Rick Ware Racing: Justin Haley/Kaz Grala Charlotte Race Advance

Rick Ware Racing

Justin Haley, Driver of the No. 51 The Cleaning Authority Ford Mustang Dark Horse 

● Justin Haley, driver of the No. 51 The Cleaning Authority Ford Mustang Dark Horse, is riding a wave of momentum into the longest race of the year – the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway. The 25-year-old earned his best finish of the season two weeks ago at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway, a ninth-place result that was also the best finish for Rick Ware Racing (RWR) on a non-superspeedway-type track. He then placed his Ford Mustang Dark Horse on the front row during qualifying for last weekend’s non-points All-Star Open at North Wilkesboro (N.C.) Speedway before rain began to fall with the final two cars on track, forcing officials to set the starting grid per the NASCAR rulebook. After starting 16th, Haley powered through the field to finish fourth.

● Sunday’s race will mark Haley’s fourth NASCAR Cup Series start on Charlotte’s 1.5-mile oval. He recorded his best Charlotte Cup Series finish of 15th last year in a Monday of racing that, due to weather Saturday and Sunday, turned out to be round two of a 900-mile Memorial Day doubleheader. Prior to the Cup Series race, Haley started sixth in the 200-lap, 300-mile NASCAR Xfinity Series race and finished 12th.

● Haley has made four total NASCAR Xfinity Series starts at Charlotte with a best finish of fifth earned in 2019. He also made two NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series starts on the intermediate oval, earning a best finish of 14th in 2018.

● With 13 Cup Series races complete this season, Haley ranks seventh in the series – and first among Ford drivers – in percentage of laps completed this year at 99.6 percent. He’s run all but 15 of the 3,854 available laps this season.

● As part of #NASCARSalutes and the 600 Miles of Remembrance initiative during the Coca-Cola 600, the No. 51 The Cleaning Authority team is honoring United States Army Sargeant First Class Jeanne Balcombe. Balcombe enlisted in 1982 as a parachute rigger and was assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division. She made countless jumps over her first four years of service until she sustained a knee injury on her final jump and was reclassified into the Military Police Corps. After serving in the U.S. for 10 years, Balcombe served as part of the 55th MP Company, charged with running the protection and security of the entire base alongside South Korean troops. In Balcombe’s final selfless act, she placed herself, unarmed, between an armed drunken soldier and another soldier during a dispute. She was shot and killed. For this action she was awarded The Soldier’s Medal – the highest peace time award. Additionally, Fort Knox honored Balcombe by naming a barracks complex after her. She is also represented on the police memorial in Washington, D.C., and Camp Humphrey in Korea named its new Law Enforcement Complex in her honor. In 2000, the MANSCEN NCO Academy at Fort Leonard Wood announced the naming of the Military Police ANCOC Leadership Award, the “Sergeant First Class Jeanne M. Balcombe Leadership Award.”

Kaz Grala, Driver of the No. 15 N29 Capital Partners Ford Mustang Dark Horse

 Boston native Kaz Grala will make his second start in the Coca-Cola 600 following an 11th-place finish in the non-points All-Star Open last weekend at North Wilkesboro and an 18th-place performance the previous weekend at Darlington – a finish that bested the previous best result for RWR at the 1.336-mile egg-shaped oval. It was Grala’s third top-20 finish of the year and the fifth race in 10 events run for RWR in which he finished on the lead lap.

● Grala finished 23rd in his first Cup Series start on the 1.5-mile Charlotte oval. He also has two Xfinity Series starts at Charlotte with a best finish of 10th in 2018. He finished 30th with only 70 laps complete in his one and only Truck Series start at the track.

● As part of #NASCARSalutes and the 600 Miles of Remembrance initiative during the Coca-Cola 600, the No. 15 N29 Capital Partners team is honoring United States Army Staff Sargeant Ryan Knauss. Knauss was born in Knoxville, Tennessee, on April 7, 1998, and his parents, Greg and Paula, raised him and his older brother, Tyler, on land in the Gibbs area of Corryton, Tennessee. It was quite evident from birth that Knauss was strong, funny, smart, driven, and brave. All his life, Knauss prepared himself to become a military soldier for our country. Playing paintball and air soft for many years in the fields with his brother and friends, countless hours of war video games, rigid eating regimens, and intense workouts helped prepare Knauss for his greatest life mission. After five years of service with the 82nd Airborne and 9th PSYOP Special Operations Battalion, Knauss was prepared for his second overseas deployment to Afghanistan in what was supposed to be a humanitarian relief effort at the end of the 20-year war that began as a result of the events on Sept. 11, 2001. Unfortunately, the enemy did not cease to cause chaos as a bomb exploded only a week and half after Knauss’ five-man Special Operations PSYOPS team arrived. As the last United States military member killed in the 20-year war, the family moves forward with Knauss’ foundation, The Respect and Remember Foundationalso known as The R2Factor, honoring the sacrifices of heroes like Knauss, who willingly laid down his life for our country. Amidst the hills of Arlington National Cemetery, in Section 60, lies a hero who laid down his arms and rests.

