- Camping World Truck Racer Series Tanner Gray will replace Deric Kramer this weekend in Reading.
- Gray has said that he will continue to compete in the circuit world and has no intention of returning to the ranks of the NHRA Pro Stock.
- The third year rider said of his truck series career: “I still feel talented enough to do it. I feel like I’m not good at it.
3rd Year NASCAR Camping World Series Truck Driver Tanner Gray He’s back at the NHRA dragstrip—for one race only, as a replacement for COVID-stricken Deric Kramer at Pep Boys NHRA Nationals in Reading, Pennsylvania.
If any drag racing fan hopes this is a sign that Gray is missing her and is looking forward to a return to the sport, one in which his father Shane and grandfather Johnny excelled before him, they will be disappointed.
“I doubt it. No, I’m just filling in, I’m trying to help them. I’m enjoying it, but I love what I’m doing,” said third-year Racing Ford driver David Gilliland before qualifying began Friday in the first of six races of the championship.
Besides, Gray said, he has unfinished business in circuit racing.
“I don’t feel like where I am and haven’t had the success I want in the Truck Series, so I’m still working hard. I just want to stay focused on that. But [I’m] Just grateful for the opportunity to get out here and help the Kramers, make some good friends and try to drive again.”
Gray, who at 18 became the youngest-ever NHRA champion in 2018, left drag racing at the top of his game, after his eight winning season, to compete in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. He raced last Thursday night, finishing 17th (behind younger brother Taylor) in the UNOH 200 at Bristol Motor Speedway. Barely sleeping, Gray slipped into the driver’s seat Friday night for Kramer.
It was a rude welcome back for Gray. He experienced severe tire vibration immediately after firing off the Maple Grove Raceway starting line and was the last of 20 Pro Stock entrants in the provisional line-up on Friday.
Tanner Gray was markedly different from that whose meteoric rise in the NHRA was confidently emphasized by its tumultuous limits. Admittedly, Tanner Gray, on Friday, was vulnerable and fearful.
“I’m nervous. Yes, I’m really nervous,” he said before running Friday night. “But I don’t know—it must be fun. I heated it up a little while ago for the first time, so that helped me a little bit. I mean, I’ve been pretty detached from that side of things for quite some time now, just because I’ve been trying to focus on the truck stuff, but When you break up with something like that, you kind of feel like you’re losing touch with her.Being able to sit there and warm it up helped some butterflies and more. [I] Maybe I have some very low expectations for myself. We’ll see where we stack up here after the first round. Hopefully I can go and do a good first round run here and kind of get the feeling back under my belt and hopefully not too far.”
He said his goal was to “try to sort of get on the right track in the first quarter.”
He wasn’t under full power, but he had two more chances on Saturday to qualify for the 16-car grid. The playoffs are set for Sunday.
Gray on short notice flew to eastern Pennsylvania, and NHRA officials hastily renewed his Pro Stock license.
“I didn’t have a lot of time. Fortunately I sort of align our schedules where I can race in Bristol last night and then come here – when I have, say, two Thursday night races a year. So, that really happened. The perfect weekend,” Gray said. “But it is unfortunate that Derek has COVID, especially with it being the number one race in the countdown and I had to miss him here in unfortunate circumstances. I hope he gets better soon.”
This marks the second year in a row at Maple Grove that the Camping World Drag Racing Series contender has been sidelined with COVID and sent a replacement to start the countdown to the championship.
Tommy Johnson Jr. won the Fun Car Cup last fall as he replaced Matt Hagan, who was hospitalized with COVID. This time, Gray is driving the No. 11-ranked Get Biofuel Chevy Camaro Deric Kramer, who tested positive for the virus on Wednesday. Whatever points Gray gets this weekend will stay with Kramer, who has received a medical waiver.
Gray said it was “cool to have a chance to try to do that again”, though he sympathized that Kramer “should miss the first race here”. Gray said, “I was surprised to get the call. Derek and I obviously raced against each other here and only knew each other from being here. I wouldn’t say we were close, but I’ve always respected Derek a lot. [I’m] Just grateful for the opportunity to get out here and help the Kramers, make some good friends and try to drive again.”
His return to drag racing was arranged so quickly that he said, “I haven’t spoken to almost any driver. Greg [Anderson] And they are here. I’m running one of Greg’s engines. I was very good friends with Greg. me and cody [Anderson, Greg’s son and crew member] They grew up together. Cody and I have been close friends since we were 10, so it’s great to be back. And obviously this is the first time I’ve raced anything outside of my family stuff, so this aspect is a little different, but it’s great to be able to do it with Greg and KB Racing. “
One of the reasons Gray gave in 2018 for quitting drag racing and looking for greener pastures was his belief that the sanctioning authority had not driven him as much as he thought he should be.
He said with a wry smile on Friday, “Yeah, I was young and said a lot of stupid things at the time. I still feel like there are definitely missed opportunities. But you’re going to get that in everything you do. I feel like what I was saying and how I was saying it was probably in a way Wrong, I think. Maybe it was a poor choice of words, but yeah, he was younger at the time and maybe a little immature. I feel like I’m too old.”
For Gray, adapting to everything in the NASCAR Truck Series was more difficult than it was with the NHRA Pro Stock class.
“I think the learning curve itself was definitely much steeper for me there. Here, I excelled fairly quickly and seemed to pick things up and it was very natural that I was good. I was surrounded by my family. I was immersed in it, watched it for many years. And I go there. , I still feel like I’m talented enough to do it. I feel like I’m not good at it.” Gray said.
“I feel like there are a lot of places where we show speed and everything else. It’s just about getting the little pieces together and getting some consistency. I think that’s what I have to keep working on to get better at.
“I think we are now trying to figure out what works for me,” he said. “We just swapped the crew chief a few races ago, and I’ve only been with him in three races so far, and he and I are just trying to learn each other and he’s really just trying to figure out what I need. I’m trying to figure out how he wants the ship to work. The only way to put it is that I I just have to get better, and I need more consistency.”
He said he plans to return to the truck series in 2023, and said he will focus on fixing what needs fixing for his NASCAR program to thrive.
Gray said he would “just try to clamp down on a few things and shut everything down, but I’m pretty sure I’ll be in the truck series again next year and just have to figure things out there. We started this year strong and fell back hard. It wasn’t the year we really wanted, but I I feel like I haven’t found the right person to click with yet.So yeah, we just have to keep looking and find someone who can help me and rely on each other, kind of like what I had here with Dave [Connolly]. So it’s all about people and surrounding yourself with the right people.
“In every sport, things evolve a lot. Things always change. You see that all the time. I think that’s the way the sport works. When you do something at a high level, you always look to improve. And sometimes to get better, you have to make changes.” I don’t know yet what my future will look like, in terms of that side of things. I know I’ll be in the Truck Series next year, and I know it’s going to be with DGR.”
He said his program there is slowly progressing toward success: “I feel like we’re getting closer, but [we] resident [have] Some work needs to be done.”
After Friday night at Maple Grove Raceway, back in the Pro Stock car, four years after his last appearance and championship, he knew he had some work to do this weekend as well.