On today’s Dale Jr. Download, which runs from 5 to 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN, Dale Earnhardt Jr. welcomes NASCAR vice chairman Mike Helton.
Earnhardt has known Helton his whole life, and while the two consider each other good friends, Junior told one story where that friendship was tested a bit.
Here’s a brief segment of what Junior had to say about Helton:
“You can be an incredible friend, but the funny thing is when you need to chew somebody’s ass, you can get that done, too. There was one time you had to get after me pretty hard at Bristol Motor Speedway. … We had a car explode a brake rotor on the race track and threw brake parts all over the place.
“There was about 15 laps to go and we were running under caution. Typically, NASCAR red flags the race and I was wanting them to do that, but they didn’t. I don’t see the brake stuff, everything’s great, I’m raising hell. This was in the Bud days. Tony (Eury) Sr. was on the radio and I think he was encouraging me a little bit. Our spotter came over and said they want you and Tony Sr. to come to the truck after the race. I stopped talking immediately.
“That’s when I learned that Mike Helton and the guys in the booth listen to the drivers and I was thinking, ‘Oh, man, they heard me.’ … We go up in the hauler and me and Tony Sr. still feel like we’re in the right and that we’re going to tell ‘em this and tell ‘em that, and that we’re going in there thinking we’re going to tell Helton and he’s going to say ‘you’re right, we should have red-flagged the race.’
“As soon as Helton’s head comes into the door jamb, Tony Sr. and I both started pleading our case. And Mike Helton said, ‘Both of y’all hush. Y’all aren’t going to talk, I’m going to talk.’ You were so mad, so angry, and when I realized how mad you were, I was so disappointed in myself for disappointing and angering him. … I realized now what I had done.’”
And then stick around for the following show, IndyCar Live, from Indianapolis Motor Speedway from 6-6:30 pm ET with Kevin Lee.
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The receiver was Shane Wilson, the long-time Xfinity crew chief who had worked in that role for Grala through the first 10 races of the season.
The elder Grala asked: “Can u talk?”
That was the moment when Fury Race Cars, the race car building company Grala founded in 2016 with Tony Eury Jr. and Jeff Fultz, started becoming an Xfinity Series team.
PUTTING THE TEAM TOGETHER
It wasn’t official until Kaz Grala, 19, drove onto the track Thursday at Charlotte Motor Speedway, in his No. 61 Ford.
It capped a 15-day scramble for the Gralas, Wilson and other members of Fury Race Cars to become the newest Xfinity team. The effort was announced May 18.
It started with Darius Grala’s text. He had just gotten off the phone with JGL Racing owner James Whitener, who had offered to give them three of their Roush Fenway Racing built cars as a form of severance for Kaz Grala.
“I found out kind of before the Dover race that things were looking a little bit shakey, unfortunately,” Grala said. “(Whitener) has some medical issues unfortunately. He didn’t really want to spend the money to continue running, which is understandable.”
JGL Racing originally stated the 24 team was shuttered due to lack of sponsorship.
“It was not a decision to stop the No. 24 team with everyone just finding out after Dover – that was not the case at all,” Whitener said. “It had been discussed among the team really since Las Vegas. I really wish Kaz the best and hope I was instrumental in helping him start his Xfinity career.”
Whitener said he made the decision to give Grala the three cars “to give him the opportunity to keep running and building on his career.”
Said Kaz Grala: “He was a huge supporter of me, right up until the end, emotionally and financially, you name it. He was a big fan of mine and he helped me kick off my Xfinity career. He wasn’t able to continue funding my ride. He definitely wanted to help however he could.”
The three cars from JGL Racing allowed Fury to get a “good jump” on the team building process in the midst of a two-week break for the series.
The process was made even easier with five of the six crew members who worked on Grala’s No. 24 car joining the team along with Wilson. They joined an operation in Fury that for the last two years was devoted to building modifieds, sports cars and late models.
Darius Grala, a native of Poland who moved to the United States when he was 8, had his own background as a sports car driver. That went along with the extensive time served as NASCAR crew chiefs by Eury and Ricky Viers.
