NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Part-Time Pains: Kaz Grala Talks Racing Cup at Talladega, Future NASCAR Goals

Kaz Grala continues to run part-time in NASCAR this season, primarily in the Cup Series for Kaulig Racing. After a brake-line fire near his right-rear tire ended his night in the Daytona 500, Grala is back this weekend at Talladega Superspeedway (April 24-25) looking to complete his first 500-mile event.

Grala also competed in the Camping World Truck Series at the Daytona International Speedway road course for Young’s Motorsports, rallying to an eighth-place finish. Though the 22-year-old has one full-time season back in 2017, he’s still earned multiple top fives and top 10s throughout his young career. His lone NASCAR win came at the 2017 Truck Series season opener at Daytona, driving for GMS Racing. Grala also snagged four more top fives and 15 top 10s in 34 Truck races.

In 2018, Grala took what was available and competed for JGL Racing for the first 10 NASCAR Xfinity Series events. However, the team had to shut down due to the team owner’s medical issues and sold the No. 24 car’s assets to Fury Race Cars. Though he didn’t complete the full season, Grala gained experience, driving in several more events for Fury.

The past couple of years have been an adjustment, as Grala only ran 10 total races for Richard Childress Racing from 2019-2020. Still, Grala earned two top fives and four top 10s in NXS with RCR. He was also called upon to fill in for Austin Dillon in Cup after Dillon tested positive for COVID-19. Grala looked strong in his series debut, leading three laps en route to a seventh-place finish on the Daytona road course.

The transition over to Kaulig went smoothly, as the team works with RCR on the technical side. Grala has high hopes for himself and the team, as he eventually wants to go full-time with Kaulig. However, he’s willing to drive in any series where he can compete for wins.

Frontstretch caught up with Grala to discuss his time with Kaulig, his present and future goals and what it’s like to race part-time on a regular basis.

Joy Tomlinson, Frontstretch: I saw you made a sponsorship pitch to Tom Brady about a month ago on [the MAVTV show] The Pace Lap. Have you heard from him since then?

Kaz Grala: [laughs] I wish. I have not heard from him unfortunately. People seemed to love that, think it was fun and comical. The video, actually, that I posted got picked up by NESN, the New England Sports Network, which is huge up from where I’m from in Boston. So it got a lot of traction, and it definitely created a little buzz, which was perfect and a lot of fun. Unfortunately, no word from Tom Brady himself yet, but you never know!

Tomlinson: What’s the craziest sponsorship pitch you’ve ever done?

Grala: I like to try to stand out from the crowd and differentiate myself a little bit when I’m trying to romance sponsors. … I’ve actually mailed them … a big canvas for their wall of a picture that I’ve edited of my racecar. To try to grab their attention, on the back of that canvas, it says, “this is a gift from me to you, and if you wouldn’t mind, just give my email from this and this date a quick read.”

As I mail it, I’ll send a supplementary email about myself, hoping to get them as a sponsor. I’ve gotten great feedback from that, people love that, it definitely stands out. I’m all about trying to come up with some creative ideas like that. I have not had too many different ideas like that in the past, but anytime I come up with something like that, I’ll definitely give it a shot because our sport’s driven by sponsorship. So whatever you can do to try to put your name on top of a company’s list to get involved in the sport is what you’ve got to do.

Tomlinson: Moving on to racing, you led some laps in the Daytona 500, which was a first for Kaulig Racing in the Cup Series. How has it been working with the team thus far in 2021?

Grala: It’s been excellent. My transition over to Kaulig was really, really good and easy. Having been at RCR the last two years, of course, they work very closely with Kaulig in the Xfinity Series and now in the Cup Series in [Kaulig’s] select starts too. They’re located right on the RCR campus and are in a lot of the same meetings together, so I had gotten to know all of the guys at Kaulig Racing pretty well over the past couple of seasons. Going over there, even though it was technically a new team for me, it felt like I was working with virtually all of the same people that I had been all along.

… They’ve got a really, really excellent family environment, and the most important thing in this sport as a race team is that you know how to motivate your people and have everybody pulling in the same direction. Everybody’s goal is solely to go out, win races, do as well as they can, and that’s what they’ve created over there. … They definitely put an emphasis on fun and enjoying your work at the racetrack, and I know everybody over there absolutely loves that. It’s been good, they have some pretty steep aspirations in this sport. Matt Kaulig and Chris Rice [Kaulig president] certainly know how to accomplish that.

