Gray Gaulding tallied his career-best finish of second-place on Saturday (April 27) in the MoneyLion 300 at the Talladega Superspeedway. The SS-Greenlight Racing driver has had some strong runs this season while also picking up sponsors in the form of Panini Trading Cards, NASCAR Racing Experience, Flywheel Technologies and others.
The result was Gaulding’s second career NASCAR top 10. He previously finished ninth at Talladega in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race in Fall 2017.
Gaulding’s time in NASCAR has been filled with multiple different roller coasters — from making his MENCS debut in 2016 with The Motorsports Group, to finding himself jumping ride-to-ride. He’s finally seemed to find his home in the NASCAR Xfinity Series and he’s showing that he’s not going anywhere.
Gaulding spoke with Frontstretch’s Christian Koelle after Talladega and talked about the race itself, trading cards, Ross Chastain, and more.
Christian Koelle, Frontstretch: First off, has it sunk in that you finished second last weekend at Talladega?
Gaulding: That’s a great question — a couple of people asked me [that] yesterday when I was at the race shop. It kind of really hasn’t, to be quite honest, like just to run myself back through kind of everything that played out there at the end of the race, it’s like I had a chance to win it, I did everything I could to win it and we just came up a little bit short.
At the end of the day, to finish second as a small team and sort of a Cinderella story, I mean it was unbelievable. I’m still a bit starstruck, but also I kind of think back before we went to Talladega, I knew that was what we were capable of doing — I knew with the right engine and the right partner, which Panini stepped up and got me the right equipment to go try and win the race. I told myself and I told them as well, I’m going to have a chance to win this race, and that’s what we did. Just a really cool storybook ending to a great weekend racing up front and just being a threat all day. And that was our goal is to show the big teams and all the people that, “Hey, these guys aren’t laying down for anybody.”
I was doing everything I could that entire race to stay up front and put myself in position, and obviously, if you watch the race, I rolled the dice there on the last lap and made a big-time move to get by Christopher Bell and Chase Briscoe and then have a run at Tyler Reddick. He [Reddick] did a great job at blocking, and I just couldn’t get to his bumper, but just a super successful weekend… I’m still living that high right now, and it’s Wednesday. So I gotta snap out of it once I get to Dover [International Speedway] and get down to business.”
Koelle: I mentioned in a sidebar I wrote this past weekend that your two strong finishes came in different scenarios. The Cup race you finished 10th in was a game of survival while Saturday’s race was straight up speed. How important was being able to do that to shut the haters up and prove to yourself that you can do it?
Gaulding: I feel like I proved a lot on Saturday. When I came into this deal before Daytona [International Speedway], I told Bobby Dotter that this is going to be the best decision you’ve ever made putting me in the car and knowing we didn’t have all of the funding to run the whole season. He committed to running the whole season and he committed to myself and our race team to say, “Hey, I’m rolling the dice on you guys and I’ve gotta put all of my trust in you guys to go get the job done.”
If you look at what we’ve done in just the beginning of this year, running top 15 in pretty much 90% of our races beating a lot great teams, and then to go to Talladega and almost winning the race, knowing Bobby Dotter and his team had never been in that situation in his entire career as a team owner. I think it just says a lot about myself and the drive that I have and one, the confidence I have in my ability but also, the confidence I have in my team. Like if I didn’t think we could do it, I wouldn’t have signed up with this deal. I knew the group of guys we had with this race team, with my crew chief Patrick Donahue, I knew we could do big things with very very little and we proved that on Saturday.
All the haters that have hated on me for years, it felt really good to shut those people up because I haven’t had the opportunities in the last three years to go win races in the best equipment. Yeah, it’s unfortunate, but in this sport, when you don’t have the money and the funding, you aren’t just going to get into a winning race car. So the small windows of opportunity you have to seize, and I felt like I seized the opportunity and my team seized the opportunity to say, “Here’s the deal guys, we’re here to stay and we’re not going to lay down for anybody.”
I felt like we proved that and I feel really good going into Dover. When I walk into the garage area at Dover, I’m going to have more confidence then I’ve ever had because I knew as soon as I got that call from Panini to say, “Hey we’re going to get you the engine and we’re going to get you the right equipment. You go give us a chance to go win that race, and that’s what they did.”
Koelle: Speaking of Panini, I was a huge fan of NASCAR and Baseball cards when I was a kid, but it seems like they aren’t as popular as they were at one time. What are you, along with Panini, doing to help get trading cards back on the map with NASCAR fans?
Gaulding: “That’s a great question. I have been a trading card collector my entire life, from motorcycle racing to NASCAR racing, I still have books in my house that are full of retro Panini trading cards from football, baseball, basketball, NASCAR. I have just always been a sports collector because, you know, I’m a sports guy. With getting the trading cards back on the map is a great thing. When I was young, my grandfather and my dad gave me trading cards they collected, so I feel like it’s a great thing to do and collect with your loved ones, whether it be your son, daughter, brother, it doesn’t matter. You can hand those down to people in your family tree and it’s always a cool conversation to say, “Hey, that was one of my favorite cards as a kid.”
I think it’s really cool to see trading cards in NASCAR because one every single weekend, I see fans that pull trading cards out that were made of me when I was 12 and 13 years old and some that I didn’t even know they were made of me. It’s super cool saying that’s pretty sweet to sign this because I didn’t know they were still out there.
