Kaz Grala Preparing for Busy 2024 NASCAR Cup Series Season

Ford Performance Notes and Quotes
NASCAR Cup Series
Preseason Media Availability | Wednesday, February 7, 2024

Kaz Grala, driver of the No. 15 Rick Ware Racing Ford Mustang, participated in a NASCAR teleconference earlier today to talk about his 2024 season in which he will compete in 25 races for RWR and the upcoming Daytona 500 with Front Row Motorsports.

KAZ GRALA, No. 15 Rick Ware Racing Ford Mustang Dark Horse – WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE OFFSEASON AND WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING FORWARD TO THE MOST IN 2024? “It’s been a busy offseason for me, for sure. Of course, switching teams, switching series, switching manufacturers, there’s been a lot to get used to on the Ford side and just getting to know everybody over at Rick Ware Racing, where the bulk of my season will be this year. I’ll have at least 25 races with those guys over there and coming up in the Daytona 500 that one is gonna be with Front Row Motorsports, so I’ve had some different groups to kind of get to know, start working with and we’ve been working on interiors of race cars for a month-and-a-half now, so a lot of time spent sitting in race cars indoors so far, but I’m definitely ready to get those things outside and get them on a track. We started that last week in L.A. with Rick Ware Racing, but it should be fun to get to sit in that No. 36 car at Daytona too.”

IT SOUNDS LIKE FIVE OR SIX CARS TRYING FOR THOSE FOUR SPOTS AT DAYTONA. HOW DO YOU FEEL HAVING TO GET IN THAT WAY? “With the five that we know of so far, I feel good about our chances there for sure. This will, of course, be my third time going to the 500 as an open car, and I know what that stress is like. Every time I’ve done it I’ve said I really hope next time it’s in a charter and every time I keep coming back for more in an open entry. That definitely has got to be the most stressful week of the year in racing when you’re in that position, so I know from experience that the race can be made. I feel confident that I know how to get there. I’ve done it before. So far, I’m 2-for-2, but I also know that anything can happen because at least one if not both of those times I did make it I was actually in a position where I wasn’t gonna make it because I got wrecked or I got a speeding penalty. I have not had the smoothest Duels before and they’ve ended up falling in my favor at the end because of crazy circumstances, so I’ve been on the right end of that, but I know that it’s possible to be on the wrong end of that, too. I think all that we need to focus on is Front Row Motorsports bringing as fast of a Mustang as they can so that we cross our fingers and hope that we lock in on Wednesday night, but if we don’t, then I feel like we’ve got a really good chance to make it in through the Duels. Front Row Motorsports has always raced really well on superspeedways. We’ll have some Ford allies out there with us, so I do feel good about our chances. I think on paper we absolutely should be one of those top four Open cars that makes the race, but you can never get comfortable. You know that anything can happen, so you just have to execute everything perfectly. That’s what it takes.”

ARE YOU TRYING TO FILL OUT THE REST OF THE CUP SCHEDULE OR JUST FOCUS ON WHAT YOU HAVE RIGHT NOW? “I would say, honestly, it’s not something I’m actively pursuing – to try to fill in those other ones. I’m definitely just focused on what I have. If something crazy were to happen and I were to win Daytona or win Atlanta or something that put me in a points position to where I essentially had to fill in those other races, then I think the work would start towards scrambling, trying to figure out how to make that happen. I think, assuming everything goes normally, then I don’t think that’s something I’m actively working on or will be working on. I’ll just be focused on racing week to week, but if things come together, if things go well and something falls into my lap, I’ve got an opportunity to add this race or add that race, then I’ll certainly do it. If I can end up piecing the whole schedule together, that would be fantastic, but that’s not something I’m actively working on right now.”

IS THERE ANYTHING FROM THE CLASH WEEKEND YOU CAN TAKE INTO THE REGULAR SEASON? “Yeah, I think so. Of course, it didn’t go all that well for us on the 15 team. We ended up missing the race, but we did miss it by just over a tenth, which when you really think about it is so little. The field was so tight and we were in the mix. We were in that cluster of lap times. We were just on the wrong end of it to be above the cut line, so I feel like that encouraged me that we’re close and we’ve got that opportunity to be there. We’re, of course, aligned with RFK Racing and RFK hasn’t historically the last three years been the best at the Clash. They haven’t gotten that one quite figured out, but you look at their season last year overall, how many places that they clearly do have an excellent recipe for – there were so many races they had both cars in the top five and there were a bunch of races they won. So, when I look at that, we were right there with the RFK cars on pace at the Clash and two of us didn’t make it and two of us did make it, but on a weekend where the RFK cars are really good or the guys to beat, then I look at that as an opportunity where maybe us being just one step behind them means that we’re quite a bit up the field from where we were at the Clash. I feel like there’s a lot of great potential there. I think the people at Rick Ware Racing and the new tools, the new processes definitely have the potential to run well. It’s all so new that I don’t know that we’ll be able to plug it in and just go run up front in the first 10 races, that may be ambitious, but I think over the course of the year and certainly over the course of the next few years where the team is going and what their plans are, I think absolutely will work. I’m excited to be a part of that so far and definitely look forward to what that could look like at some point this year when things really start clicking and firing on all cylinders. I think we can do a lot.”

HOW MUCH TIME HAS YOU SPENT AT FRONT ROW TO GET PREPARED FOR THE 500? “I’ve been over there three or four times already and spent quite a bit of time with those guys. I’m going back on Monday with my spotter and my crew chief. We’re gonna sit down and watch a lot of film from last year to kind of go over spotting style, go over strategy, and go over approach. I feel like I’ve definitely gotten some good time over there and I’ve been kind of bouncing back and forth between there and Rick Ware Racing, so I feel like I’ve been in a race shop for the majority of my day the past three or four weeks. That’s just the way I like it. I’ve had seasons of my career where they’re really sparse and I’ve only got a couple of races and don’t really have anywhere to go, don’t really have a home base, so it’s been really nice being welcomed into these two organizations and knowing that I’ll have as much of a schedule as I will because I’ve run a few Cup races before – seven in total going into this year or so. To get the chance to run 26, that’s a big difference, a big deal to me because I’ll really be able to get to learn and understand these Next Gen cars far more than I have already and get to know the tracks in these cars, get to know the competitors. I think that’s so important. The Cup Series, people talk about how big of a jump it is and they’re absolutely right. It’s not simple to get into and it’s not simple to be successful in, so the more of a routine I can get and get used to it, certainly the better off I’ll be because those guys don’t miss a beat. If you’re coming in for a one-off or a two-off schedule, that’s hard to go up against these guys, so I feel like I’ve at least got enough races to get in a good routine and get really gelling with the teams. I think that’s gonna be key this year.”

HOW DO YOU LOOK AT YOUR JOURNEY TO THIS POINT AND HOW YOU WORKED THROUGH ALL THE ADVERSITY TO GET TO THIS POINT? “There have definitely been a lot of times over the last few years that I’ve wondered if I will actually keep racing or be able to keep racing. This is what I want to do with my life and this is what I always dreamed of doing and envisioned myself doing, but there were plenty of times I didn’t know if that was actually going to be possible or if I had raced my last race in NASCAR because often times when I would take a checkered flag, I didn’t actually have my next race on the schedule set in stone yet. It’s been tough and it has not been a straightforward road for me personally, but I feel like I just kept my head down. I kept networking within teams. I kept pushing for sponsors and over the past few years I’ve been really fortunate to get a great handful of partners that have allowed me to race more often than I was before, and I think that’s been really important. As I touched on before, if your schedule isn’t consistent, you’re going into the races at such a disadvantage to everybody else, whether that’s Cup, Xfinity, Trucks, you’re still racing against guys that run with that team, that crew chief, that spotter every race and if you don’t, then you know that you’re starting behind the eight-ball when you unload at the track that weekend. The more consistent my schedule has gotten, I feel like the better I’ve gotten and that’s been super important as well towards me being able to prove what I’m capable of and I still feel like I’m a long way away from having proven what I believe that I’m capable of, so it’s all part of the journey and part of the process. I don’t feel like I’m at the end of it by any stretch. I’m somewhere in the middle. I guess time will tell at what point in the middle I’m at, but, hopefully, I can prove over the next year or two that I’ve got the staying power to be here and make a career. That’s the goal is to be in the Cup Series full time, to be in a chartered car full time and to make a living here for my entire career. That’s the goal. I think this year is an excellent step in that right direction for where I want to be. It’s gonna be up to me and up to the team to be able to make the most of that and really showcase what we’re capable of and what we’re able to do, but, as I said, I think we’ve got a lot of the right pieces in place. It’s hard going up against Hendrick, Penske, Stewart-Haas, Joe Gibbs Racing. Cup is the real deal. There are no gimmes at all out there and especially this year I feel like the field has gotten even a little bit deeper. It really truly stretches all the way from front to back as being competitive, high budgets, great teams, great drivers, so everybody you beat, if you beat one guy, you’ve accomplished something. It is that tight of a field, so I feel like we’ve got our work cut out for us certainly, but I think that we’re up for the challenge.”

