Kaz Grala

Power Rankings: Kevin Harvick reclaims No. 1 spot

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A week after being bumped off the No. 1 spot, Kevin Harvick reclaims the top position in this week’s NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings.

The top three is similar to last week. They are just in a different order.

Here is this week’s Power Rankings

1. Kevin Harvick (Last week No. 3): He just keeps going and going with top-five finishes. Harvick’s win Sunday at Dover marks his 11th top-five finish in the past 12 races. He has five wins during that stretch. Those runs have allowed Harvick to collect 57 playoff points, including 15 for winning the regular-season crown. You can pretty much put him down for the championship race in Phoenix.

2. Denny Hamlin (Last week No. 1): After a week atop the standings, he falls back a position even with a win last weekend. Hamlin won Saturday’s race at Dover. A loose wheel forced him to pit under green and led to a 19th-place finish Sunday. That ended a streak of six consecutive top-10 finishes. Five of those results were either a win or second-place finishes. He can start a new streak this weekend at Daytona. He’s won three Daytona 500s, including the past two.  

3. Martin Truex Jr. (Last week No. 2): After scoring five consecutive third-place finishes, a 1 million to one shot of happening, Truex left Dover with a pair of runner-up finishes. To any of his competitors overlooking him, Truex says: “We obviously haven’t won as many races as I think we should have, but we’re ready. Hopefully the momentum will swing our direction and they’ll forget about us and we’ll go beat them all.”

4. Joey Logano (Last week No. 5): He’s scored six consecutive top-10 finishes after placing eighth at Dover on Saturday and sixth on Sunday.

5. Jimmie Johnson (Last week tied No. 7): Gusty two-tire pit call by crew chief Cliff Daniels and determined drive by Johnson in the final laps led to a third-place finish Sunday. It wasn’t enough to keep him in a playoff spot, but he’s only four points behind Hendrick Motorsports teammate William Byron for the final playoff spot

6. Brad Keselowski (Last week tied No. 7): His 18 top-10 finishes this season are second only to Kevin Harvick’s 21. Keselowski has nine top 10s in the last 12 races. 

7. (tie) Chase Elliott (Last week No. 4): Finished fifth on Saturday but then ran into the back of Kyle Busch‘s car as the field slowed for a crash. That ended Elliott’s race in 39th. The finish ended his streak of five consecutive top 10s. 

7. (tie) Austin Cindric (Last week No. 5): This is how well things have gone for him lately. Going two Xfinity races without a win was a down weekend for Cindric even though he was second in Saturday’s race and third Sunday. He has five wins, two runner-ups and one third-place finish in the last eight races.

9. William Byron (Last week No. 10): Overcame a rotten race Saturday, placing 28th, to finish fourth on Sunday for his best result of the season. With the pressure on to make the playoffs, Byron was steady Sunday.

10. Chase Briscoe (Last week unranked): Snapped seven-race winless streak Sunday. That might not sound like a big deal but he won five of the first 13 Xfinity races this season.

Dropped out: Aric Almirola (Last week tied for 10th), Kaz Grala (Last week tied for 7th)

Winners and losers after Daytona road race

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WINNERS

Chase Elliott Unstoppable on the road courses. He scored his third consecutive road course victory with Sunday’s triumph at Daytona. “Any win at Daytona is special,” he said.

Denny Hamlin With his runner-up finish Sunday, he has placed first or second in 10 of 23 races this season. That’s 43.5% of the time.

Martin Truex Jr.Just as amazing as Hamlin’s top-two stat is that Sunday marked the fifth consecutive race Truex has placed third. What are the odds? “I’m pleased with how we’re running,” he said. “I think that’s the most important part. There’s a little bit here and there that we obviously could do better.”

Jimmie Johnson His fourth-place finish was his first top-five result since placing fifth at Bristol in late May. It’s also his third top-five finish this season.

Chris BuescherHe had never finished in the top 10 in 11 previous Cup road course races. He placed fifth Sunday.

Kaz Grala Fill-in for Austin Dillon, who was out after testing positive for COVID-19. Making his Cup debut, Grala finished seventh. How did Sunday’s finish compare to his Truck win at Daytona in 2017? I gotta say from an actual career perspective, I think this was a bigger day for me,” he said.

Austin Cindric Won Saturday’s Xfinity race for his fifth victory in the last six races.

