LAS VEGAS, NV — In Saturday’s Rhino Pro Truck Outfitters 300 for the NASCAR Xfinity Series, it came down to a gamble on fuel mileage strategy. For three drivers who elected to stretch to the last drop, they were all successful. One driver that had the biggest statement at Las Vegas Motor Speedway was Gray Gaulding who finished seventh for SS-Green Light Racing.
“Yeah, I saved my rear end off,” said a relieved Gaulding. “I did everything I could to make sure.”
The relief came after extending the green flag pit window to a total of 70 laps, 74 including caution flag laps that began the final run to the checkered.
“They said it was going to be close, but about 20 laps to go, they said ‘You’re good.’ So I thought I could pick it up a little bit, but the racer in my thought that I needed to save as much as I can, even if they say I might not need to. Luckily enough, I saved enough fuel. The calculations were dead on because I ran out right at the checkered flag. It says a lot about that call, but what a place to do it in Vegas. People roll the dice every day, and we rolled the dice to get in. We got a great finish, but didn’t get in (the Playoffs).”
The finish became the team’s fourth top 10 of the 2019 season. The last time team owner Bobby Dotter had this many top 10 finishes in a single season was back in 1995 when he drove himself. Gaulding knew he was with an old school team that knew how to get it done the old school way.
“It’s about the people,” Gaulding was quick to state. “Bobby Dotter is the best owner I’ve ever drove for, and he rolled the dice on me to put me in the car. Look at where they were last year with their old driver, now look where they are today. Not in the cocky or arrogant way, I feel like I’m really doing my job and doing it well, but I know it’s not from a lack of effort from my guys and everybody that works their tails off on these racecars.
“It’s so fun, I’m having a blast.”
In the 21-year-old driver’s first full-time season with the Xfinity Series, he missed the Playoffs by just one spot in the points. He was too far back to point his way in, so he knew he was in a tough spot, even back in February at season start. But to be as close as they were, both with points and a few surprising runs throughout the season, was a testament to the fight they have within.
“You can always be disappointed,” he continued when asked about his thoughts on being the first car missing the Playoffs. “But the thing is; look at where we were in February. Did anyone pick us to make the Playoffs? Probably zero out of a hundred. Nobody even talked about us, thought about us, and the last three months, everybody is starting to watch us. We’re running good, we’re running up front. We almost won at Talladega.
“At the end of the day, we weren’t supposed to but to be even in the conversation and be there, fighting for a spot, that just says a lot about where the team was last year to now. We’re just going to keep fighting and do what we do best.”
The team’s quick growth this past year has been multiple avenues. The team’s only other top 10 finishes in recent years were by Xfinity “road ringer” Andy Lally, so the surge has been a surprise to some. Gaulding isn’t taking it for granted but celebrating when he can as they find success during the team’s growth. He can’t put his finger exactly on the reason for their success, but he again quickly pointed to his team.
“My crew chief Patrick (Donahue) and I gel well together,” he declared showing his gratitude with their teamwork over the season. “We got that love-hate relationship. I love him like a brother. When he does something wrong, I let him know, and when I do something wrong, he lets me know. It makes for a good marriage and a good combination. He’s just got my stuff getting really good week in and week out, especially on the big tracks. We’re down on motor, we’re down on everything. So to be able to show up and to finish in the top 10 on a mile and a half with these big motors, it says a lot about our race cars and what I’m doing.”
Despite missing the Playoffs, Gaulding is now the highest-seeded driver outside of the Playoffs. He currently has a 21 point lead over Jeremy Clements, and wants to not only say he’s the best outside of the Playoffs but show that his crew can compete against the bigger budget teams.
“I’m going to my favorite track next weekend (Richmond),” said Gaulding excitedly. “You can count on seeing me up front. I feel like what we learned in the Spring will make it even better next week. That just says a lot about what we’re doing. We’re taking the races we went to the first race and making them better the second time. I’m pretty damn good at Richmond. Richmond is my favorite track on the schedule, along with Bristol. Any short track, I feel like I can make up the difference for the car.”
There’s a lot of positive vibes going around the team and within the driver, but there’s uncertainty with the 2020 year. Gaulding is hopeful yet optimistic he can prove that he’s right where he belongs.
“My goal is that I want to be here. I want to be in the same position. Obviously a lot of things have to work out, but I know I can beat these guys. If we had full ECR Engines (Earnhardt-Childress Racing) every week and we had all the tires, I think we can beat the bigger teams. I got a lot of fight in me, and my guys got a lot of fight in them.
“I think going into next year, we’re going to see a lot of great things happening to me and my race team.”
We’re all focused on who can spoil the Playoffs with a win to secure their seat for the next round. It’s not a bad idea to also keep an eye on a young and hungry Virginia driver to spoil the Xfinity Playoffs. It’ll be a spoiler that many didn’t predict back in February.