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Kaz Grala ‘starting from scratch’ in Xfinity season debut

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Kaz Grala‘s offseason is finally over.

Six weeks after the rest of the NASCAR world got the 2019 season underway, Grala will join them this weekend in his first Xfinity Series start of year.

Thanks to sponsorship from Hot Scream – a brand of spicy ice cream – the 20-year-old will make the first of selected starts this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway driving Richard Childress Racing’s No. 21 Chevrolet.

It’s a far cry from where Grala found himself in November. When the Xfinity season ended in Miami, Grala made the last of 12 starts for Fury Race Cars, a team owned by his family that didn’t exist before May. After he lost his ride at JGL Racing due to a lack of sponsorship, Fury Race Cars came together in the three weeks between races.

In Fury Race Cars’ 12 races, Grala earned three top 10s, including a top five at Daytona in a 10-year-old car.

Now he’s “starting from scratch” in the best ride of his career.

“I feel as prepared as I possibly can be,” Grala told NBC Sports. “It’s hard driving part-time as I know from last year and competing against teams and drivers that are out here every single week and have been now for the past five races. They’re already warmed up there in the swing of things, they’ve got chemistry together. … That’s going to be a challenge.”

While he’s five races and 1,371 miles behind everyone else, Grala hasn’t been sitting on the couch waiting for today to arrive.

Though there has been sitting involved.

For the first time in his career Grala has access to a manufacturer simulator, plus RCR’s own simulator.

“Everyone had me a little bit concerned because they say you can get motion sickness from it. Luckily, no problems there for me,” Grala said. “We got to spend five hours in there. It felt to me like a five-hour test. Now the question’s going to be taking those things that we learned on the simulator and applying them in real life.”

Grala’s start will be the first for the No. 21 car this season, but it won’t be the first for the crew manning it. Headed by crew chief Justin Alexander, it’s the same crew that was behind Tyler Reddick‘s Daytona 500 entry in the No. 31 Cup car.

Grala shadowed the team during the Daytona weekend and other races in preparation for Texas.

“My engineer is extremely knowledgable and Justin of course, his experience speaks for himself,” Grala said of Alexander, who has 125 starts in Cup as a crew chief including wins in the Daytona 500 and the Coca-Cola 600. “His kind of range of knowledge about these cars and the way they work is even broader than just the Xfinity Series. He’s a really, really smart guy. I’m excited to see him work with me in real life at the race track rather than just in front of a screen.”

What does it all add up to?

While the final number of races he’ll run for RCR is “up in the air,” Grala hopes the decision to go with a limited schedule, combined with his experience in 2018, pays off in a similar way it has recently for Ryan Preece and Ross Chastain after their own limited starts in top equipment.

“I’m going to be having to figure out how to work with this team, but at least I kind of have a baseline for how to race these cars,” Grala said. “I think that’s been huge for me, but also just the difficulty of racing and competing for the finishes that we were last year with Fury. I’m back there racing with guys like Chastain, Ryan Sieg. These guys are some of the most underrated but best drivers in the series. …

“I feel like that helps make you a stronger driver. I think that we’ve seen that in the past with Ryan Preece and Ross himself. That really helps you gain a lot of race craft as a driver.”

When he hits the track today, he’ll have one token on his car representing his challenging rookie season. A Fury Race Cars logo will be located on his rear quarter panel to help promote their late model and modified manufacturing.

“This is kind of what they were hoping for, to be able to help me out in a pinch last year and have it work out to where I could end up with a bigger and better opportunity in the future,” Grala said. “This was an absolute perfect scenario for all involved.”

With 10-year-old car set to be retired, Kaz Grala earns first top five for Fury Race Cars

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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.

Kaz Grala, Fury Race Cars secure sponsorship for Xfinity race at Daytona

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Kaz Grala announced on Twitter he and Fury Race Cars have obtained sponsorship for Saturday’s Xfinity race at Daytona International Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN), giving him and the team a sixth race together.

Grala’s No. 61 Ford will again be sponsored by Kiklos Greek Extra Virgin Olive Oil in addition to Marlow’s Tavern.

Kiklos was on Grala’s car Saturday at Chicagoland Speedway when an electrical issue ended his day after just one lap, giving him a last-place finish and his third DNF of the year.

Marlow’s Tavern sponsored Grala in the Feb. 24 race at Atlanta.

Fury had to scramble to find sponsorship after its deal with NETTTS ended following the June 17 race at Iowa Speedway. NETTTS sponsored the No. 61 in the team’s first four races after Grala’s departure from JGL Racing following the May 5 race at Dover.

