By Seth Eggert, Associate Editor
The focus on the learning curve for NASCAR drivers moving up the ladder is often focused on the Rookie of the Year contenders. Every so often, a veteran driver like Kaz Grala, can face the same learning curve.
In total Grala has 135 starts across NASCAR’s three National Touring Series. 2023 marked his first full-time season since 2017. The NASCAR Xfinity Series season was amongst the longest season in Grala’s career to date. The 33-race season helped the 25-year-old learn how to pace himself throughout the entire year.
Grala didn’t have to prove himself in a one-off weekend, rather he could showcase his talents throughout the season at a variety of tracks. That pacing and consistency behind the wheel is something that the Boston, MA native will take into his 25-race season with Rick Ware Racing (RWR) in the NASCAR Cup Series.
“Running last year full-time in the Xfinity Series was a big help to me just learning how to pace a long season like that,” Grala admitted. “I think I’m ready for it. I think it’ll be good to get that many Cup races, getting in that rhythm, learning the Next Gen car. I’ve done one-offs before in the Cup Series, but I think this will be very helpful to be able to get that many.
Of the 135 National Touring Series races that Grala has competed in, seven have been in the Cup Series. The Bostonian’s debut at NASCAR’s top level was a learning experience all its’ own as he substituted for Austin Dillon with no practice at the Daytona Int’l Speedway Road Course. Grala finished seventh in his debut in the No. 3 Richard Childress Racing machine.
In total the journeyman driver has three starts in NASCAR’s Next Gen Cup car, all with The Money Team Racing. He also tested the StarCom Racing Next Gen car in 2021. However, Grala has yet to drive the Next Gen with the recent updates.
The anchor driver of RWR’s No. 15 Ford Mustang has already been at work to get ahead start on the learning curve. Some of that prep work for Grala has come in the simulator. He’s excited to see the preparation that Ford Performance and RFK Racing, who has an alliance with RWR, will have as well.
“I’ve done three Next Gen races and one Next Gen test before, so this will be by far the most experience I’ve had in this style car,” Grala explained “I haven’t driven these cars since they’ve been updated at all, but we’ve already started to do some work for the season and that will continue throughout. I feel like I should, in theory, be prepared to go to the track every weekend. I’m excited to see what Ford and RFK preparation (can) do for us going into each weekend, but if it’s as good as it seems, then I think we’ll be in great shape.”
The full-time Xfinity season with Sam Hunt Racing allowed Grala to get a perspective on getting a rhythm throughout the year. Grala spent six years competing part-time between his full-time year in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series in 2017 and last year in Xfinity. He felt the depth of the series’ competitiveness, earning two top-five and nine top-10 finishes.
That strength of field only increases as he makes the jump up to the Cup Series. The New Englander is hopeful that with his experience in Xfinity that he can bridge that gap in competition.
“I think that was good for me to get getting that rhythm of pacing this (past) season,” Grala observed. “But not only that, the Xfinity Series in 2023 was so competitive, deep field of full-time competitors.
“They always talk about that big jump that the Cup Series is, and it is, it’s huge. But when you have a year like that in the Xfinity Series, at least it kind of helps bridge that gap a little bit with as tough as the series was. I feel like that that was a good year for me to be in Xfinity and taking the next step in my career.”
While Grala may be a veteran racer with over 100 career NASCAR starts, he’s still a student of the sport on track.