By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
Nothing but smiles from Gray Gaulding after a last lap drama involving two Kaulig Racing teammates saw him go from sixth to finishing second in Friday’s Wawa 250 at Daytona International Speedway.
As the leaders were running in Turn 3 for the last time, it appeared Gaulding’s No. 07 Walk-Ons.com Chevrolet Camaro was fighting with Austin Cindric for the final top-five spot. That would all change once Ross Chastain’s attempt of going for a very slim opening to get by leader and teammate A.J. Allmendinger completely backfired.
The Kaulig duo collided and went above the track which also wiped out Cindric and Michael Annett. Gaulding on the other hand, was running on the bottom which was enough to sneak by the mayhem and was a spot shy of beating Kaulig’s third entry Justin Haley.
Nevertheless, the 100-lap race marked Gaulding’s second career Xfinity Series runner-up finish. Such tremendous night for the 22-year-old journeyman brought tremendous smiles as it marked the second straight year he accomplished this result on a superspeedway track for SS-Green Light Racing.
More sweeter due to the fact its his second NXS since losing his ride this off-season in favor of Joe Graf, Jr., who shredded a right rear tire that sent him packing after seven laps.
“This is Daytona. Nothing against Talladega, but this is the World Center of Racing,” said Gaulding. “I don’t care if it’s winning a wheel barrel race, if you win at Daytona, you’ve done something. To say I had a chance and almost pull it off was pretty cool.”
Gaulding said he’s looking forward of seeing his car owner Bobby Dotter in the hauler and thank him for not just the opportunity of getting a second shot, but his entire career dating back to the age of 10 when he arrived in North Carolina.
“Bobby has believed in me more than anybody in this sport. He was one of the first people I ever met and I look at him like an uncle,” Gaulding on Dotter. “I know he’s a small race team and it takes funding and partners helping him out to get me a chance to race. To give him a good run and knowing he doesn’t really show a whole lot of emotions, I know he’s going to be excited.
“I’m on a part-time basis and to come back and give him a good result, and not tear up the race car which is so tough for small teams. Whenever I have a good result and I don’t tear the car up, I feel pretty good and Bobby is going to be pretty pleased.”
Compared to his runner-up effort at Talladega, Gaulding felt he ran more aggressive and had a car capable to be as good this time around. It was evident as he led two laps, even coming a lap away from winning Stage 2 when the Kaulig trio took the first three spots.
“I feel like this race went a lot better. I was up front pretty much the whole night. I struggled getting track position early in the race, but most of all I was kind of a contender,” Gaulding comparing his two runner-up efforts. “I led laps and almost won the second stage, so I felt like I put myself in position a lot better than I did at Talladega and I was way more aggressive. I felt like I was a little bit timid last year, but very aggressive at the end.
“Tonight, I really went after it and made sure the moves that I did do was smart, but I played offense all night. That’s what was really fun about it because I let it all hang out and let the cards fall. If I give myself a chance, great. If not, I know I didn’t leave anything on the table.”
Going forward, the always confident Virginian hopes that a run like this can lead to another shot of running full-time in NASCAR as he’s had a roller coaster career since joining the national tour in 2014 at the tender age of 16.
“I had a smile on my face the entire night because I don’t get opportunities like this,” said Gaulding. “It’s a small race team, but a pretty good car and a good (ECR) engine. There’s nothing to not play offense about. Just go after it and let it all hang out. That’s what I do and I feel like it’s been working lately.”
As of this time, Gaulding has two more confirmed races with Rick Ware Racing in the Cup Series and fighting for a job in 2021. Therefore, he really appreciates runs like he’s had the past two seasons with Dotter because it has shown his growth as a driver. Especially last year when he had zero DNFs, four top-10s (including a sixth at Bristol) and finishing 13th in points.
“This helps the resume a lot. When you win one or run out front is pretty cool. Realistically, when I go to car owners, I show what I did last year. We were a six-man band last year, including my hauler driver. It makes you appreciate it more because I’m part-time this year. What I did last year would catapult my career, but it takes funding and that doesn’t bring me down.
“I know I have a lot to give and I’m going to fight and claw to give it everything I have with very little. If I ever got the call from the right person to run for a big team, I think I can be the next big story. Not in a cocky way, but I feel confident because I have so much experience in smaller equipment. I feel like I’m ready for the opportunity. When that comes, I’m ready to roll.”