But at Fury Race Cars, they’d never worked with a Xfinity car until this month.
“I don’t want you to think we took it lightly,” Darius Grala said. “Because we didn’t we didn’t want to come and embarrass ourselves. But there wasn’t any question right from the first conversation, obviously being Kaz’s dad I want to do everything I can but after speaking with Tony and Jeff, they were all in 100 percent, whatever we need to do, let’s figure it out.”
The group worked many late nights to get ready for Saturday’s race.
“Yes, you have to get the car built, but you’ve got to have the tool box to organize …. you need to have a pit box,” Kaz Grala said. “You need to have the hauler organized, I needed race suits in eight days, I needed polos. Just every single little thing and one of our biggest challenges, just logistically, was that this came together so late, just trying to get our entry forms in in time for this race and for Pocono. Everything came so quickly, all the little I’s had to be dotted and T’s had to be crossed. All that stuff takes time and we just didn’t have time.”
Even acquiring a fuel can was a hassle.
“They’re not easy to come by, it’s not like you can go to (a store) and buy one of those,” Darius Grala said.
They also had to pick a number.
“We let the team at Fury pick the number,” Kaz Grala said. “Actually you would be surprised when looking into numbers, I know I was, how few are actually on the market. Most of them are not. It really worked out perfectly, because Fury being modifieds is one of their main things that they build and all the guys at Fury are old-time, old-school guys and of course the 61 being Richie Evans’ was immediately what jumped out at them. That was kind of the inspiration for it. Not to mention my mom is actually from Rome, New York, as well, as Richie Evans was. Seemed like a good fit.”
The team loaded up its lone car for the Charlotte race weekend by 9 p.m. Wednesday, placing it in the team’s logo-free white hauler.
“That was the first relief since the day we started,” Darius Grala said.
He had a “really, really good” night of sleep.
A DEAL WITH GOD
With the sun setting on Fury’s first day as an Xfinity team, Kaz Grala pulled his No. 61 Ford into his garage stall – the very last stall meant for the lowest team in points or a new team without any – at the end of final practice.
On his last run, Grala posted the eighth best speed in the session at 179.784 mph. That placed him ahead of Chase Briscoe, Austin Cindric, Ty Dillon and other drivers from big teams.
Where did they get that speed?
“I don’t know, I guess a lot of hours and a lot of hard work right there, the car’s pretty darn good,” Grala said. “Couldn’t really ask for more than that.”
Has the driver who has competed in a full season of the Camping World Truck Series (and won one race) and 10 Xfinity races ever felt this good after a practice?
“Not in Xfinity, no,” he said. “I think we’re closer than we’ve been. We were within a couple of tenths of the 22 (Team Penske’s Brad Keselowski). If you’re within a couple of tenths of the 22 then you’re pretty darn good.”
In the Xfinity garage, JGL Racing’s No. 28 Ford driven by Dylan Lupton is parked right across from Fury’s stall. Lupton finished the session 24th.
“We’re still on good terms, we’re friends with all of them,” Grala said. “A little friendly competition, we’re a little bit quicker than them. We’re going to try and stay quicker than them. But we’re trying to be quicker than everyone here.”
The team’s next chance to be quicker than everyone else comes Saturday in qualifying. And the No. 61 team needs to qualify. They also need it to not rain. If it rains, they won’t be in the race.
“There’s 43 cars here and we have zero points,” said Darius Grala, noting the field would be set by owner points. “That’s about the only goal we have right now is we need to make a deal with God on the weather.
Qualifying is set to begin at 10:10 a.m. ET. The chance of rain then is 20 percent.
Regardless of the weather, the team will be back next week at Pocono and the two races after that. That fulfills the original sponsor deal Kaz Grala has with NETTTS, which has backed him since 2013 when he raced in modifieds.
The team is prepared to go beyond those four races, but won’t just stop looking for partners.
“As of right now, yes, it’s been a lot of work, but no one at Fury is scared of work,” Darius Grala said. “We’re looking at this being a step forward if at all possible.”