Kiklos has been a frequent sponsor of Grala’s since he competed in the K&N Pro Series East and the Camping World Truck Series. It sponsored Grala when he won the Trucks 2017 season opener at Daytona. At 18, the victory made him the youngest Daytona winner in NASCAR national series history.

This weekend’s Coca-Cola Firecracker 250 will be the first restrictor-plate race for Fury Race Cars, which is co-owned by Grala’s father, Darius Grala.

With chassis and team members from JGL Racing and support from Roush Fenway Racing and Roush Yates Engines, Grala has two top 10s in his five starts for Fury. His last-place finish Saturday was his first finish worse than 16th with Fury.

In the season opener at Daytona, Grala finished fourth for JGL Racing giving him top fives in both of his NASCAR starts at Daytona.

Grala enters this weekend 17th in points.

 

Kaz Grala gets to race at Chicagoland after team secures sponsorship

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The racing dreams of Kaz Grala and Fury Race Cars’ fledgling Xfinity Series operation will continue for at least one more race this weekend at Chicagoland Speedway, NBC Sports has learned.

The young team was scrambling to find sponsorship after its sponsorship deal with NETTTS ran out following the June 17 race at Iowa Speedway.

Team co-owner Darius Grala confirmed the No. 61 Ford has secured sponsorship for Saturday’s race with ITCoalition.com, a company that delivers “information technology and business services and solutions to civilian, intelligence, and defense customers.”

The car also will be sponsored by Kiklos Greek Extra Virgin Olive Oil, which has been a sponsor of Kaz Grala since his time in the K&N Pro Series East and the Camping World Truck Series. It sponsored Grala when he won the 2017 season opener at Daytona International Speedway.

“It gives us some life,” Darius Grala said, adding the “point of no return” for the team had been Friday, but they confirmed the deal over the weekend.

Fury Race Cars’ Xfinity team came into being very quickly following Kaz Grala’s departure from JGL Racing after 10 races.

Fury was only guaranteed sponsorship for four races with NETTTS, which sponsored Grala on the No. 24 at JGL.

In their first four races, Grala never finished lower than 16th. The team placed 10th at Charlotte and last weekend at Iowa.

Three weeks ago at Michigan, Kaz Grala led five laps, mainly under caution, after he passed Elliott Sadler for the lead on Lap 67. He also earned points in both stages for the first time this season.

He enters Chicagoland 16th in points.

Founded in 2016, Fury mainly builds cars for competition in ARCA, CARS Tour, Pro All-Star Series, SRL Southwest Tour and the Southern Super Series.

Five of Grala’s team members with JGL, including crew chief Shane Wilson, came to Fury to work on the No. 61. The team has also received three Roush Fenway Racing-built cars from JGL Racing in addition to continued chassis support from Roush and engine support from Roush Yates Engines.

“Roush has been a pleasure to work with and critical to our early success,” Darius Grala said. “Their chassis and engines are fantastic.”

NASCAR America: Kaz Grala has one more chance to impress at Iowa Speedway

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An accident on lap 76 of 200 at Dover International Speedway ended a 10-race stint with JGL Racing. And that might have been an inauspicious end to Kaz Grala’s Xfinity series campaign in 2018; he finished 37th in that race.

When the opportunity arose to run a four-race schedule with Fury Race Cars, Grala had nothing to lose – so he jumped at the opportunity. Three of those four events are in the books, leaving Iowa Speedway as the last scheduled event.

“Each week, we’ve been getting better as a team. We’ve been getting more organized, picking up speed, faster race cars, and that’s what we need to do,” Grala told NASCAR America on Thursday.

Grala earned a top 10 in his first attempt with the new team at Charlotte Motor Speedway and has not finished worse than 16th in three races.

“About five weeks ago, all the shop did was manufacture late models, modifieds, and road course cars … so they were not technically a race team; they were a car manufacturer.”

Given the circumstances of their formation, no one would have been surprised if the new race team was not successful, but the leadership of Tony Eury Jr. and Grala’s crew chief from earlier in the season Shane Wilson brought a level of experience that immediately elevated their performance.

“As drivers, we usually race with the thought in the back of our head that we can’t screw this up. We’ve got to do everything right. But it’s a different mentality you can approach it with when you have this situation. You can say, ‘well, we don’t have any expectations on us. We don’t know how we’re going to run so we can just go into this saying whatever we accomplish is going to be icing on the cake.'”

With additional sponsorship, Grala hopes to be able to continue to help Fury Race Cars improve.

For more, watch the video above.