The rough start of the 2023 NASCAR Xfinity Series season for Kaz Grala and Sam Hunt Racing was shaken off with a top-five finish in the team’s home race at Richmond Raceway.
The Boston, MA native ran well inside the top-10 throughout much of the Toyota Care 250. Grala battled with Cole Custer, Sheldon Creed, and Josh Berry over the course of the final Stage of the 250-lap race.
Several cautions in the final 30 laps of the race allowed Grala to contend for positions further up the running order. The Toyota Racing driver narrowly avoided a wreck when Riley Herbst was spun from inside the top-five on a restart with 20 laps to go.
On the final restart with six laps to go, Grala muscled his way by both Creed and Custer to take fourth. The 24-year-old chased Berry for third but ultimately ran out of time and took the checkered flag in fourth.
“It was our best race of the year, but not for a lack of effort,” Grala said. “We’ve been bringing really, really fast Toyota GR Supras. Today was no exception. Everything fell our way. We had a solid day, through and through. We were a top-10 car easily on the short run, but we might have just been the best car out here in the long run.
“When the caution came out late, I was almost disappointed, but it turned out okay. We will take a fourth-place. I’m really, really proud of everyone at Sam Hunt Racing, Toyota, our partners, Reudebusch, Island Coastal Lager, Fire Department Coffee. We can’t do it without those guys.”
The top-five finish marked just the fourth in the history of Sam Hunt Racing. It was the first for the team since John Hunter Nemechek’s top-five finish at Darlington Raceway last season. The top-five comes after incidents in four of the first six races stymied Grala’s efforts in 2023.
“Sam (Hunt, team owner) has a lot of friends, family and guests here this weekend, so this being his home race, this was a huge one,” Grala admitted. “It is always a little bit sweeter to run well in your home race. We did just that. I liked today, because there was no crazy pit strategy, no cycling, no attrition – we were just straight up pretty good today. We were good on the short run, and really, really good on the long run.”
The top-five finish had a bigger effect on the team than simply breaking a rough streak. Richmond is the home track for Sam Hunt Racing. The strong run on track came in front of friends and family for the team. That created a boost in both confidence and momentum for the organization heading into an off weekend for the Xfinity Series.
“(A top-five finish) means a lot,” Hunt said. “Especially, because it has been a tough year so far, we’ve had fast cars and things just haven’t fallen our way. We were good all day long. We were really hoping it went green, because I think we had a car to beat in the long run, but for this team, this group, to run with these guys and beat the cars we beat, it is special.
“It is really cool. I’m just grateful for all of the people that have believed in us, believed in me. I feel like I really don’t deserve this stage, this situation, this finish. I have just been so lucky to have great people help me and help this program.”
The fourth-place finish was Grala’s first top-five and top-10 finish of the 2023 Xfinity Series season. It also matched his best career finish in the series. For Grala, it was his sixth career top-five finish and the fourth for Sam Hunt Racing.
The top-five finish moved Grala up from 23rd in the points standings to 20th. He is 170-points behind leader Austin Hill. Grala is also 81-points behind the cutoff for the playoffs, currently held by Parker Kligerman of Westport, CT..
Next for Grala is the Call 811 Before You Dig 250 at Martinsville Speedway. Though he has never driven at ‘The Paperclip’ in the Xfinity Series, he has four starts in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series there with a best finish of seventh in 2017.
The Call 811 Before You Dig 250 at Martinsville is scheduled for Saturday, April 15, at 7:30 p.m. ET on Fox Sports 1. The race will also be broadcast on the Motor Racing Network and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, channel 90.
Written By Seth Eggert, Associate Editor Tire Kickin, Photo by Chris Owens / Harold Hinson Photography