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Businessman racer Grala enters 2023 in the black

DAYTONA BEACH, FLA. — After posting a lap time during qualifying for the 2021 Daytona 500, Austin Dillon called out an up-and-coming manufacturer teammate for a particular reason.

“I love the way Kaz [Grala] carries himself and the work that he puts in. He does everything he’s supposed to do as a race car driver. He’s somewhat I would call a businessman race car driver.”

Now, the businessman race car driver enters Daytona in the black. Kaz Grala will pilot the No. 26 Sam Hunt Racing Toyota in the 2023 NASCAR Xfinity Series for his first full-time tenure in five years.

Grala’s deal with SHR kickstarted a month before his first start at Phoenix in November 2022. The SHR No. 26 unexpectedly opened for Grala then and ultimately led to them finalizing the 2023 deal before he even turned a lap.

“Ironically, the timing of that was actually before practice, so I signed before I ever actually drove the car,” Grala stated. “It turns out we ended up figuring everything out and agreeing on everything, the week leading into Phoenix. We actually did the signing at the track at Phoenix in the Toyota hospitality motor home with all of the executives there and made it a really, really special moment.”

Special, as it’s only the third time Grala has been full-time in one of NASCAR’s three national series.

DAYTONA BEACH, FL – FEBRUARY 24: Kaz Grala, driver of the #33 KiklosGreekExtraVirginOliveOil Chevrolet, celebrates with a burnout after winning the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series NextEra Energy Resources 250 at Daytona International Speedway on February 24, 2017 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

The first time was 2017, at age 18, when he instantly locked into the Truck playoffs with a season-opening win at Daytona.

After finishing 7th in points, he was catapulted to Xfinity full-time with JGL Racing.

Then, 10 races in, the journey started to slow down.

After the JGL Racing organization closed its doors, the team transferred to Fury Race Cars.

However, they only made it six races before going part-time – ultimately mustering up 22 races.

It wasn’t until last season where Grala ran as many races as he did in 2018. He ran 25 NASCAR races in 2022, driving for five different organizations.

DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA – FEBRUARY 17: Kaz Grala poses for a photo at Daytona International Speedway on February 17, 2022 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Grala also drove for five different organizations over 5 starts in 2019, 7 in 2020 and 8 in 2021. The time of patchwork deals imparted wisdom and knowledge upon Grala that has brought him to his first full-time ride in five years.

“In racing, you’ve also got to be a businessman and be able to put these deals together because you don’t actually get to go out and show what you can do in a race car until you have a sponsor to do so. It’s really a multi level sport and there are different facets that you have to have as a driver in order to succeed in this. And I went from having a full time ride to kind of being on my own to try to find sponsorship.”

Grala found what some describe as “a needle in a haystack” that has inspired him and others, like Trackhouse Racing, to take a unique perspective on finding sponsorship in an overall, ever-changing world.

Just as Trackhouse brought in partners like Carnival Cruise Lines by way of unique activation tactics, Grala worked to nab Island Brands in 2023 for their first-ever sponsorship effort, with the belief that they’re a “perfect, perfect fit for NASCAR.”

Thus, where the Austin Dillon-coined “businessman racecar driver” comes from.

A watershed moment for Grala and Dillon’s relationship was in August 2020 when Grala filled in for Dillon at the Daytona road course. He described the fill-in effort, driving the No. 3, as “one of the top three moments” in his life, no matter how the weekend would’ve went.

“I never thought I would have a chance to make my Cup debut in the 3 car I grew up watching, so I said, ‘take it all in,’ and I did. I enjoyed that weekend and really took moments to take it all in, like Jimmie Johnson was on the grid in his retirement year and he was my favorite driver growing up.”

The weekend was capped off in “the most perfect way” with a 7th-place finish, which was “4 times better” than he expected to finish in his debut.

“We really spent more time together in the year-and-a-half after that finish and now I know him really well. I’ve done some cool sports car endurance races with him as my co-driver and we’ve won. Austin has been great and has been super helpful during my time at RCR,” Grala said.

Photo by Erick Messer/TRE

Looking ahead to 2023, Grala is a likely favorite on the road courses where he has developed a reputation as somewhat of a ringer. Five of his 11 top-5 NASCAR national series finishes have come on road courses.

Grala’s background is on that type of racing, as his dad, Darius, won in IMSA competition and Kaz himself didn’t race ovals until he was 9 years old.

However, that’s not all Kaz wants to be known for.

“Ironically, over the last few years, I’ve just kind of ended up with more road courses than ovals, like disproportionately high, so a lot of memorable moments have been on road courses. I’m glad this year with the whole schedule, I get to race on every type of track to show I can run up front and be a versatile driver everywhere,” Kaz Grala said.

Kaz Grala exits the Phoenix Raceway pit road in his No. 26 Sam Hunt Racing Toyota. Credit: Jonathan Fjeld/TRE

In 2023, Grala will work with crew chief Alan Hart after working with him during the one-off effort in November 2022. As a part-time NASCAR driver for five seasons, the relationship between Grala and Hart is a rarity for the young driver.

“We already had a good communication right off the bat and that’s only going to grow as he learns and I learn how to ask for certain things. Honestly, I don’t think that I have had that with anybody in this sport yet because I’ve never really had the time or the chance to develop it that far,” Grala commented.

Grala joked he has a 100% rate of making the playoffs, as he made the playoffs in his only full-time season. His confidence isn’t just with himself but also with Sam Hunt Racing.

“Once we hit our stride, I imagine that’ll be around the 1/3 mark in the season when we can truly be unloading and operating at our best then hopefully we’ll be a force to be reckoned with. No doubt, if we can pull off a playoff berth, then we’re going to be in prime shape heading into those playoffs as a team ready to get after it,” he said.

“I want to leave the track knowing I got everything I could’ve gotten.”

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)

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