Just as far as they’ve come as an independent Xfinity team in just a few years, they definitely have shown that they’re willing to do what it takes to be competitive. Now they’re starting to dabble in the Cup Series, and I have no doubt that in a matter of a few years they’re going to be some real contenders in this series.

Tomlinson: So what’s the next stretch of races that are on the Kaulig Racing schedule or on your schedule?

Grala: We’re still working on trying to add races and trying to pinpoint races. … I think AJ [Allmendinger]’s going to do the lion’s share of the road courses, and I think you’ll see me at all of the superspeedways, but we still are looking to nail down another one or two races in between there as well on some regular oval tracks.

We don’t know 100% where those might be, but that’s a work in progress still with the race team, working with them, with RCR and our sponsors, trying to pick which schedule’s going to make the most sense for everybody. You’ll definitely see the No. 16 car on track in the Cup Series at least a handful more times this year between AJ and myself.

Tomlinson: What are your goals for the rest of the season with Kaulig Racing?

Grala: That’s a great question. My goal in the Daytona 500 was to make it to the finish of the race, and I knew that if we could do that, we were going to have a great finish. We put ourselves in a perfect position to be able to do that and then unfortunately just got caught up at the wrong time with something very minor. … We pretty much made it through unscathed other than just scuffing the wall a little on the way by an incident. But unfortunately, that ended up cutting our right rear tire down; the tire actually wrapped around the brake line and ripped it in the right rear.

That’s why we ended up with a small fire in our right rear tire and no brakes. That did end our day unfortunately, which I was very disappointed about, but I think Talladega’s similar to Daytona. I’m going to have the same goal, which is make it to the end of the race. … So Talladega, if I can make it to the end, will be the first time that I’ve completed a 500-mile race.

… But, just like Daytona, if we are there at the end, I feel really good that we’re going to get a great finishing position, a great day for Kaulig, great points day and that’s really what’s important. … I feel like if we’re there at the end, hey, we’ve got as good a shot to win the races as anybody that’s still out there. … That’s definitely what Matt Kaulig and the whole Kaulig team is focused on: they want trophies, we want trophies, I want trophies, so we’re going to be pushing hard to try to do that. But got to make it to the end first, that’s goal one.

Tomlinson: How do you feel about running part-time in NASCAR as opposed to full-time, and how is it different in terms of the way you prepare?

Grala: It’s very different. … It can be a good thing when it comes to race preparation. … But, of course, running superspeedways this year is a little bit different. The simulator aspect of our sport and our preparation doesn’t really apply to the restrictor plate tracks, so it’s really more going to be about watching video and preparing that way. The more difficult parts are the parts that you can’t practice and that you only get good at and stay sharp at by doing them, like restarts, like pit road, like giving feedback to the crew chief and getting that chemistry and communication with the crew chief on a regular basis.

… It’s a totally different mental game and approach and frankly, in my opinion, a little more difficult of one. It’s way tougher to go into a season part-time and be able to find success with it than full-time. … Always looking for trying to be a full-time competitor in the future, and right now 2022 is certainly my ultimate goal to be full-time.

So hopefully, I’ll be able to do that and be able to readjust to that type of schedule, because I know myself as a competitor and my strengths and weaknesses. I think that being able to run a full season and compete for a points championship, staying focused for that many weekends in a row and pushing to my hardest, that is one of my strengths. And I think that I’ll really be able to show that with a full-time ride.

Tomlinson: Expanding on that last point about 2022, what series would you hope to be running in full-time if you could?

Grala: I, right from the beginning of my career, have always just followed whatever opportunities are available and whatever makes the most sense for my career at the time. A lot of people wondered why I only did one full-time year in the Truck Series, and the simple answer to that was I didn’t have an opportunity to do a second in the Truck Series. But I did, however, have an opportunity with JGL Racing in 2018 to move up into the Xfinity Series, so I went for it. … I’ve kind of treated every season and offseason that same way; whatever is best for my career is what I’m going to go with, and right now, I think I’m in a really good place at Kaulig Racing.

… I have no idea what 2022 holds, but I know that my personal goal is to compete full-time in something, and certainly right now [I] would love to do that with Kaulig Racing. I don’t think there’s a better place out there to do it with at the moment. …Over the past year you’ve seen me fill in for multiple drivers due to COVID or illness or conflict, they’re not able to compete in the race. I’ll drive anything, I’ll drive a truck, I’ll drive an Xfinity car, Cup car, you name it. …Whatever I can try to prove myself in next year, that’s what you’ll see me in.

You can listen to the full interview below.

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