By: Ashley McCubbin
After scoring a fourth-place finish at Richmond Raceway, Kaz Grala is heading into the Call 811 Before You Dig 250 at Martinsville Speedway riding high on confidence. Prior to heading to the paperclip, the Sam Hunt Racing driver shared his thoughts with NEWS FROM THE PITS.
What are your thoughts going into the next Xfinity Series event at Martinsville?
I’m excited for it. I haven’t really gotten much of a chance to work with Sam Hunt Racing at the short tracks until this past week at Richmond (Raceway) and we had a lot of speed. We ended up getting up a fourth-place finish – we didn’t even do it via funky pit strategy, tire strategy. We just straight up were that good. We drove forward all day long, drove up into the top-five and stayed there through some restarts even at the end. We were legitimately a top-five car. That gives me a lot of hope and encouragement going forward with short tracks this season if we can have that every time; it’d be fantastic.
Martinsville is a totally different track than Richmond (so) not totally sure if everything translates, but maybe it will, maybe our short track program is just that strong. I know I’m hoping for the case. Everybody at the shop feels good about the car we will be bringing to Martinsville so I’m excited about it. Now a days, you don’t know if you will be any good until you show up – and even that, you hardly get any practice to see.
Knowing Martinsville, it will rain out practice; that’s normally how it goes. Hopefully we’re good. At least this week if it rains out practice, based on the metric for Richmond, we should start pretty good for a change; usually it’s the other way around. I’ll be happy either way. Just looking forward to getting back on-track with these guys after the off-weekend and trying to keep digging out of our hole from early in the season. We had some terrible luck in the first few races that put us pretty deep in the point standings. We really feel we can claw our way out and put ourselves back into the playoff conversation. We’ll continue building on that at Martinsville.
What’s the biggest challenge when it comes to the paperclip?
Well, maybe luck, which I feel like we’re owed some here. The challenge with Martinsville is you’re at the mercy of the car behind you – especially on restarts. If they want to move you out of the way, turn you around, they can. So you hope you have enough friends out there so it’s not the case. People race you the way you race them and I’m certainly aggressive when I need to be, and I don’t feel like I’m nice out there, but I race everybody with respect. Most of the time, I feel they give that back so that’s a good thing.
So hopefully we’ll be safe out there at Martinsville, be able to run our race, and if we do, we’ll be good because I feel like a lot of people have labeled me a road course racer. That’s not all the case. I’m a short track racer. I’ve raced plenty of road courses and I think it gives me a leg up on them, sure, but my bread and butter, what I’ve done growing up and got to this point in my career has all been through short track late models, K&N (Pro Series – now ARCA Series East and West), Legend cars, a bit of everything.
So Martinsville is just classic short track style, heavy braking, rotating the center, trying to drive up under people. So as far as the race track, I feel really comfortable with it. I’ve done well there in the past. I actually had then waxed in a late model race at Martinsville – the big one with 100 cars there – we were class of field, led most of the day, and ended up with a mechanical issue right before the end of the race that took me out of it. Martinsville has been good for me, so hopefully it will continue to be.
How would you grade your performance so far this season?
My performance and our team’s performance, I would say we’re right at a A-, B+. We’ve been doing a good job. We’ve been doing what we can do. We’ve been controlling what’s in our control. As far as our results, gosh, I’d rate them a C at best – maybe a D. That’s been unfortunate circumstances. It’s been a mechanical issue, getting run into a couple times, just unfortunately a loose wheel on pit road – I feel like it’s been things mostly out of our control that have hurt our results. I feel like our race team is firing on all cylinders. I was really glad that we were able to go out at Richmond and get that result that I feel like everybody on the team is deserving.
They’ve been pushing that hard every week. That was nothing new – we just finally had a smooth day and were able to put them up front the way we should be. I feel like grade wise, we’ve been doing a good job. Playoff-level wise, I think just because of the hole that we’re in here early in the year, we’re going to need to raise our game if we’re going to be in the playoffs. But everybody is up to that challenge and everybody at SHR is more than capable of it. so we’ll keep grinding, keep pushing, try to capitalize on everything we can and see what we can do.
At Richmond, we finished fourth, but I feel like our car was good enough to win the race if things had fallen our way, if we had come off pit road a couple spots higher, or ended on a long run better than a short run. We were crumbs away from being able to win that race. Not every weekend can you say you had a car good enough to win the race, and that’s something really exciting. (If) we have that a handful more times this year, one of them will fall into our lap and we’ll win one and if it happens to be before the playoffs, then we’d be in. That would be huge for us, for our organization, for me personally, my career, that would be really huge. We’ll keep chipping away it and hopefully get us one.
I got to say it’s probably pretty rewarding to get this full-time opportunity after putting in the work the past couple years with the partial schedules.
Absolutely, and the start to the year that we’ve have had, it’s been disappointing. There’s been a long wait for me to have a full-time ride and can’t seem to catch a break. I usually feel that just means there’s even more good to come your way. Luck always seems to balance itself it out. I’d be more than happy to trade five weeks of not so good luck for one week of great luck that puts you in victory lane. I’d happy take that. I do feel like we’re owed some luck. Hopefully we can cash in the next few races.
Looking at the schedule, the next few that are coming up, I feel are great tracks for me and for SHR, ones that we really have potential out. This next little chunk in the schedule is definitely an opportunity to try and start building those points and claw our way back up. We’re already back up to 20th in the standings – I know I say back up, but that’s not that darn high; we’re pretty darn low after a couple of our issues. That’s puts you kind of in the game. If we can gain three or four more spots which I think over the next few races we can, then all of a sudden, we’re in the playoff bubble and then it’s going to be down to out-racing, out-performing everybody else to be able to beat them and slide into the playoffs.
Stay tuned for the second half of the interview after the weekend when Kaz Grala shares his thoughts on the tracks coming up, his owner Sam Hunt, and more.
Categories: ashley asks...., Feature, Interview, NASCAR Xfinity Series
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