Kaz Grala: The No. 3 has ‘special place in my heart’

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When most people see the No. 3 at Daytona International Speedway, their mind goes to NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt.

Kaz Grala is no exception.

“It’s unbelievable to be racing in the Cup Series under any circumstances, but to do it in the No. 3 car was just incredible,” Grala said Sunday after driving the No. 3 to a seventh-place finish on the Daytona road course in his Cup debut.

But that number has a different meaning to Grala.

“I personally drove the No. 3 car in bandoleros, Legend cars, late models, I took it even all the way up to the (ARCA Menards East), because it was my dad’s (Darius Grala) number (in sports cars),” Grala said. “So the No. 3 has held a really special place in my heart for my whole career. Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought my Cup debut would come in it.”

Darius Grala
Darius Grala, father of Kaz Grala, is seen driving his No. 3 Cegwa Sport Toyota/Fabcar in the 2003 Rolex 24 at Daytona. (Phot by ISC IMAGES & Archives via Getty Images)

Grala, who competes part-time for RCR in the Xfinity Series, was called by Richard Childress Racing to drive the No. 3 Saturday morning after it was announced that Austin Dillon had tested positive for COVID-19.

AJ Allmendinger, Dillon’s usual backup driver, was unavailable after competing in Saturday’s Xfinity race. NASCAR had a rule banning drivers from competing in more than one race on the road course this weekend.

Due to the driver change, Grala had to start from the rear of the field Sunday.

During the pace laps, Grala experienced a surreal moment connected to another seven-time Cup champion.

“For me growing up my favorite driver and idol had always been Jimmie Johnson,” Grala said. “I really became a NASCAR fan in the midst of his five championships in a row. So I’ve always looked up to him. I thought coming into this year, I’d never get a chance to race against him before he retired. So already going into this race, I thought it was the coolest thing in the world just to know that he’d be on the track at the same time as me.”

As he navigated the 14-turn course prior to the green flag, Grala looked in his rearview mirror and saw Johnson’s No. 48 Chevrolet behind him.

“That was the coolest thing ever,” Grala said. “Of course it was bittersweet because I knew we had to drop to the back end. I didn’t think we’d be back up there at any point in the race. I thought it was a long shot. … Still didn’t beat Jimmie. I wish. That would have been really cool, but I could see him. That’s great enough.”

If all that wasn’t enough for a Cup Series debut, near the end of the race Grala was able to lead the field.

Thanks to strategy, Grala was the last driver to visit the pits during the last stage’s cycle of pit stops, resulting in him leading from Laps 50-52 before giving it up to eventual race winner Chase Elliott.

“That was pretty cool to get to lead some laps in my first Cup race,” Grala said. “I wouldn’t have thought that would be the case. But it definitely was a lot of fun. … (Crew chief) Justin Alexander called an excellent strategy. … To put ourselves in position for most of the day to try to be on as good or better tires than the guys around us, was a really good thing and helped me from getting shoved around too much.”

Grala is no stranger to special career moments taking place at Daytona International Speedway.

Three years ago, he won the Truck Series season opener at Daytona thanks in part to a large crash on the last lap. It remains his only victory in a national NASCAR series.

“Daytona is Daytona, so that that’s always going to be really special,” Grala said. “But I gotta say from an actual career perspective, I think this was a bigger day for me. Obviously, there were some circumstances that helped me win that Daytona Truck race, but today we really were able to drive up there into the top 10 and finish seventh, which I never would have imagined. It’s crazy to even be saying. But to me, I think that proved more a point than anything has previously my career. And like I said, I enjoyed the race so much and I hope to someday get to shot again in this series.”

Xfinity race results, point standings after Bristol

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Chase Briscoe led the final six laps and won Friday night’s Xfinity Series race at Bristol for his seventh win of the season.

Briscoe beat Ross Chastain for the win. The top five was completed by Austin Cindric, Harrison Burton and Justin Allgaier.

Click here for the race results.

Playoff standings

The 12-driver field for the playoffs has been set with Briscoe’s win in the regular-season finale.

Brandon Brown placed 12th and clinched the 12th and final spot.

Here are the re-seeded point standings entering the playoffs.

Chase Briscoe – 2,050 points

Austin Cindric – 2,050

Justin Allgaier – 2,033

Noah Gragson – 2,025

Brandon Jones – 2,020

Justin Haley – 2,018

Harrison Burton – 2,014

Ross Chastain – 2,010

Ryan Sieg – 2,002

Michael Annett – 2,002

Riley Herbst – 2,001

Brandon Brown – 2,000

Click here for the re-seeded standings.