LOSERS

Jimmie Johnson — Despite his best finish since late May, he gained only one point on teammate William Byron for the final playoff spot and is 25 points back.

Ryan Blaney He finished 31st for back-to-back finishes of 30th or worse.

Kyle Busch He is becoming more than an occasional visitor to this spot as his winless Cup season continues. His 37th-place finish marked the sixth time he’s placed 29th or worse this season. That’s 26.1% of the season.

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.”

What drivers said after Daytona road course race

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Here is what drivers had to say after Sunday’s inaugural Daytona road course race for the Cup Series:

Chase Elliott — Winner: “Our guys did a phenomenal job. We just had a phenomenal car. I don’t think I did anything very special today. I think Alan (Gustafson, crew chief) and all our guys did a really good job pitting there at the start. We made a couple really small adjustments, I felt like, there, at that first stop and I was really kind of able to leave it after that. So, I just appreciate everybody that makes this happen. … Just thanks to all our partners and Chevrolet. I spent a lot of time with them this past week. A special thanks to Jordan Taylor and Boris Said for reaching out and being willing to help this weekend; some road course ringers. I tried to lean on them and luckily everything worked out.”

Denny Hamlin — Finished 2nd: “I just would have liked to have stayed closer to him (Chase Elliott) to put a little pressure on entries. My entries were the strong point against him, but I was giving him four car lengths so he could kind of drive the entries the way he wanted to make sure he got a good exit. I wasn’t quite clean enough the last few laps, but I definitely gave myself a chance. Those last couple corners, I felt like I did as much as I could to get to him and tried to do it the right way.”

Martin Truex Jr. — Finished 3rd: “Thought we had a chance to win, no doubt about it. Just got caught speeding on pit road. Had to go to the rear and then got damage so we had to go to the rear again. We passed a lot of cars that last run. I know we had the speed at the end there, we were faster than anyone. Just ran out of time, but that’s how it goes. Proud of everybody on the team and still feeling really good about these road courses.”

Jimmie Johnson — Finished 4th: “Good job to everyone on my No. 48 Ally Chevy team. I just lacked that rear grip at the end there. That was a really fun and a solid day, that’s what we needed and now we go to my favorite track – Dover. So proud of Chase, what a road racer he is.”

Chris Buescher — Finished 5th: “That was just a fun day for our Fastenal Ford Mustang team. We needed that after a couple of hard weeks. Some decent runs and some bad luck and that was fun. I was able to mix it up and steadily work our way forward. We kept learning as we went and there at the end we got beat up. All four corners of this Mustang are beat up but we got the finish out of it. That was a good one. A good day.”

Clint Bowyer — Finished 6th: “We did what we needed to do today. We had a great Mobil 1 Ford. I thought it was going to be even better there at the end, but we must have gotten hot. (William Byron) got me on the restart and then another car got by me. If I didn’t have anything to lose there I might have been able to get a few more back. But that was a good points day. I hope we are on a roll and we continue this at Dover.”

Kaz Grala — Finished 7th: “I never thought my NASCAR Cup Series debut would come in this nature. I first want to say that I’m thankful that Austin’s symptoms are mild and that his wife Whitney and baby Ace are healthy. I hope to see him back in the car next week at Dover International Speedway. It certainly was an honor to get the call from Richard Childress and drive his iconic No. 3 American Ethanol Chevrolet. I honestly had a blast. These Cup cars have so much power, which I really enjoyed. Today exceeded my expectations. My goal was to come in today, run all the laps, not tear anything up, and get a top-30 finish so this is certainly far above my wildest dreams. Justin Alexander called an excellent strategic race, which really helped us get up there and compete inside the top 20 most of the day. We were able to lead laps in my NASCAR Cup Series debut, and it was fun to mix it up with some of my childhood heroes. Before the last caution, I made a bold, three-wide move on a restart, which got us a ton of positions. I don’t really know what I was thinking, but it worked and put us around 12th. We were in pretty good shape with some fresher tires than the guys ahead of us and opted to stay out under the last caution. We were able to pick off a few more of those guys to finish comfortably inside the top 10.”

WILLIAM BYRON — Finished 8th: “It was a good result for us today. We chose to go for the stage points and had to pass our way through the field a few times because of that strategy. I think we did a nice job of that and getting a lot of those available points. Once we got towards the front top five we kind of stalled out though. Overall, I’m pretty happy with today and getting a good result. We just need to have a couple good weeks with solid races when we go on to Dover for two races and back to Daytona. I’m looking forward to Dover next week for sure though.”

