SONOMA, Calif. — Jonathan Gray may be a rookie on the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series circuit but the Pro Stock driver is also well aware of the situation he is in heading into the second race of the three-week NHRA Western Swing.
By every account Gray has had a banner rookie season, advancing to two final rounds. He is currently 10th in points despite not making his first start until the third race of the 2014 season, but longtime Pro Stock force Greg Anderson trails Gray by just 23 points.
Gray must either hold off the four-time world champion or continue his own climb up the standings to advance to the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship in his first season, which makes this weekend’s 27th annual NHRA Sonoma Nationals at Sonoma Raceway that much more important.
“The pressure is building, there is no question about it,” Gray said. “You just have to deal with it accordingly and just try to keep things going. For us, we have start qualifying better. This weekend we’ll be working on eliminating the things that have been holding us back with that and hopefully we’ll do better.”
He’s become an important cog in the three-car Gray Motorsports team that also features Gray’s brother Shane, who is seventh in points, and Dave Connolly, who is currently fifth in the points standings. Getting all three cars into the Countdown to the Championship playoffs is the goal and Jonathan Gray has made the most of his first Pro Stock season in his Gray Manufacturing Chevy Camaro.
After experiencing the expected growing pains upon jumping into the ultra-talented class, Gray advanced to back-to-back finals in Bristol and Epping, quickly proving he could compete with the elite Pro Stock talent.
“I’m really looking forward to getting back to normal racing conditions,” Gray said. “The cars are faster, and it’s just exciting. I’ve never raced in Sonoma myself, but I was there with my brother Shane when he was racing Comp Eliminator in 2009. That was the first and only time I’ve been to this particular track, and I’m excited to race there for the first time in the Gray Motorsports Camaro. It’s a really nice facility and, in my opinion, one of NHRA’s premier places to race.”
Despite the first-round defeat in Denver, Gray, whose father Johnny retired from the Funny Car ranks after the 2013 season, was encouraged with his team’s performance. Led by crew chiefs Justin Elkes and Craig Hankinson, Gray’s team has improved its consistency, an important matter during a key stretch of the season.
“The good news is that it wasn’t a bad run, and I’m pretty encouraged going to Sonoma,” Gray said. “(Last) weekend was the first time we’ve ever got this car to repeat like it did. It will be good to get to Sonoma next week, but (Denver) was a good weekend for us if you look at the bigger picture.”