Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin, these are just some of the drivers that Gray Gaulding grew up watching race in NASCAR. These same drivers are now going to be some of the people he will be competing against this year!
At only 18 years of age, Gaulding has achieved a lifetime goal of competing full-time in NASCAR’s premier Cup Series. His first season begins this March at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
“To be a kid from a small town – Colonial Heights, Virginia – and grow up having a dream of eventually driving in the Cup series and driving against guys I looked up to my entire career as a young kid – Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, all those guys – and to know that I’m able to do that at 18 years old this season is really a dream come true,” Gaulding said. “It’s just really cool to be able to think how far myself, my family and everybody that’s supported me, how far we’ve come as a group, and now to know that really in a few months I’m going to be making my first start of the year … it’s really unbelievable.”
Gaulding will drive BK Racing’s #23 Toyota for 33 of the 36 points races on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series schedule. Although sponsorship is slated to be announced at a later date, it is expected that Gaulding’s main primary sponsor on the #23 will be Dr. Pepper.
Although Gaulding’s teammate Joey Gase will have the #23 and Best Home Furnishings as his primary sponsor in three races this season – Daytona in February, Kentucky in July and Bristol in August – the two drivers are really only sharing the same car number. Gaulding is expected to have the #83 at Kentucky in July and Bristol in August, and he is slated to retain his crew and points for those two races.
The only race that Gaulding will miss in 2017 is the season-opening Daytona 500, as he has not received approval from NASCAR to run the race due to the requirement that he has to race a Cup race at a track that is 1.5-plus miles in length before he can compete at the 2.5-mile superspeedways of Daytona and Talladega. His two starts last season in Cup were at the half-mile short track of Martinsville and the one-mile raceway of Phoenix.
Gaulding, however, will be approved for the entire season after he races at the 1.5-mile oval of Atlanta Motor Speedway on Sunday, March 5. Although he won’t compete in February, Gaulding still plans on attending the Daytona 500 to support his team, and he also looks forward to taking on the 400-miler at Daytona in July and the two superspeedway features at Talladega.
Gaulding, 18, will be competing for Rookie of the Year honors in what he projects to be a “stout rookie class” in 2017 alongside his buddies and former NASCAR Next peers Erik Jones, 20, and Daniel Suarez, 25, as well as Ty Dillon, 24.
Gaulding has competed in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series with multiple race teams including Kyle Busch Motorsports. He also made two starts in the XFINITY Series for Roush-Fenway Racing. His two Cup starts in 2016 came in the #30 Feed the Children Chevrolet.
“The last couple of years have definitely been kind of a roller coaster, but that’s just kind of how the racing industry works,” Gaulding said. “You’ve always got to take the next great opportunity to try to get to the next level.”
And now that he’s reached the elite Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, he’s embracing his full-time opportunity with BK Racing.
“It’s just so cool to be able to be in the Cup Series with such a good team like BK Racing that has kind of the same attitude as myself: they want to get their program better each week,” Gaulding said, “and hopefully, by the end of the season, we’ll just keep fighting and trying to get top 5’s, top 10’s, top 20’s and things like that.
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK !