Perhaps, there was no competitor who left the inaugural Go Bowling 235 at the Daytona International Speedway Road Course beaming more than Kaz Grala. The 21-year-old native from Boston, Massachusetts, received a lifetime opportunity on Sunday, August 16, to pilot the iconic No. 3 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE for Richard Childress Racing as an interim competitor for Austin Dillon, who was absent after testing positive for COVID-19 symptoms a day earlier. Following a consistent run at Daytona, where he started at the rear of the field and was running towards the front in the closing laps, Grala ended his race with a seventh-place result and in his first run in a NASCAR Cup Series car.
The No. 3 American Ethanol/RCR Chevrolet was due to start in 10th place with Dillon behind the wheel. With Dillon absent after being diagnosed with COVID-19 symptoms, however, Grala started the race at the rear of the field due to a driver change. For the first 15 laps and throughout the first stage, he remained within the top 30 before he settled in 32nd place. Throughout the second stage, Grala continued to carve his way towards the front, but he settled in 24th following a late pit stop under green.
Following a rain delay in the early portions of the final stage and a pit stop prior to the restart, the final 26 laps was where Grala started to flex his muscles as he worked his way into the top 15. During a cycle of pit stops under green with approximately 15 laps remaining, Grala found himself as the leader of the race. Ultimately, he led his first three career laps in the Cup circuit before he made his final pit stop under green for fuel to complete the race to its scheduled distance. Following his stop, he continued to battle inside the top 15. Following a late caution and a three-lap dash to the finish, he was able to muscle his way into the top 10 and cross the finish line under the checkered flag in seventh place ahead of names like William Byron, Joey Logano, Michael McDowell, Erik Jones, Alex Bowman, Brad Keselowski and Kurt Busch.
With his first run in the Cup circuit concluding with a first top-10 career result, Grala became the 19th competitor to record a top-10 result in the Cup Series while driving for Richard Childress Racing and the fifth competitor to pilot the iconic No. 3 car in NASCAR’s premier series. Ironically, the Daytona Road Course event marked the 1,000th NASCAR Cup race for the No. 3 car under the Richard Childress Racing banner.
“I can’t believe it,” Grala said on NBC. “It’s surreal to get the call from Richard [Childress] to drive the 3 [car] alone. I was really hoping for a top-30 finish. Man, seventh-place, that’s unbelievable. I couldn’t ask for anything more. My wishes are with Austin [Dillon]. I hope he’s back in the car next weekend [at Dover International Speedway], but it was an honor to get to drive this car and to finish P7, it’s just beyond my wildest dreams.”
“[Today] was tough,” Grala added. “We got up to like 25th and we were racing our butt off like we were racing for the win in any other series. Everybody’s just unbelievable. Our strategy was good. [Crew chief] Justin Alexander called a great race and put ourselves up front where we needed to be. We executed.”
The result came in his 62nd start across NASCAR’s three major national division series (Truck, Xfinity & Cup Series). He has made two starts this season in the NASCAR Xfinity Series and in RCR’s No. 21 Chevrolet Camaro, where he finished 13th at Kansas in July and a career-best fourth place last weekend at Road America. His lone NASCAR victory dates back to February 2017, where he won the season opener at Daytona International Speedway while driving for GMS Racing. Since joining RCR last season as a part-time competitor, Grala continues to strive for his goal in returning as a full-time competitor for any organization within NASCAR’s top division series.
Ironically, this did not mark the only occasion where Grala drove a racing car sporting the number 3.
“I drove the 3 car in Bandoleros, Legends Cars, Late Models growing up,” Grala noted. “I never thought I’d make my first Cup start in the 3 car and I certainly never thought I’d get a top 10 [result].”
Announcements regarding Richard Childress Racing’s No. 3 Chevrolet team and Austin Dillon’s conditions for next weekend at Dover International Speedway for a series doubleheader weekend will be announced sometime this upcoming week.