Kaz Grala is a little bit late to the very strange party that is the 2020 NASCAR season.
The 21-year-old driver is set to make his first Xfinity Series start of the season in Saturday’s race at Kansas Speedway (5 p.m. ET on NBCSN), the 17th race of the season. He’ll do it in Richard Childress Racing’s No. 21 Chevrolet, which Grala drove in five races last year. He last drove the car at Road America in August.
Grala hasn’t made a NASCAR start since.
“I’m definitely going to be knocking the rust off, not only because I haven’t raced in a year, but I’ve only done one mile-and-a-half (track) in the last two years,” Grala said, referring to the March 2019 Texas race.
On top of that, this will be only Grala’s second race at Kansas. His first came in 2017 in the Truck Series.
“So I look back on my track notes from Kansas, I’ve got a little bit of information to go off of from my first time there,” Grala said this week in a Zoom media conference. “But my note-taking process has gotten significantly better over the last three years. I didn’t have as much written down as I wished I had looking back on it.”
“I feel like I’ll be pretty prepared with my track knowledge and everything that I can be going into it,” Grala said. “I’ve run a lot of laps on the simulator, but when you roll off third in dirty air in Turn 1 trying to hold it wide open for the first time … it’s definitely gonna be different in real life then in theory with all the preparation.”
Grala will start third thanks to the random draw via owner points. It’s his first top-five start in 28 career Xfinity starts.
Grala’s first start, of course, takes place in a COVID-19 world where NASCAR doesn’t hold practice or qualifying and has strict screening protocols.
“It’s a big challenge and particularly being a driver running part-time,” Grala said. “That’s a huge challenge for me. But I kind of liked the idea of the format to be honest. If I was running full-time, I think I would enjoy it a lot. But it certainly does put me in a little bit of a disadvantage for this weekend. But luckily these are long races. They’re not sprint races. So I’ll have time to get comfortable out there and to get where I need to be by the end of the race, but I’m just looking forward to seeing what this is all like this weekend.
“Every other driver, for the most part, is now used to these COVID procedures and protocols and how the screening works and what the weekend schedule is like. This will be my first time ever because of these procedures I haven’t been able to attend any race since quarantine. Even though I am one of the other drivers of the car, I still can’t go to the race when somebody else is driving the car. So I have no idea what the weekend is going to look like. I’ve gotten some information here and there from my crew chief, from the other team members, but I can tell you it’s gonna be weird pulling into the track with so much different from what I’m used to.”