Joey Logano — Finished 9th: “We are starting to get some consistency which is good. We tried some interesting strategy stuff today. It didn’t work but we were able to recover for a top 10. Overall, we know what we need to work on for the Roval with our Mustang and we will go to work. (Chase Elliott) obviously has been really good at these road courses, especially with this tire. We have to find some rear drive. That is where he was beating everybody. We will go to work and try to find it.”

Michael McDowell — Finished 10th: “It was a decent day. We had high hopes which is good. You should come to places like this where we have a lot of experience and track knowledge. Unfortunately we started really deep in the field and we were able to drive up to the top 10 there before the end of the first stage and then we talked about it and it was all about trying to win a race for us. We didn’t try to get stage points. We came in with a few laps to go and we were able to get into the top five and get to third. I saw those rain clouds coming and I thought that was exactly what I needed. I was hoping that it would rain because I have experience on this course in the rain and the others guys don’t really. We lost a little bit there at the end and got passed by guys that had fresher tires. We still managed to get in the top six or seven and then that caution came out with five to go. We knew we weren’t going to beat Chase and those guys up front on the same tires so we just took tires.”

Alex Bowman — Finished 12th: “That wasn’t a whole lot of fun. Started the race and tried to work our way through there and go through a cycle of green-flag pit stops and then had a flat left rear. We didn’t hit anything, so that was a big bummer. We had to pit again and then went a lap down, so we had to come back from that. We passed a lot of cars and got the lucky dog and then had to start in the back again for the third time. We drove up to 11th there before the last caution. We just had the wrong restart lane and couldn’t really go. We were down on forward drive, but pretty good by ourselves. Proud of this Axalta team for how they recovered, but a bummer to lose those four spots on that last lap.”

Brad Keselowski — Finished 13th: “We were able to rally at the end and pick up a few spots. Our Wabash Ford took off pretty good but the longer runs were a struggle.”

Kurt Busch — Finished 14th: “I really enjoyed the day today, the track was a fun challenge for us. (Crew chief) Matt McCall did a nice job making adjustments on the Monster Energy Camaro, but we burned up the tires on the last longer run and just had to play a little defense in the end. It was a really fun track and I had some fun out there today, I just didn’t have enough in the end.”

Tyler Reddick — Finished 18th: “Man, the Daytona International Speedway road course is tough, but our No. 8 Cat App Chevrolet team kept after it, and we were able to continue to get better throughout the day. I spent a lot of time on the Chevrolet simulator before this weekend to help prepare, but there was still a big learning curve during the first stage of this race. I struggled with some wheel hop in Stage 1, but we were able to make some adjustments before Stage 2 started to help fight that. I got more comfortable with the course as the race went on and had better drive off to fight for positions. The red flag actually helped me a little bit since I was able to cool off a little bit and review some SMT data with my crew chief, Randall Burnett. We made a fuel only stop just before Lap 50, which helped me get some good track position. Unfortunately, that final yellow came out with six laps to go, and we had to pit for four fresh tires. I got boxed in on that final stop, so that hurt our restart spot, but I was able to get our No. 8 Cat App Chevrolet back into the top 20 before the checkered flag came out. Not the day we wanted, but we maximized what we could and have three more shots to get into the playoffs, so our fight isn’t over yet.”

Ty Dillon — Finished 20th: “Strong battle for us today. Our GEICO For Your Boat Chevrolet was really strong at the beginning of the race. We battled our way up to 16th and then fell back to 30th right before that final stage. We fought real hard and ended up with another top-20 finish. It was a hot day inside the race car and a hot one outside. I’m proud of our effort and we kept it on track for the first time at the Daytona road course.”

Aric Almirola — Finished 24th: “We started to gain momentum there at the end and thought we could have put the Go Bowling Ford Mustang inside the top 10. Unfortunately, that caution came out and we pitted. I was caught behind some cars on the restart with nowhere to go. That’s road course racing. Not the day we wanted, but we kept the car on the track and in one piece. We’ll regroup and go to Dover where we know we can bring speed.”

Bubba Wallace — Finished 25th: “That was not the finish that our Richard Petty Motorsports team wanted. Going into it, I thought I would finish, but to say that the No. 43 DoorDash Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE and Bubba Wallace would be top-10 finish at a road course on the last lap – man, I never would have thought it. Hats off to my guys – they never gave up on me and brought all the confidence.”