A LOT OF DRIVERS NEVER GET TO THIS POINT. WHY DO YOU FEEL YOU DID? “I think honestly it’s probably attributed to what I give as advice to people that ask me how to make it. I’ve had plenty of younger drivers ask me that in the past, whether it’s in DMs or in person at a short track event or something. I personally think that a lot of young racers in this sport, myself included at the time, would focus on what happens on track and that is the end all, be all. When you’re in Legend cars, it really feels like every race is gonna make or break your career. Rick Hendrick is gonna be calling if you win this Concord Motor Speedway Legend car race today. That’s the mindset you get in and that’s important because you have to develop that competitive nature and desire to win and, of course, being good on track. That is absolutely important, but as soon as you start moving up through late models or once you get to ARCA, Trucks, the off track side of this sport becomes as important if not more important because if you don’t have the business acumen to be able to put these sponsorships together, you never get to get in the car to show people what you can do. You may be the best driver in the world, but if you can’t sit in one of those cars, no one will ever be able to know. I feel like the off track marketability, being able to talk to the sponsors, being able to understand what a sponsor wants – it’s not about pitching them on how many wins you have or how many top fives you have because your wins and top fives don’t translate to them selling whatever it is their product is. You need to be able to understand, ‘OK, what can I bring to the table that helps this company based on exactly what their product is, what their marketing objectives are.’ How do I plan to help them with that. I feel like generally my ability to talk to sponsors and there have been times I’ve only had five races of sponsorship going into the year and last year I hit 33 races of sponsorship. It’s not always the easiest thing and it’s not a sure fire, ‘Oh, I know how to do that, so I’m gonna have millions and millions of dollars in sponsorship.’ It’s not that simple, but I think that is absolutely a big piece of it is being able to manage the off track relationship that team leadership as well at the shop and being able to break down your feedback of the car and steer the team in the right direction for what to develop next and how to improve. There’s a lot to this sport that is outside of just how fast can you make it through this corner in a race car. I feel like that’s what’s been able to keep me in the game as long as I have been and keep me grinding is I’ve gotten just enough to always get me to the next race a little bit, and I’ve been able to grow that and now here I am in a really exciting spot for this year and hopefully with a great opportunity ahead of me.”

YOU HAVE A SMOKEY BURNOUT PICTURE BEHIND YOU. WHAT IS IT AND WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO HAVE A VISUAL REFERENCE OF SUCCESS? “That’s my Daytona Truck win and that was on the front straightaway. So far, that’s my only win in the national series. I think the picture serves as a reminder that wins at this level are not easy to come by. You certainly shouldn’t ever take any one for granted. I feel like since then I haven’t been in as many positions to win as I’d like to be, and that’s still a work in progress of course. My goal is to get into Victory Lane in the Xfinity Series, get into Victory Lane in the Cup Series some day. Those are tall orders, but I think it’s all part of this process of trying to put yourself in the best possible place, what’s gonna be best for your career two years from now, five years from now. When you’re trying to figure out what you’re going to race for the year, what team you’re gonna go with, what series you’re gonna be in, you have to look years in advance as to what the potential is there. It’s not about, ‘Oh, where is the best team this year.’ You have to really look at the big picture and the big picture is that – winning more races, and I hope I’m in the right place to where I can make that a reality a handful of years down the road, wherever that may be, whatever that my look like, but I’m hoping every year that I’ll end up being on the right track to being able to accomplish some more of that because there is certainly no better feeling than winning.”

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SpeedwayMedia.com


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