Rick Ware Racing Notes

● In last week’s Progressive American Flat Track (AFT) event at Silver Dollar Short Track in Chico, California, AFT Singles rider Kody Kopp picked up his third win of the year. The defending, back-to-back champion leads the standings by 22 points after six events.

●  Rick Ware has been a motorsports mainstay for more than 40 years. It began at age six when the third-generation racer began his driving career and has since spanned four wheels and two wheels on both asphalt and dirt. Competing in the SCCA Trans Am Series and other road-racing divisions led Ware to NASCAR in the early 1980s, where he finished third in his NASCAR debut – the 1983 Warner W. Hodgdon 300 NASCAR Grand American race at Riverside (Calif.) International Raceway. More than a decade later, injuries would force Ware out of the driver seat and into fulltime team ownership. In 1995, Rick Ware Racing was formed, and with wife Lisa by his side, Ware has since built his eponymous organization into an entity that fields two fulltime entries in the NASCAR Cup Series while simultaneously campaigning successful teams in the Top Fuel class of the NHRA Mission Foods Drag Racing Series, Progressive American Flat Track and FIM World Supercross Championship (WSX), where RWR won the 2022 SX2 championship with rider Shane McElrath.

Justin Haley, Driver Q&A

A lot of people questioned your move to Rick Ware Racing. Do you feel any satisfaction from the runs the team is producing now and how that backs up your decision?

“I’ve said time and time again why I made the decision. The picture might start to be more clear now to the general public than it was when I first made the decision. I went off internal knowledge I had at the time. Rick Ware and Robby Benton gave me this opportunity and wanted me to come in and drive to the best of my ability and try to improve the race team, and I feel like the work we’re all putting in is starting to show. For the most part, this is still the same RWR team from years past. There’s not much difference at all. We haven’t added too many new people, maybe one or two including Chris Lawson (No. 51 crew chief). The team is still in the same shop and we’re still working with the same parts and pieces, but it comes down to how you assemble everything. We’ve had some great runs, but it’s a learning process every week.”

Are you reaching the point you feel you should be at after 13 races with RWR?

“I think the mountain we’re climbing was probably a little bigger than I anticipated, but the Cup Series is harder at this moment than it’s ever been. I’m not trying to take away from the past and guys who came before us, but there’s not really a slow car out there anymore. It’s pretty tough, so we’re just continuing to improve each and every week and focus on ourselves . We’ve cleaned up a lot of the issues we had at the start of the year. We’re trying to get our stuff faster and get the crew working more efficiently. Besides some pit-road stuff we need to work on, I feel like we’re doing well. We just go out each week and do the best we can.”

What is your outlook for the Coca-Cola 600 after strong runs the last few weeks?

“I’m really looking forward to Charlotte. I’m really confident in our car. We had good runs at Kansas, Darlington and North Wilkesboro. I think like Kansas, Charlotte’s surface starts to wear down a little more each year and obviously that changes the racing. The Coca-Cola 600 is such a big race and it’s a big purse race, which is something that can go a long way for a team like ours. Maybe some people don’t look forward to the long race, but I’m blessed to be here, to be at this stage in my career, and I’m just having fun and enjoying the good runs as they come.”

Kaz Grala, Driver Q&A

How does your preparation change, if at all, for the longest race of the year?

“No doubt, the driver’s preparation for the Coca-Cola 600 is more important than any other race of the year. You have to be more intentional with your hydration and nutrition, and make sure your workouts throughout the week push you hard but give you enough time to recover for the weekend. We’ll have to make sure our in-race plan is in place, as well, for drink bottle exchanges and snacks during pit stops.”

This race having four stages provides a unique opportunity for a big points day. Do you go for stage points early in the race, or are you focusing on getting comfortable and getting your car right for a decent finish at the end of the night?

“I did the 2022 Coca-Cola 600, which was the first year of NextGen, so I have an idea of how challenging a race this long is. It’s our only four-stage race of the year, which I personally like a lot because, as a young, inexperienced driver, it gives me more time to figure these cars out before the end of the race. Hopefully by the time the pay window opens at the end, we’ll be ready to capitalize on a great finish.”

What kind of impact does Kyle Larson running the Indy 500 have for NASCAR?

“I love that Larson is doing the Double this year. The last time it was done by Kurt Busch, I actually went to both the Indy 500 and Coca-Cola 600 in person and got to see him race in both. It will be cool this time around to be in one of the races while a driver attempts the same feat. The Sunday before Memorial Day has always been my favorite day of the year. Since I was a little kid, I’ve watched Monaco, the Indy 500, and the Coca-Cola 600 in a row, and this year will be no exception. I’ll certainly be watching Larson a little more closely in the Indy 500 and rooting for him to carry the flag for NASCAR over there. I think it will be great for the sport in general to have that storyline to follow throughout the day.”


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