14th in the standings. Twelve drivers make the playoffs.