By Seth Eggert, Associate Editor
Ridgeway, Va. – Timely cautions and a rain-shortened race earned Tanner Gray a top-five finish in Friday night’s Long John Silver’s 200 at Martinsville Speedway.
The elder of the Gray brothers used the repeated cautions to move forward in his No. 15 JBL Toyota Tundra. That forward movement allowed the Artesia, NM native to stay ahead of the late-race chaos. An attempted right-hook on Taylor Gray by Carson Hocevar brought out the final caution of the race, ultimately ending the race as the skies opened up.
Once inside the top-five, those repeated cautions kept Tanner Gray up front. His biggest surge forward came as the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series made history, starting the race on wet weather tires for the first time on an oval. Gray quickly made his way from ninth to fourth by the competition caution and remained inside the top-five for the remainder of the race.
“I felt like the first run in the rain tires put us in good position with track position,” Gray explained. “Once we went to slicks, I thought we fired off okay, but with all of those heat cycles, I was building tighter and tighter. I was getting worried that if it went green much longer, I was going to start struggling pretty bad, but all-in-all, a pretty good day for us.
“It is a couple of good runs in a row, so we can build some momentum and keep it up. Awesome that TRICON got their first win. Corey (Heim) has been doing a great job all year; he deserves it. We just have to keep working and get better each week.”
As the 200-lap scheduled race struggled to find its’ footing, the opportunity for Stage points was easily taken advantage of by Gray. The TRICON Garage driver finished Stage 1 in fourth and Stage 2 in fifth. That earned the 24-year-old, who celebrated his birthday shortly after the race was called after 124 laps, an additional 13 points.
The fifth-place finish was Gray’s second top-five of the 2023 Truck Series season, his first since the season-opener at Daytona Int’l Speedway. It was his ninth career top-five finish in the Truck Series.
That also marks an increase in performance as Gray has run inside the top-10 throughout the last five races. Incidents at Atlanta Motor Speedway and Texas Motor Speedway ultimately hindered the former drag racer’s finishes.
That top-five moved Gray up from 10th in the points standings to eighth, 100-points behind leader Ty Majeski. He is 16-points ahead of the playoff cutline, currently held by Matt DiBenedetto.
Next for Gray is the Heart of America 200 at Kansas Speedway. In six starts at the 1.5-mile track he has just one top-15 finish, a fourth-place in the second of three races in 2020.
The Heart of America 200 at Kansas is scheduled for Saturday, May 6 at 8:00 p.m. ET on Fox Sports 1. The race will also be broadcast on the Motor Racing Network and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, channel 90.