Grala makes last lap pass to propel The Money Team to Sunday’s Daytona 500 (2:30 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN), how he did it with his thoughts

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla — “Puke and puke.” That’s what Kaz Grala said was going through his frame when going down the backstretch on the 60th and final lap of the first Bluegreen Vacations Duel in Daytona. He thought the dream was over.

“It went from puke to puke, puking nervous to puking excited at the end,” said a happy Grala in the media center following the opening of two twin 150-mile qualifying races on Thursday night.

This was all or nothing for them because if they didn’t make the show, this opportunity could have been shelved.

“This is huge for The Money Team Racing, huge for Floyd, for Pit Viper,” he said. “This mattered a lot to us. There really was no option but to make this race. This is why we did what we did was to race in the Daytona 500. We didn’t come into this week ready to accept any other fate.

“It’s big for us being a new team to be able to do this. It’s huge financially. It’s huge exposure, the marketing. We want to run a part-time schedule this year. We want to try to run some of the road courses, maybe some of the closer, less-traveled races. To have a good showing like this and to hopefully have a good showing on Sunday will go a long way towards helping build this program into what they aspire to be, a full-time opportunity, and I’d love to stick with them for that.”

It wasn’t easy though and not for the faint of heart.

Grala, was in the money spot for the newly formed The Money Team for most of the first half of Thursday night’s twin race. With only one spot available in each Duel tonight to make the final two spots into Sunday’s 64th annual Daytona 500 (2:30 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN), three drivers entered both and one in each knew that they had a spot into the Great American Race on speed.

So, Noah Gragson fell to the back and early on lost a lap. It was between JJ Yeley and Grala for that 39th position of 40 for Sunday. Grala, had a rather sizeable advantage when he hit pit lane for the first time of the race on Lap 34.

That’s when this race was flipped on its head. The Ford’s flipped the script on the Chevy’s and the running order among the open cars wasn’t spared either.

DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA – FEBRUARY 17: Kaz Grala, driver of the #50 Pit Viper Sunglasses Chevrolet, reacts after the NASCAR Cup Series Bluegreen Vacations Duel #1 at Daytona at Daytona International Speedway on February 17, 2022 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Grala, was hit with a speeding penalty for too fast exiting and that full advantage was gone. Gragson, who was last was now first among the open cars with Yeley behind. Gragson, wanted no part of it and fell quickly to the rear again.

Rightfully so too. They don’t have a backup car and with a spot already clinched, why risk it?

Yeley then looked like the one to beat with Grala losing ground. But, with drafting help and a push from Kurt Busch, those dreams that he thought were dashed no longer were. He went by Yeley and into the Daytona 500 as a result.

“It’s a relief, I can tell you that,” Grala said. “I thought for a while there that we weren’t going to make it and squeaked by just on the last lap. I made a mistake early, sped on pit road, shouldn’t have had that happen. Barely came back.

“We were running some fast lap times in that line towards the end, and I knew we were going to be close. I thought we might have a chance at catching him and the timing was just right. Right on the last lap we got to him, got by him and that’s what we needed to do to make the 500.

“I was worried as we rode by him on that last lap, I didn’t know if he was going to try something, try to block, shoot down in front of us. There wasn’t a hole for him, but I was worried about whatever he might try because you’ve got to try. That’s all we did.

“That was a relief. When we were catching him I could see with like two laps to go, I was like, I think we are going to get there, I really think we’re going to get there. I couldn’t even believe it, but it worked out.

“Yeah, huge relief. I was still asking on the radio even after the checkered, I’m like, are we in? Are we sure? Was that definitely the last lap? Are we definitely squared ahead? And luckily we were.

“Really thrilled right now. Disappointed in the mistake I made, but at least got that out of the way, figured out my dash. That was my first time working with this dashboard tonight, so not going to have any issues with that going forward. Really excited for the team no matter what way we got in.

“But hey, I was going into the night saying we’re going to make it. I’d at least want to do it in exciting fashion, so it was more exciting than I wanted but it was exciting.”

When asked when he knew if when he felt like he could recover from the penalty?

