By David Morgan, Associate Editor
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – As the first of two Bluegreen Vacations Duel 150s at Daytona played out on Thursday night, things weren’t looking good for Kaz Grala and The Money Team to make it into the Daytona 500 in their debut race, but at the World Center of Racing, it’s not over until it’s over.
Grala, driving the No. 50 Chevrolet owned by world champion boxer Floyd Mayweather, started the race off on the right foot by pulling away from his main competitor in the race, JJ Yeley, but near the midpoint of the race, things started to take a turn for the worst.
With a helping hand from BJ McLeod, Yeley was able to draft past Grala to take over the transfer spot just prior to a round of green flag pit stops. After a speeding penalty added insult to injury, Grala found himself two laps down to the leaders as the laps continued to click away.
However, Grala still had speed in his Chevrolet and just needed a little bit of luck to come his way. After the leaders lapped Yeley to drop him two laps down and put him on a level playing field with Grala, it was game on with the checkered flag in sight.
Catching ahold of the lead draft on the final lap, Grala was able to power past Yeley in Turn 1-2 and held on to the finish, making him the highest finishing open car in the first Duel race and securing a starting spot in the Great American Race.
“It’s a relief, I can tell you that,” Grala said. “I thought for a while there we weren’t going to make it and squeaked by just on the last lap. I made a mistake early, sped on pit road. Shouldn’t have had that happen and barely came back.
We were running some fast times in that line towards the end and I knew we were going to be close. I thought we were going to have a chance at catching him and the timing was just right. Right on the last lap, we got to him, got by him, and did what we needed to do to make the 500.
“This is huge for The Money Team. Huge for Floyd, for Pit Viper. This mattered a lot to us. There was really no option, but to make this race. We squeaked in by the skin of our teeth. Got the hiccups out of the way and hopefully will have a smooth Sunday.”
Grala noted that his team has had to scrap and claw over the past month to get themselves built from the ground up in time for Daytona and heading into the weekend, weren’t ready to accept any other outcome than clinching a spot in Sunday’s race. After all, it’s the Daytona 500.
“We didn’t come into this week ready to accept any other fate,” Grala said. “It’s big for us being a new team to be able to do this. It’s huge financially. It’s huge exposure, the marketing. We want to run a part-time schedule this year. We want to try to run some of the road courses, maybe some of the closer, less-traveled races.
“To have a good showing like this and to hopefully have a good showing on Sunday will go a long way towards helping build this program into what they aspire to be, a full-time opportunity, and I’d love to stick with them for that.”
Add in a post-race pep talk from Mayweather and the team sure had the adrenaline boost hey needed to go out there and get it done. Luckily for them, things fell their way in the end and they’ve got a spot in the field for the Daytona 500.
“[Mayweather] was with us on the grid via FaceTime before the Duel,” Grala said. “He was so pumped up about it. He was ready, jacked up and really confident in us. That was a cool pep talk to get, not one that I’ve ever gotten before. Definitely a cool moment for us and having that validation that he’s excited about this program, and I can promise you coming out here to a sold-out crowd on Sunday, I don’t think anybody could be on this property and not feel that energy and be excited.
“He’s really going to get obsessed with this just like we all are.”