Kaz Grala set for Cup Series debut on home track in USA TODAY 301

Kaz Grala has spent many a day at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Grala, who was born in Boston and raised in Westborough, was a frequent spectator as a youngster at New England’s only NASCAR stop, including taking in the sights, sounds and super speeds up close after procuring a pit pass when he was 12.

“Gosh, when I was little, I went to so many Cup races there as a fan in the grandstands,” Grala, 25, said Tuesday via phone from Mooresville, North Carolina, where he now resides.

“A lot of great memories there as a fan, so definitely going to be really cool to get to race there in a Cup Series myself.”

After previously competing in three Xfinity Series races in Loudon, Grala will make his highly anticipated Cup debut in the No. 15 Ford Mustang Dark Horse for Rick Ware Racing at the 1.058-mile oval speedway Sunday in the USA TODAY 301.

kaz grala set for cup series debut on home track in usa today 301

NASCAR Cup Series driver Kaz Grala during qualifying for the EchoPark Automotive Texas Grand Prix at Circuit of the Americas.

The race gets underway at 2:30 p.m. and will be broadcast on USA Network (watch FREE on Fubo).

“It’s going to be the highest energy of the track of the weekend,” Grala said, “so it’s going to be really special to race there in the Cup Series.”

Grala began racing when he was 4 and turned pro 12 years later. He graduated from Worcester Academy as a Headmaster’s List student in 2017 and the following year began competing in the Xfinity Series with occasional opportunities in the Cup Series.

kaz grala set for cup series debut on home track in usa today 301

NASCAR Cup Series driver Kaz Grala races in the Toyota / Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway.

Grala was signed by Rick Ware Racing to a one-year deal — typical for a rookie — for this season and is committed to doing 26 of the 38 Cup races. That steady slate has provided a stable platform to grow as a racer.

“It gives me the opportunity to get acclimated in these cars, get in a rhythm and not feel like every time I show up, I’m knocking rust off,” Grala said. “So, yeah, I think that’s super helpful for me.

“And a good chunk of my schedule in the second half of the year is going to be back at tracks I already raced at with (my team). That’s where I really think we’re going to have an opportunity to shine and impress, working off notes we formed together and tracks I’m familiar with in these cars.”

kaz grala set for cup series debut on home track in usa today 301

NASCAR Cup Series driver Kaz Grala, left, and driver Austin Hill, right, before the NASCAR Cup Series AutoTrader EchoPark 400 at Texas Motor Speedway.

Through 14 races, Grala ranks 35th in the Cup Series in points. His average starting and finishing positions have been 31.7 and 27.1, respectively, the latter bolstered by five top-20 showings.

While his improvement has been exponential, the process of gaining experience — an invaluable attribute in the sport — can only be accelerated so much. Such is life as a rookie.

“I feel like I have (improved), and I sure hope so,” Grala said. “It’s so important in our sport to be experienced. There are a lot of question marks every weekend. There are a lot of hypotheticals. We need to be proactive rather than reactive.

“Having been around long enough and knowing what to expect pays dividends every weekend. And I am much, much more experienced now than when I started ... but in comparison to the Cup field, experience is not on my side.”

While the public focus is on race day, the work Grala and his team put in off the track is where the foundation for success is laid each week. It’s both physically and mentally challenging.

SHOP: USA TODAY 301 NASCAR tickets at New Hampshire Motor Speedway

The 5-foot-11-inch, 200-pound Grala spends 60 to 90 minutes every day doing strength and cardio training along with cognitive exercises to sharpen his hand-eye coordination at neighboring Roush Fenway Racing, which Rick Ware Racing in Concord, North Carolina, has an alliance with.

Competition meetings are usually held Tuesday to review the previous race and preview the upcoming race. Most of the rest of the week is devoted to spending many, many hours in a Ford simulator working with crew chief Billy Plourde.

kaz grala set for cup series debut on home track in usa today 301

NASCAR Cup Series driver Kaz Grala (36) during qualifying for the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway.

“Practice is so limited at (races), so you end up practicing in the simulation basically before each weekend,” Grala said. “That allows my crew chief and I to work together and make virtual changes to the car. ... Then it’s pretty much time to head to the next track.”

Grala has relatives on his dad’s side of the family in Shrewsbury and Worcester — his parents, Darius and Karen, live less than 10 minutes away from him in North Carolina — and lots of friends he grew up with in Westborough are still in the area.

A loyal legion of those supporters will be in the grandstands Sunday to cheer on their hometown hero in the No. 15.

kaz grala set for cup series debut on home track in usa today 301

NASCAR Xfinity Series driver Kaz Grala during the Championship Race at Phoenix Raceway.

“It’s always fun to race up there because I have way more family and friends that are able to make it out to the race than usual,” said Grala, who typically makes it back to Central Mass. a couple of times a year, for Thanksgiving and Easter.

“And I feel like there are a handful more people who know who I am and know my story up there being a bit more local, so it’s cool to be with the New England race fans.”

Contact Rich Garven at [email protected]. Follow him on X, formerly known as Twitter, @RichGarvenTG.

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This article originally appeared on Telegram & Gazette: Kaz Grala set for Cup Series debut on home track in USA TODAY 301

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