MARTINSVILLE, Va. – He may be a new face when it comes to the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series, but Tanner Gray was a quick study during Friday’s practice rounds at Martinsville Speedway.
Gray, the outgoing NHRA Pro Stock champion, is making his Truck Series debut this weekend at the .526-mile paper clip and already has one of the likely keys to Martinsville success figured out, even if he hasn’t quite mastered the skill just yet.
“This place is really hard; it’s not easy at all. In fact it’s probably one of the more technical places I’ve been,” Gray told SPEED SPORT. “It seems to be super line sensitive and just takes a lot of discipline to run well. So, that’s something I’m still working on and that I need to get better at.
“For the most part, I think we’ve been okay. Even there in the last practice, I think we could be a little bit better, but we’ll just keep working at it and see how good we can get it. We were obviously quite a ways off Todd (Gilliland) and whatnot, but the realistic goal has been to come here and run top 12, and I think we can do that.
“We just have to get it a little bit better and I need to do a little bit better job of staying disciplined.”
Gray is no stranger to racing, having grown up as the grandson of noted NHRA Funny Car driver Johnny Gray and the son of NHRA Pro Stock driver Shane Gray, but as he put it, “circle-track racing was always where I wanted to be.
“Even when I was a kid and people would ask me at drag races if that was what I would do later on, I always told them, ‘I plan on going NASCAR racing.’ It took a little bit to get there, but hey, we’re here now.”
Somewhat jokingly, several people on social media have called the Martinsville track a good launching point for Gray’s NASCAR national series career, as it’s in essence “two drag strips and two U-turns.”
Gray rebutted that it’s far from that simple, however, adding that he’s spent a lot of time in preparation for this event and wants to be as successful as he can be at the end of the day.
“We got to test here (at Martinsville) once before this, and got a little bit of time on the simulator, so that definitely helped a ton,” Gray explained. “It’s always different when you show back up though, compared to being on the simulator. It’s not quite the same.
“I think it took me a minute to get back going again, so I need to do a little better job of adapting and picking it up faster.”
Gray picked things up fast enough to be fastest – briefly – in final practice before his time was later supplanted, but it was a fleeting moment of confidence for the 20-year-old.
“I actually saw it (on the scoreboard), but I knew it wouldn’t last,” Gray admitted. “Even at that point, we weren’t very good on that mock run. We actually came in and did another one. But yeah, I guess it’s cool for a minute to come and see your name up there, but I knew at the end of day it wasn’t going to stick. I was just focused on getting a little bit better.
“I’m excited, and I think we’ll be fast. Hopefully we can keep making it a little bit better and I can go out there and make some noise.”
Though he’s been on the national stage since he first broke into the NHRA drag racing ranks at 17, Gray admitted that he’s still got butterflies going into his first NASCAR race at the top levels of the sport.
“I’m definitely feeling a lot of nerves, for sure,” Gray said. “I wasn’t sure if I was even really ready to run this race or ready to make the step up. So it’s been lot of nerves to say the least, but I’m excited too. After getting the first practice sessions out of the way and kind of seeing where everything shook out, you know, I’m feeling good about what we have. I think I can be a little bit better than where we ended the day on Friday, and I think we can leave here with a really good run, as long as I go out and do my job.
“Everybody from DGR-Crosley has brought a really fast truck, and they prepare their stuff really, really well. So if I can go out there and do what I believe I can and stay out of trouble, then we’ll be all right.”