Gray Gaulding and the #20 Gemini Southern Chevrolet team led by veteran crew chief Jeff Hensley made Gaulding's debut in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series (NCWTS), one to remember.
Gray Gaulding and both of the NTS Motorsports NCWTS teams tested at the infamous Virginia half mile, just one week earlier, which helped Gaulding roll into Martinsville with confidence in his team, his equipment, and himself. Gaulding turned 76 laps in Friday's opening practice session posting the eleventh quickest time a 19.800.
In final practice with intermittent rain showers being an issue, crew chief Jeff Hensley noted he had a few things to try but didn't want to put unnecessary time on the track. Gaulding turned 22 laps and posted the best ten lap average and fourth fastest time overall. Both Hensley and Gaulding knew they had a good piece for the race.
Saturday would be a complete wash out, starting with qualifying being rained out and the field being set per the rule book, which lined Gaulding and the No. 20 Gemini Southern Chevrolet eleventh on the inside of row six. With rain showers being present throughout the day, NASCAR had to postpone the Kroger 250 until 5:30 on Sunday following the conclusion of the Sprint Cup series event.
The green flag dropped on the Kroger 250 just a few minutes past the original 5:30 start time. Gaulding got into his groove quickly and settled into 13th just before the first caution flag flew at lap 10. Gaulding reported he a tight condition and Hensley worked with him on tire fans. When the green flag waved once again, Gaulding fired off and moved into 11th. While working to crack into the top-10 for the first time Gaulding got moved into the second groove and slid back outside the top-15.
The second caution flag of the day flew at lap 36 and NASCAR utilized this as the competition caution. When pit road opened up, Gaulding came in for four tires, fuel, and an adjustment to help his turn. Gaulding would restart 20th at lap 40 and at lap 50 he mentioned it was still on the tight side but began moving forward. At lap 85 Gaulding was 16th and was beginning to get loose on entry. The third caution flag flew at lap 90 and Hensley made the call to keep Gaulding out and take the track position.
Gaulding would line up third on the lap 97 restart. The trucks with fresh tires behind him were able to make a run and Gaulding would slowly slide backward. When the fourth caution flew at lap 123, Gaulding came down pit road for four tires, fuel, and a chassis adjustment. The green flag came back out at lap 137 with Gaulding in 20th and by lap 160 had cracked into the top-15 and into the top-10 at lap 175.
Gaulding made it as high as 8th when the next caution came out at lap 190. Gaulding, happy with his truck, came down pit road for four tires and fuel. After a smooth pit stop Gaulding would restart 8th at lap 197. Gaulding got held out on the outside and slid back outside the top-10 saying the chassis has gone back on the tight side.
Gaulding settled back into a good race pace and began his move back towards the top 10. While putting pressure on the truck ahead, Gaulding would look to pass for tenth at lap 240. Gaulding chose the bottom groove going into turn one at lap 243, but got pinched in the center of the corner allowing another truck to get inside and put them three wide. With nowhere to go, Gaulding got the short end of the stick and ended up spun around against the inside wall on the backstretch. Gaulding would have to come down pit road for repairs and restart 19th for the green white checkered.
With heavy damage, Gaulding was still able to bring his Chevrolet Silverado home on the lead lap, in 19th position, in his NCWTS debut. Although the final results don't show the speed Gaulding and the No. 20 Gemini Southern Chevrolet team had in their trucks, the young rookie showed a lot of poise in running his first race in the one of the Top 3 series in NASCAR at Martinsville Speedway.
Next time out for Gray Gaulding and the No. 20 Gemini Southern Chevrolet team will be the Lucas Oil 200 at Dover International Raceway on May 30th.
Gray Gaulding's Post-Race Thoughts:
"That wasn't the finish I wanted on my NCWTS debut. I feel like we showed the speed that we have at NTS coming from 22nd back into the top-10 but restarting on the outside just wasn't the place to be. I will keep everything I learned in the memory bank for the next time."
Jeff Hensley's Post-Race Thoughts:
"Gray did an excellent job on his NCWTS debut. He showed maturity when it counted and saved his equipment well. I hate it for him getting caught up in someone else's'mess but that's the nature of the beast when you're short track racing. We will take what we learned and move forward."