It’s not just [that] I’m talking about a sponsor or a partner that is on my race car. I’m talking about a partner that is on the race car that I collected when I was a kid so it really gets me back to my roots when I get to talk about it.
Koelle: This weekend at Dover, you compete for the Dash 4 Cash prize with SS-Green Light Racing. How big of a victory would it be for your little team to win that much money?
Gaulding: I can’t explain how excited me and my team are for this weekend. We know we are the dark horse, we are the people that they are saying there is no chance they can win it, and we love that. Like that’s what fuels our fire each and every week is people who overlook us. I feel like after Talladega these people that were overlooking us at the beginning of the year are like, “Man, these guys are really making a lot with nothing.”
It just says a lot about what we’ve been able to do throughout the season and to just get people to talk about us, like having people talk about us now and having us in the conversation and to say no one gave us that spot in the Dash4Cash, we earned it. We went out and we got the job done and we are racing for $100k this Saturday. That is one of the coolest stories I can think of that happened in the Xfinity Series all year and, not to throw any names out there, there have been a lot of big teams this year who race full-time Xfinity Series that have not qualified for one Dash4Cash. That says a lot about what we’re doing and what we’re continuing to do and what we’re fighting for, I mean we’re fighting for 100k to keep our program going in the right direction.
We know that people probably won’t pick us to win, but you know what, we’ll do everything in our power from the race strategy, the race car, the way I drive and how hungry I am behind the wheel to get it done. I’m excited, I think the team is excited and I think a lot of my fans and supporters are excited because they know what is on the line for us. This is a big deal, like a make-or-break opportunity to go get it done. It’s not going to be easy, I’m going to throw that out there. We’re racing against Christopher Bell, he’s a championship contender and he’s great everywhere we go, Chase Briscoe and obviously, Tyler Reddick, the series champion from last year. It’s not going to be easy, but I feel like if anybody can take on the challenge, it’s myself and my race team.”
Koelle: The last I saw, you are without a sponsor this weekend at Dover. Do you have any updates on that that you can share?
Gaulding: “We just sealed it today (May 1). I made a video on Monday about how we don’t have a partner, we don’t have anybody on the car. We, unfortunately, had a 14-race sponsor fall through. Nothing on our part, it’s just a part of the business. That’s how some things work out, and we were on the wrong end of the stick. Worldwide Safety Consulting, they stepped up and said, “Here’s the deal, we want to be the person that is giving you guys the opportunity to go win the 100k and we have Mane and Tail products that are going to be on the decklid of the car.”
We are excited to have them. This all came through the video I sent out because I told myself, “Who are the people I can go out and ask and get their leadership from and ask for their advice to say, “Hey, do you know a company or a business? We’re looking for anybody, and it worked out great. Nothing but positive energy came from the fans, even the people who knew they couldn’t help — they were still showing their support, and that just meant a lot.”
Koelle: I read somewhere that running the way you did with BK Racing and The Motorsports Group helps you appreciate the big victories. If I don’t recall, Ross Chastain stated the same last season while running with Chip Gannasi Racing. You two are taking/took a different approach to where you are today. Could this be a new way for some of the series drivers to steal the spotlight and maybe land a higher-funded ride?
Gaulding: I give a lot of credit to Ross Chastain. He’s a big reason why I told myself if I have to go from running Cup at a low-budget team every Sunday, to now go to Xfinity still with a low-budget team, but I feel like the opportunity I have with SS-Green Light Racing, I can go out and make a name for myself, and the Xfinity Series tagline is ‘Names are Made Here.’ And I felt like me and him, him doing it last year and obviously, me taking over the reigns this year making a name for myself, it just says a lot.
If any other drivers are asking for advice, I’d just say, “Man, you gotta go with your gut and you have got to try and put yourself in the best situation possible with the best people possible.” And that’s what I feel like I did this year. I surrounded myself with a great owner, an owner who believed in my ability and our program, and a team who has my back more than anything I have ever been a part of. It just says a lot of what we’ve been able to do this year and how many people who have looked over us but now they’re talking about us. I knew from the time I said, “Hey, I’m gonna sign with SS-Green Light Racing, a team nobody knows about.” That just says a lot about how much I believed in what we could go do.
“It’s a tough business to make it in without funding and people believing in you. 99.9% of the time you probably aren’t going to make it. I have just been very fortunate to have a great family, great people surrounded around me, but also not to be cocky or anything like that because I’m not a cocky guy. I give a lot of credit to myself and how I believed in myself after having two years of up and down, bouncing around teams, not knowing where I’m racing this week, just trying to grind it out, stay in Cup and get people to believe in me, which I did.
I thank Jay Robinson and Premium Motorsports. I went to them and had no money, and he called me up and said, “Gray I want you to drive my race car.” That right there is what kept me in the sport and kept me going. Running for low-budget Cup teams is such a hard way to get seen by other team owners and other people, and that’s why I made the move I did. I gambled, I rolled the dice, and look at us now. We’re just having the time of our lives. Like the coolest thing about my team is we’re guys that love racing and we go out every weekend, we play loose, we have fun, we laugh, but at the end of the day, we know what our job is.