Daniel Suarez — Finished 27th: “There was some good mixed with some things our CommScope Toyota struggled with on the road course today. We did the best we could. I thought the balance of the car was pretty good. We just couldn’t find the forward bite we needed to be a little more competitive. Our brakes got pretty hot  in the middle part of the race and that hurt us, too. Overall, I think it was a good learning experience for when we go to the ‘roval’ at Charlotte in a couple of months.”

Ryan Blaney — Finished 31st: “It was a long day for the Advance Auto Parts team. With the new qualifying draw, we started deep in the field, but really had to work our way forward. I sped on pit road that really cost us and I was not able to hold on the old tires late. We’ll put it behind us and get ready for Dover.”

John Hunter Nemechek — Finished 35th: “It was a really hot, really tough day for our No. 38 Death Wish Coffee Ford Mustang. There was an issue with the cool box and I ended up having to shut it off towards the beginning of the race, which meant it was extra hot inside the car. We made some adjustments throughout the day to give me more front turn and drive off, but unfortunately our day ended just shy of the checkered flag. Really proud of my crew for sticking with it all day long.”

Brendan Gaughan — Finished 39th: “That isn’t quite what we wanted here today. I spent the first half of the race just trying to feel out the race car, and get to the points that I like on the course. After the red flag, we finally got our car where we wanted and started to move up. We were getting close to that top 15 and I made a mistake. I don’t normally miss shifts but I missed two shifts to fourth (gear) and over revved the motor. When I did I lost fourth gear. We were here in Daytona to run well on this road course – not have to change the transmission just to go back out there and run around 20 laps down. We will be back here in two weeks and see if we can get a good one for the old No. 62 Beard Oil Chevy.”

Chase Elliott masters Daytona road course

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Something new for NASCAR ended in a familiar sight.

The inaugural Cup race on the Daytona International Speedway road course finished with Chase Elliott taking the checkered flag — the third consecutive road course Cup race Elliott has won, dating back to last season. The victory also is Elliott’s fourth road course victory in the last six such races.

Elliott was dominant on the 3.61-mile course. With no practice and qualifying before the race, there were many questions by drivers, but Elliott showed the way, leading 34 of 65 laps. 

“Any win at Daytona is special,” Elliott said.

MORE: Race results, driver points report 

Elliott had to hold off the field on a restart created by Kyle Busch’s incident with five laps to go. Elliott kept the lead on the restart with three laps to go and held off Denny Hamlin to score his second win of the year.

“Our guys did a phenomenal job,” said Elliott, who won last year’s Roval race at Charlotte and last year’s race at Watkins Glen. “We just had a phenomenal car. I don’t think I did anything very special today. I think Alan (Gustafson, crew chief) and all our guys did a really good job pitting there at the start. We made a couple really small adjustments, I felt like, there, at that first stop and I was really kind of able to leave it after that.”

Elliott also credited road racers Jordan Taylor and Boris Said with providing tips on the Daytona road course.

Hamlin finished second and was followed by Martin Truex Jr., Jimmie Johnson and Chris Buescher.

Despite finishing fourth, Johnson gained only one point on William Byron in the race for the final playoff spot. Johnson trails Byron by 25 points with three races left in the regular season. Byron finished eighth and outscored Johnson 11-8 in stage points.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Chase Elliott

STAGE 2 WINNER: Denny Hamlin

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Jimmie Johnson’s fourth-place finish was his first top 10 in his last 11 starts. … Chris Buescher’s fifth-place finish was his best result since placing third in the Daytona 500. … Kaz Grala finished seventh in his first Cup start. Grala filled in for Austin Dillon, who tested positive for COVID-19 this week. … Michael McDowell finished 10th for his first career top-10 road course finish in Cup. … Martin Truex Jr.’s third-place finish was his fifth consecutive third-place finish and the sixth time in the last seven races he has placed third or better.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Kyle Busch remains winless this year in Cup after a 37th-place finish that saw many problems throughout the day from flat-spotting tires early, spinning and a mechanical issue before his race ended. … Ryan Blaney finished 31st, marking the second race in a row he has placed 30th or worse.

NOTABLE: Chase Elliott is the first Cup driver to win three consecutive road course races since Tony Stewart did so in 2004-05.

NEXT: Saturday, Aug. 22 at Dover (4 p.m. ET on NBCSN) in the first of two races there on the weekend.