By: Zach Catanzareti, Staff Writer
Two days ago, if you told Kaz Grala that he would be leading a NASCAR Cup Series race, he’d have a few questions.
However, after Austin Dillon — regular driver of the No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet — tested positive for COVID-19 on Saturday, Grala got the tap by team owner Childress to fill in and make his Cup debut. And it would come in Sunday’s first 65-lapper at the Daytona International Speedway Road Course.
And quite like a veteran, Grala kept the nose clean on his famed No. 3, led laps and came home in the seventh position on debut.
The news to fill in for Dillon came quick, as Grala only got fitted for the No. 3 seat on Sunday morning. However, the 21-year-old was ready to live out the dream.
“I never thought my NASCAR Cup Series debut would come in this nature,” Grala said. “I first want to say that I’m thankful that Austin’s symptoms are mild and that his wife Whitney and baby Ace are healthy. It certainly was an honor to get the call from Richard Childress and drive his iconic No. 3 American Ethanol Chevrolet. I honestly had a blast.”
Starting at the rear of the field, Grala methodically picked his way into the top 20 as the entire 39-car field navigated the 3.6-mile course for the first time.
Picking up on the do’s and don’t’s of a Cup Series chassis, Grala stayed out of trouble, eventually inheriting the race lead under green-flag pit stop cycle.
Way to go @KazGrala and the 3 team let’s go! Top 10
— Austin Dillon (@austindillon3) August 16, 2020
“We were able to lead laps in my NASCAR Cup Series debut, and it was fun to mix it up with some of my childhood heroes,” he said. “These Cup cars have so much power, which I really enjoyed. Today exceeded my expectations. My goal was to come in today, run all the laps, not tear anything up, and get a top-30 finish so this is certainly far above my wildest dreams.
“[Crew chief] Justin Alexander called an excellent strategic race, which really helped us get up there and compete inside the top-20 most of the day.”
With confidence in his back pocket by the final stage, Grala gave it that extra percent to battle up front.
“Before the last caution, I made a bold, three-wide move on a restart, which got us a ton of positions,” he said. “I don’t really know what I was thinking, but it worked and put us around 12th. We were in pretty good shape with some fresher tires than the guys ahead of us and opted to stay out under the last caution. We were able to pick off a few more of those guys to finish comfortably inside the top-10.”
Earning his last two Xfinity Series top-five finishes on road courses for RCR, Grala is confident to bring the prior experience to good use Sunday against the best stock car drivers in the world.
“I can’t thank everyone enough for giving me this opportunity; Richard, American Ethanol, and Chevrolet,” he said. “Today was a dream come true and I hope I made everyone in Welcome [North Carolina], all of the guys on the No. 3 team, Austin Dillon and all of RCR’s partners proud.
“That green No. 3 Chevrolet is iconic and it meant a lot to be able to sport American Ethanol’s colors today. I hope to have the opportunity to be racing on Sundays in the future.”
— Xfinity Racing (@XfinityRacing) August 16, 2020