Heck of a way to make our on-track debut with @FuryRaceCars… P8 in final practice! I can’t say enough about everyone’s hard work and dedication over the last 8 days to get this program up and running. BRING ON SATURDAY! https://t.co/JrNiSNikEN
That’s exactly why you’ll never see Dale Earnhardt Jr. throw a punch, at least not in public.
“I would not have done the same thing,” Earnhardt said on the latest episode of the “Dale Jr. Download.” “I know, maybe more than Kyle, there’s a lot of cameras. There’s a lot of people watching. You’ve got social media. You’ve got people getting this content a whole bunch of different ways. If you go up and punch a guy in the face, that’s going to be on TV all week.”
The most noteworthy video of the fight came not from TV cameras, but from NASCAR journalist Jeff Gluck. The original video has been viewed on YouTube 1.8 million times as of Tuesday afternoon.
“You’re going to show up at the racetrack on Friday or Thursday next week and you’re going to be asked about it everyday,” Earnhardt continued. “This will probably go on for a couple of weeks. NASCAR will take this content and it will be on every show that they do, every commercial. So you’ll see it over and over and over. NASCAR will take this fight and use it as an advertisement. ‘You got to come out see what happens at the next race.’ They will wear it out.”
Earnhardt questioned whether Busch wants to be in the position of having to be constantly be asked by the media – and family – about the fight.
“Momma’s watching, you don’t want to upset your momma,” Earnhardt teased. “She’s just a phone call away.”
Earnhardt went on to share some stories of the “few altercations” he’s had in racing career.
“I’ve never been in a fight like that,” Earnhardt said. “I’m not trying to play out my stuff on the main stage.”
The Hendrick Motorsports driver told the story of him and crew chief Tony Eury Sr. getting into it with Tony Stewart‘s crew chief after some rough driving between the two at Pikes Peak International Raceway in the Xfinity Series in the late ’90s.
“We got called to the hauler after the race,” Earnhardt said. “Tony Sr., he’s really fiery, got a bad temper. He was very upset. Tony Stewart comes in there. Tony’s fine. I could tell from the moment he walked in he wasn’t going to be a problem. But his crew chief … this guy comes walking in and the minute the door opens I can hear this guy talking and yapping. And he’s talking about me being a daddy’s boy and riding my daddy’s coat tails. I went over to Tony Stewart to get to this guy and Tony Sr. went under Tony Stewart;s (arm) to get to the guy.
“I got a hold of the guy, grabbed his shirt, swung and as I swung, he came out of his shirt. It ripped off. Tony Stewart’s just kind of there, kind of tangled up in this unwittingly. Nobody punched anybody.”
Later, after a story about calling Todd Bodine “a cue-ball headed fool” and wielding a jack handle, Earnhardt recalled a story from his late-model days, which resulted in his co-host calling him the “Kyle Busch of Hickory Motor Speedway.”
“We had the entire grandstands at Hickory Motor Speedway pissed off at us one week,” Earnhardt said. “We started last in this race called the Bobby Isaac Memorial. We were running third with about 20 to 30 laps to go. I got black flagged for passing a lapped car under caution. The guy was waving me by, which was totally legit. I didn’t think it was fair. The guy who was my crew chief-owner, says ‘pull in, this is bulls—. We’re getting out.’ So I pull in with a few laps left in the race. The whole grandstand is booing me at me. … Hickory is little bit 50-50 for Earnhardts. There’s a lot of Jarrett fans up there.
“We had ripped our fender off in the race, so it’s in the pits now. My crew chief or one of my crew members throws the fender onto the track, so they’re red flagged at this moment. Cleaning up a wreck. We throw a fender on the track. More boos. I flipped the bird from the pits to the booth. I know the scorer because I changed his oil at Dale Earnhardt Chevrolet. It obviously now looks like I’m flipping off the fans. Now the boos are turning into objects, cans and bottles.
“The guy comes to the dealership like a week later to get his oil changed and me and him have words. That kind of led to my firing from the dealership.”