NEW SMYRNA BEACH, Fla. – Advancement is about tackling the next challenge followed by searching for another.
The next steps for Gray Gaulding, 16, are fairly cut and dried – battle for a NASCAR K&N Pro Series East championship in 2014 and begin the progression through NASCAR’s national series ranks.
The Colonial Heights, Va., driver begins the pursuit of the former on Sunday, Feb. 16 at New Smyrna (Fla.) Speedway. Coming off a somewhat controversial NASCAR K&N Pro Series West win last November at Phoenix Int’l Raceway, Gaulding is ready to get down to business.
In that Phoenix event, the then 15-year-old Gaulding made contact with race leader Cole Custer on the final lap and went on to claim his first NASCAR touring series victory.
“Winning that final race last year was huge,” said the youngest member the NASCAR Next program that spotlights young talent in the sport. “I know it was a little controversial, but I’m supposed to win races. The opportunity was there to win and I took it.”
Last year’s K&N East champion Dylan Kwasniewski has taken his game to the NASCAR Nationwide Series leaving the title up for grabs. Just five of last season’s top 10 drivers including Gaulding are entered for the New Smyrna race.
“I know there are a lot of great drivers coming back and a lot of great ones coming in, but (the championship) is there for the taking,” said Gaulding. “That’s absolutely our goal as we enter the season.”
After finishing seventh in points a season ago with three top-five and eight top-10 finishes, the youngster was pleased with the effort despite not getting a K&N East win.
“There were a couple we could’ve won and it’s easy to look back and see the things you could’ve done differently,” he said. “It was a pretty good year. We were in position to win races, won a pole and led laps. We’ll keep marching forward.”
That march will have a little different look to it in 2014. Gaulding drove a family-owned Krispy Kreme-sponsored Toyota last year in his rookie campaign. This season, he joined forces with Brennan Newberry at NTS Motorsports with the doughnut chain in tow, but now in a Chevrolet. Both Gaulding and Newberry will drive full K&N East schedules and make NASCAR Camping World Truck Series starts along the way.
Gaulding stands to become the youngest driver to start a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at 16 years, 1 month, 19 days on March 29 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway.