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Haley, Grala Earn Solid Bristol Finishes for Rick Ware Racing After Showcasing Top-10 Speed

Photo Credit: Jonathan McCoy,

When looking over the final results for Sunday’s Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway, the names of Justin Haley (17th) and Kaz Grala (19th) at the tail-end of the top-20 may jump out at you, both driving Ford Mustang Dark Horse entries for Rick Ware Racing.

Both of the team’s entries finishing inside the top-20 may serve as a slight surprise, but that’s because we’re all accustomed to seeing the old Rick Ware Racing, which in a low-attrition race such as Sunday’s, would have been lucky to find themselves inside the top-25. But, that’s no longer the organization we’re dealing with.

For an organization that is working diligently toward becoming a perennial contender for top-10 finishes in the NASCAR Cup Series, placing multiple entries inside the top-20 for the first time on a non-drafting track is an important first goal post, one that Rick Ware Racing has now scored on.

Even with the all-around promising result for the two-car organization, finishes of 17th and 19th were not at all indicative of the performances that Haley and Grala put forward throughout Sunday’s 500-lap contest at the half-mile short track accurately nicknamed ‘The Last Great Colosseum’.

Bringing home a 17th-place result on Sunday, Haley was the highest finisher from the Rick Ware Racing stable at Bristol, while piloting the team’s flagship No. 51 Ford Mustang Dark Horse. A native of Winamac, Indiana, Haley spent 318 of 500 laps running inside the top-15 but faded quickly in the closing laps after a 50-plus lap stint on his tires.

For much of the race’s final stage, the 24-year-old driver was in the perfect position to fight for a top-five result – which would have been the second in the NASCAR Cup Series for Rick Ware Racing – as the No. 51 managed to climb as high as sixth before the chaotic cycle of green-flag pit stops tossed the running order like a make-your-own salad bowl.

In the closing laps of the event, a potential top-10 finish would fade away for the NASCAR Cup Series winner, as the tires wore down to essentially nothing with a couple of laps to go, sending him free-falling down the running order to a 17th-place result, which after all of that chaos, still matched the best-ever result for the organization at Bristol Motor Speedway.

“We had a fast Ohanafy Ford Mustang Dark Horse,” said Haley after the race. “At the end, the tires just fell off, but we ran in the top-10 almost all day and that’s awesome to establish that because it put a lot of smiles on a lot of people’s faces. I’m excited to keep digging. I feel like the cars have speed, we just need to keep running like that and we’ll be OK.”

As far as Sunday’s on-track product at Bristol, which produced a record-smashing 54 lead changes, Haley is among the group of drivers who liked what the NASCAR Cup Series experienced on Sunday, with the extreme tire wear forcing drivers to save their tires and equipment for the end of the run.

“I love this type of racing. I don’t know what social media says, but as a driver, I thought it was fun because you had to manage it,” Haley explained. “You weren’t all-out the whole time, so it was fun to have a major part in how the car ran.”

Kaz Grala, driving the No. 15 Ford Mustang for Rick Ware Racing, had a similar afternoon to that of his teammate Justin Haley, in which the Boston, Massachusetts native spent 208 of 500 laps running inside the top-15, which amounts to nearly double the number of laps he had spent running in the top-15 in his previous 11 NASCAR Cup Series starts combined.

At times during Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series event at Bristol Motor Speedway, Grala was looking like the superstar for Rick Ware Racing, putting the No. 15 Ford Mustang inside the top-15 for several laps, climbing as high as seventh-place at one point during the run.

For several laps in the middle portion of Sunday’s race, the on-track teammates and off-track buddies ran 10th and 11th, with both Rick Ware Racing entries showing impressive speed and managing to punch significantly above their weight, just five races into what many assumed would be a season of learning for the organization.

Unfortunately for Grala, his shot at a top-10 result – or even a top-15 for that matter – faded away in the race’s closing laps, after getting behind on the final run of the race and getting shoved to the top of the racetrack, wearing out his right-front tire. Once 500 laps were complete though, the No. 15 N29 Capital Partners entry came home a respectable 19th.

“We had great speed in our Ford Mustang Dark Horse. I’m proud of everyone at Rick Ware Racing. Both of our cars were fast,” said Kaz Grala. “We were straight-up top-15, top-12 cars today, which was really cool. Unfortunately, we got behind on the very last run there tire cycling-wise. I got shoved to the top and that wore out our right front a little early, so we ended up 19th, but we had a strong day. That’s cool to see. It gives us a lot of encouragement going forward. We’re upset with 19th because we ran better than that today, but it’s not a bad position to be in when you’re mad about that.”

In reality, Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series event at Bristol was the first true showing of potential for the new-look Rick Ware Racing, which with drivers like Justin Haley and Kaz Grala in their stable, plus the support of RFK Racing, has begun its climb up the hierarchy of NASCAR’s top-level.

It’s the perfect time for the organization to show its true capabilities this season, as the series travels to Austin, Texas for the first road course event of 2024 at Circuit of The Americas (COTA), a track in which both Justin Haley and Kaz Grala have shown their strength across NASCAR’s National Series.

So, who’s to say we don’t see a similar – or even better – performance from Rick Ware Racing next weekend at Circuit of The Americas (COTA)? Only time will provide the answers, but there is one thing we know for sure: the NASCAR division of this motorsports empire is headed in a positive direction.

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