Click here for the normal point standings.

Chase Briscoe wins Xfinity race at Bristol Motor Speedway

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Chase Briscoe took the lead with six laps to go and won Friday night’s Xfinity Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway, which marked the end of the regular season.

Briscoe passed Austin Cindric to assume the lead and went unchallenged to the checkered flag. The victory is his series-leading seventh of the season.

“I was so mad after last week (at Richmond),” Briscoe told NBCSN. “I told all the guys there ain’t no way we’re getting beat today. I was so mad after how we ran last week and I get on the internet all the time and see guys count us out after one bad race and I know what this team is capable. … I finished second here the last two races and I wanted to win here so bad and it’s awesome that I can actually celebrate it with all these race fans.”

The top five was completed by Ross Chastain, Cindric, Harrison Burton and Justin Allgaier.

More: Race results, playoff standings

Allgaier dominated the early portion of the race, leading 126 laps and winning the first two stages. But he lost the lead for good in the pits during the Stage 2 break.

Brandon Brown finished 12th and clinched the 12th and final playoff spot.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Justin Allgaier

STAGE 2 WINNER: Justin Allgaier

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Ross Chastain led three times for 117 laps, but had to settle for his fifth runner-up finish of the season without a win … Austin Cindric earned his 13th top-10 finish in the last 14 races … Harrison Burton earned his 13th top five of the season.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Brett Moffitt finished 27th after he had to pit three times in the opening laps and was penalized for taking fuel before the competition caution … BJ McLeod finished 34th after he was eliminated in a multi-car wreck that began when he made contact with teammate Jeffrey EarnhardtMichael Annett finished 31st and Joe Graf Jr. placed 27th after they were involved in an incident on Lap 120.

QUOTE OF THE RACE: “I hit pit road and I wanted to cry.” – Ross Chastain after he finished second for the fifth time this year. He is winless entering the playoffs.

WHAT’S NEXT: The Xfinity playoffs open at Las Vegas Motor Speedway at 7:30 p.m. ET on Sept. 26 on NBCSN.

 

Fans not allowed at Las Vegas races

Fans not allowed
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Spectators will be not be allowed for any of the NASCAR playoff races next weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the track announced Friday night.

A press release said only essential personnel will be allowed to attend the Cup, Xfinity and Truck playoff races there.

“To say we’re disappointed that we will conduct the South Point 400 playoff weekend without fans would be a gross understatement,” said Las Vegas Motor Speedway President Chris Powell. “Our staff has been working – many of them remotely – since the February Pennzoil 400 to prepare the speedway for our playoff tripleheader.

“But we must adhere to Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak’s directive that limits gatherings due to COVID-19.  While we disagree with this policy, we have no choice but to oblige.  We certainly regret this situation for the thousands of race fans who won’t be able to attend our NASCAR-weekend events.”

Nevada’s re-opening plan does not permit fans at sporting events, concerts. Groups are limited to 50 or fewer people.

The Las Vegas Raiders announced last month that they would not have fans at any of the team’s home games in its inaugural season there.

The Truck playoff race will be at 9 p.m. ET Sept. 25 on FS1. The Xfinity playoff opener will be at  7:30 p.m. ET Sept. 26 on NBCSN. The Cup playoff race will be 7 p.m. ET Sept. 27 on NBCSN.

Fans holding tickets for those events will be contacted by the speedway ticket services department to discuss credits for future races or refunds.

Pit crew change for Alex Bowman, Jimmie Johnson teams

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Hendrick Motorsports teammates Alex Bowman and Jimmie Johnson each will have a pit crew change for Saturday night’s playoff race at Bristol.

The change is the result of an injury to one pit crew member.

Dustin Lineback, jackman for Bowman’s team is out with an injury, the team stated. Kyle Tudor, who has been Johnson’s jackman, moves over to that role for Bowman’s team. Eric Ludwig, a backup for Hendrick Motorsports, moves up to be the jackman for Johnson.

MORE: Saturday Cup race at Bristol: Start time, forecast, lineup

Bowman enters the elimination race 27 points ahead of teammate William Byron, the first driver outside a transfer spot to the second round. Bowman opened the playoffs by finishing sixth in the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. He followed that by placing ninth at Richmond. Bowman was collected in a crash and finished 37th in the May Bristol race.

Johnson, who is in his final full-time Cup season, seeks his first victory of the season. He finished third at Bristol in May.