By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The transition from dirt to asphalt is an ultimate night-and-day difference for a race car driver.
It’s definitely the case for World of Outlaws star David Gravel, who will be making his stock car racing debut in Saturday’s Lucas Oil 200 at Daytona International Speedway.
Gravel will drive KBR Development’s No. 28 Chevrolet Accessories Chevrolet in the ARCA Menards Series where he was second fastest in last month’s testing. His personal beset was 49.659 seconds, just 0.444 seconds off Dominique Van Wieringen’s time.
One of the goals he had going into Friday’s practice sessions is getting more drafting practice, but also getting used to hearing people over the radio where it’s obsolete in sprint car racing.
Among those he’ll be listening a lot is crew chief Jeff Stankewicz, crew chief for 2018 ARCA champion Sheldon Creed, who also transitioned from dirt to asphalt competition the last few years.
Gravel told Motorsports Tribune that Stankewicz has been good to him and been accepted with open arms as he’s slowly learning how the world of stock car racing works.
“I’m trying to learn all the small things, getting comfortable in a stock car,” Gravel said. “The size, the weight – all those things and to show people that I can drive any type of car and be good at it.”
When it comes to driving two different vehicles, Gravel said that superspeedways like Daytona does have a driving similarity compared to other tracks where it’ll be a whole different learning curve, which he has picked up right away.
“I’d say on a superspeedway, no. But maybe the mile-and-a-half stuff,” Gravel said. “For us in a sprint car, drafting or being behind somebody’s back works here. I feel at the mile-and-a-half, it seems like it’s important to have air on your splitter, in the corners and stuff like that. I think that’s where it’ll translate more.”
Saturday’s 80-lap contest is just the beginning for the 28-year-old as he’ll also compete part-time in the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series, piloting the No. 24 GMS Racing Chevrolet Silverado.
At the moment, the only race that’s been confirmed is Eldora Speedway July 30 with tremendous backing from Axalta.
Perhaps the most intriguing story part of Gravel’s Eldora sponsorship can go back the night he met NASCAR Hall of Famer Jeff Gordon at the Chili Bowl over a year ago.
Gravel reflected on how he met Gordon, who will be involved in guiding him for the ARCA race in some capacity.
“I met him after hours at a bar at the Hard Rock Casino and it just started from there,” Gravel said. “He started talking to me and gave me his number. We had a couple of goals in mind and we were able to accomplish all of those, so it’s been pretty cool.
“I’ve only known him for a year, so I’m excited to see how our relationship goes.”
Not only Gordon has been instrumental in Gravel’s racing career, but so has Axalta as it was on Gravel’s No. 41 Jason Johnson Racing machine when he won last year’s Knoxville Nationals, the mecca of dirt sprint car racing and his greatest triumph to date.
“It’s some storybook stuff,” Gravel on winning Knoxville. “It doesn’t happen very often for us to win at Knoxville. It was a dream week and its stuff you’ll never forget.”
Besides Gordon, Gravel has leaned for advice on other NASCAR Cup Series drivers like Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. and two of the best drivers in both dirt and asphalt – Kyle Larson and Christopher Bell.
While Gravel will be one of the heavy favorites to win the Dirt Derby, most of his schedule will be at the 1.5-mile circuits.
“I’m looking forward to getting on the medium size tracks, having some fun and see how I stack up on asphalt,” Gravel said. “The dirt racing at Eldora, I’ll have a little bit of an advantage or just be more comfortable there, but I’m excited to prove that I can race on asphalt.”
Gravel only participated in the opening practice session, running 25 laps which was the second most behind Andy Seuss’ 26. It wouldn’t be until the 22nd lap where he set his personal best at 49.494 seconds, only good enough to be 13th fastest.
Live coverage of the 200-mile race will begin at 4:30pm EST on FS1. Harrison Burton won last year’s event.