Gray Gaulding is clear what Saturday’s Xfinity Series race at Dover International Speedway represents to him.
Of the four drivers who will compete for the last of four $100,000 Dash 4 Cash prizes, Gaulding has more to win and lose.
“We’ve got a 1-in-4 chance to win $100,000,” Gaulding told NBC Sports. “For the Tyler Reddicks and the Chris Bells and Chase Briscoes, yeah, I’m not throwing any shade at them. If they win it, that’s great.
“But realistically, if they don’t win it, it’s not going to hurt the performance of their car. With us, if we win it, we’re putting that right back into our race team.”
Gaulding, who drives SS Green Light Racing’s No. 08 Chevrolet, is one of the unlikeliest drivers to get the chance to compete for the $100,00 prize.
Among the drivers to take part in the four Dash 4 Cash races this year, he’s the only one who doesn’t compete for Team Penske, Joe Gibbs Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing, Richard Childress Racing or JR Motorsports.
The underdog shot at the prize is a result of Gaulding’s second-place finish last weekend at Talladega Superspeedway.
It was Gaulding’s first top five in 84 starts across NASCAR’s three national series. It was also the best finish for team owner Bobby Dotter in 172 Xfinity starts since 1995.
“We need that money to keep running the way we’ve been running to make it all work,” Gaulding said. “I feel like for us it’s more of a ‘must go win it’ than the other three guys.
“I think I kind of have an edge on them as far as doing whatever it takes to win the hundred grand. If I have to bump somebody out of the way to win the hundred grand for 20th place, I’m going to bump them out of the way. That’s just how hungry we are to make this happen. We have a lot on the line this weekend.”
While Gaulding’s late-race surge at Talladega to finish behind Reddick may have been surprising, Gaulding’s team has been consistent through 10 races. After a 34th-place finish at Daytona, Gaulding hasn’t finished worse than 21st and has three top 15s.
Before the season began, Gaulding made a promise to Dotter, who he has known since he first moved to North Carolina as a kid.
“I’m going to be your best salesman this year,” Gaulding said. “I’m going to show people with me driving and the crew members we have and how you own this race team, we can go out and not be a 25th-place team or a 30th-place team. We’re going do things with very little.
“Sure enough, that’s what we’ve done.”
They’ve done so with help from sponsors like Panini, a sports card collecting company. They sponsored Gaulding at Bristol after his father, Dwayne, made a cold call. After Gaulding finished 15th, he talked with Panini VP of Marketing Jason Howarth about keeping the party going.
“We said, ‘Hey, here’s the deal. If you can find a way to pull off a way to get me an engine for Talladega, we will go there and have a chance to win,'” Gaulding said. “If they didn’t do what they did for Talladega, we definitely wouldn’t have had the chance to win.”
Panini came to the 21-year-old’s rescue this week. When Gaulding’s original sponsor for Dover fell through, Panini returned as an associate sponsor. Gaulding’s primary sponsor will be World Wide Safety Consulting.
While Gaulding’s team will be able to afford a full set of tires, they won’t be able to lease an engine from ECR as it did for Talladega.
But Gaulding thinks the nature of Dover could be forgiving to the team despite its lack of a top-tier engine.
He also is hoping for an assist from Mother Nature.
“I feel Dover’s one of those tracks that if your car is handling well and your car is driving good on older tires you can make up for a little bit of a difference,” Gaulding said.
“If we were able to work some pit strategy and stay out and gamble on winning the race or just finishing in front of those other three guys to win the $100,000, that’s what we’re going to do. We’re gambling as much as we can on this race in trying to win that Dash 4 Cash.”