Gray Gaulding survived and thrived in Friday‘s NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Daytona International Speedway.
No, the 22-year-old didn‘t win the Wawa 250 Powered by Coca-Cola. Justin Haley claimed that honor. But Gaulding did score his second career top-five finish in 43 series starts. He was actually the runner-up, missing the checkered flag by .253 seconds. He even led two laps in just his second series start of the season.
“Kids dream about having a chance to win Daytona,” Gaulding said. “I‘ve been dreaming about this since I was 5 years old, writing about it in my kindergarten class.”
Gaulding has raced on Daytona‘s historic 2.5-mile oval four times. His resume breaks down into 38th, 34th, eighth and second — in order from 2018 to present.
Filling in as a part-time driver in 2020, Gaulding steered the No. 07 SS Green Light Racing Chevrolet all the way from a 28th starting position to a 13th-place run in Stage 1 by Lap 30 and a fourth-place run in Stage 2 by Lap 40. The final stage was fully green — a 40-lap stretch — and Gaulding was able to remain in the top five.
Apart from the stage breaks, there were six cautionary periods, including a red-flag stretch during the second stage. Three of the cautions involved at least three cars, with one actually featuring a grand 13 total on Lap 41 of 100.
“I knew once I missed that one big wreck I‘d have a chance to win — or at least a chance at the end for a top 10, top five,” Gaulding said. “I put myself in a position to get there late, and that‘s what I did.
“I busted through the middle on the back straightaway. I said, ‘This is my chance. I‘m not lifting. Whoever turns in front of me, I‘m sorry, but I don‘t get many opportunities to win.‘ And I feel like I really did everything I could to win, just came up short.”
This wasn‘t Gaulding‘s first standout performance on a superspeedway. He has proven before he know what he is doing when the speeds increase.
In 2019, when Gaulding drove the No. 08 SS Green Light Racing Chevrolet full time to 13th in the final standings, he pulled out a second-place showing at Talladega Superspeedway. That time, he was just .127 seconds behind the race winner.
This Daytona race was just Gaulding‘s second of the season. He also competed in, no surprise, the Talladega event, where he finished eighth in the same entry.
“I really want to be back here full time next year, or just something competitive that I can show up and have days like today,” Gaulding said. “I know I can do it on other tracks, but this is kind of my only equalizer as far as equipment on a normal basis.”