“Well, it was really about 12 laps to go that I thought we had a realistic chance of it. When we first blended off after that penalty, we were pretty much by ourselves. We picked up the 41, but just the two of us weren’t going to be able to do anything as far as catching the 55. I got ingratiated into that line there; Kurt Busch picked me up from behind.

“That was key for me. I needed a pusher. We really couldn’t hang on to a line of good cars as the last car tonight, so we’re going to probably tweak on it for Sunday and see if we can dial a little speed into it. But that pusher was key, and Kurt got us there.

“I was looking at the lap times on my dash – apparently I knew how to use my dash at that point – and we were running fast. I knew what we were running by ourselves and figured that that was what the 55 close to it was running, and I’m like, man, we’re really going to be gaining on him, but I didn’t know what the gap was exactly.

“So it really wasn’t until about three, four laps to go when I could see them and I was like, this could happen. Really right down to that last lap there was no relief because like I said, I didn’t know what Yeley was going to try. If he had an opportunity to try to jump into that line, things could have gone sideways really quickly.

“The key was our line staying formed up and being able to roll by him on the bottom, not giving him a chance to hop down in front of anybody. That was really a defining moment there, and then we just had to cruise to the checkered. Definitely took years off my life. Will Auchmoody, our team general manager, I’m sure took decades off of his life because he’s even more emotional and nerved up than I could ever be.”

He also notes this is the second straight year he’s been in, then out and back in again and that all his luck seems to be coming in the Duels now.

“I mean, this was definitely way more hectic going into the weekend because we truly started from scratch. We actually didn’t get any hardware from Starcom Racing, so this was truly all brand new fresh Next Gen stuff, and we had about a 30-day period to try to put the car together.

“It was hectic going into it. Kaulig Racing last year had everything buttoned up. They were an existing team; it was a lot easier, so pretty much turnkey, came here and raced. But as far as the Duel, I would say it was more hectic this year, at least from a stress perspective for me.

“Both years I have been in the Duel and I’ve been in, and then I’ve had something catastrophic go wrong and known that I’m out and I’m definitely going to be out and then miraculously exactly what needed to happen happened both years for me to get in.

“Apparently I’m lucky in the Duels, but I would have rather saved my luck for Sunday. Hopefully I’ll still have some left in the tank.”

On Lap 35 a year ago, two of the four open cars were collected in a crash with Grala and Garrett Smithley being collected when Chase Briscoe lost his No. 14 Ford at the exit of Turn 2. Fellow rookie Anthony Alfredo spun while trying to avoid him and Grala, Smithley and BJ McLeod had no where to go.

Grala, suffered heavy damage and thought his chances of making the Daytona 500 were done.

Luckily for him, he got lucky with that crash on the 56th lap as Smithley hooked Brad Keselowski and sparked a five car crash. Gragson, was collected too and saw his night end. Smithley, had damage and fell a lap down.

It left the final overtime restart for that final spot between David Ragan and Grala. That allowed Ragan to race his way in and not have to fall back on his time.

Cindric and Grala were the third and fourth fastest cars in qualifying last year and it allowed Grala to race for Kaulig Racing in 2021.

As far as what’s next now that they’d made the Daytona 500?

“Yeah, maybe superspeedway races. I’d say less likely. It’s too much of a risk to the car, and these Next Gen cars are so expensive that as a small team we’d probably have to try to protect our equipment. But obviously this race, it’s the Daytona 500. It’s the biggest race. It’s the highest paying race. We’ve got to be here.

“I would expect probably picking tracks that either particular sponsors want for our schedule or tracks that we feel we have the best shot at. I feel like road courses are very possibly our best chance simply because there’s fewer of them; we’ll be less behind the 8-ball with the other teams that are running full time. For us to go to a mile-and-a-half race, we’ll probably be many races behind in data of the other teams.

“We’ve got our eye on trying to do the road courses. I love COTA. I’d love to do COTA. That’s one we’ve got circled that we’re hoping to do, and I know we picked up some sponsorship for that race already and we’re looking to close that out, get the car full and be out there, keep building this program.”

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