Race Weekend Central

Tanner Gray on Playoff Pursuit, Brotherly Competition & Team Stability

It’s been quite the career change for Tanner Gray, who’s now in his third full-time NASCAR Camping World Truck Series season with David Gilliland Racing.

Having started out in the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) and becoming the youngest driver to win a championship in the Pro Stock category in 2018, Gray has his sights set on a different goal as he continues his NASCAR career.

After running the 2021 season with multiple crew chiefs, he’s found some stability with Jerry Baxter and is now in pursuit of the playoffs. Gray’s earned two top fives and four top 10s so far and is currently 11th in the standings, 33 points back from the final playoff spot with four races left in the regular season.

Frontstretch spoke with Gray before his 13th-place run at Sonoma Raceway about working with Baxter, having his brother Taylor as a teammate, his time in the NHRA and his current goals for the rest of this season.

Joy Tomlinson, Frontstretch: You opened the year with three straight top 10s and then you earned a sixth place at Charlotte Motor Speedway. How do you feel your third full-time Truck Series season has gone so far?

Tanner Gray: To start, I felt like we came out pretty strong and felt like everything was going well. Felt like, as of late, we’ve fallen off a little bit, and I’ve really been in kind of a slump. Like I said, starting off really good but just in a little bit of a slump right now and need to kind of find a way to crawl out of that hole and get back to running up front where I feel like we belong.

I feel like I need to do a better job overall and put us in better positions throughout the race to kind of maximize those finishes.

Tomlinson: What’s it been like this year with Jerry Baxter as your crew chief after having several in 2021?

Gray: It’s nice to have some familiarity going back to the track. Obviously, being able to work with Jerry all year is going to be nice. So far I feel like he’s been a big help for me and also DGR as a company. It’s been really cool to have him on board, and we get along really well. It’s a lot of fun.

Tomlinson: What is it like having your brother [Taylor Gray] as a teammate?

Gray: It’s a lot of fun. Obviously, we’re pretty competitive with each other and probably want to beat each other more than maybe anybody else. It’s a lot of fun, we get to share notes and really compare what we’re doing week in and week out with each other when he runs the truck, so [it] kind of gives [us] each other to lean on.

Tomlinson: What impact has Ryan Preece had on the team?

Gray: Ryan’s been a really big asset for myself, and I feel like the team as well. He brings a lot of knowledge and experience to the organization. He’s also someone that I’ve tried to lean on, probably more lately than ever before. He’s an awesome guy, obviously a really talented racecar driver. He’s been a lot of fun to race with and learn from. I feel like he’s definitely made us better. It’s pretty cool to have him around.

See also
Ryan Preece Gets 'Breath of Fresh Air' Thanks to Kevin Harvick, Stewart-Haas

Tomlinson: I’m shifting gears a little bit here. In 2018, you became the youngest NHRA champion at age 19 in Pro Stock. What, if anything, do you miss about drag racing?

Gray: I don’t necessarily miss drag racing itself, I miss winning a lot, obviously. We did pretty well over there, and since I feel like I started my circle track career, it’s been an uphill battle to say the least. Obviously, you miss […] looking back on all the good times and the success that we had over there, and I probably miss that more than anything, as well as the people that worked on my car.

I really enjoy driving the trucks. I really don’t miss driving the cars so much, just more so the memories and the people that we had working on our team.

Tomlinson: Has your drag racing background helped you at all to be good on restarts, or does it translate?

Gray: No, I would say it doesn’t really translate all that much. It’s just a completely different discipline than what we are in now. Just the way you approach everything is just quite a bit different, so I wouldn’t say it really helps so much. Pretty different, so kind of tough to compare.

Tomlinson: Yeah, back when they set up the All-Star Race, they had the little tree there like they have for NHRA.

Gray: Yeah, I saw that.

Tomlinson: That was kind of different.

Gray: Yeah, it was a little bit different. Maybe if the Truck Series did that, I might be OK at that, huh?

Tomlinson: Looking forward, which track do you look forward to most in the rest of the regular season?

Gray: Oh man, I don’t know, that’s a good question. I’d have to look at the schedule some more. Maybe when we go to Indianapolis (Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park), I feel like that’s a new place, it’s a short track, I feel like it’ll probably make for some good racing. The Truck Series, I don’t think, has been there in a long time, or if ever.

I’m pretty excited to go run there and just kind of see where we stack up. I think it will be a fun race. It may be important to have some track position and stuff like that, I’d say, probably there.

Tomlinson: What places would you like to improve at?

Gray: All of them. Pretty much everywhere. I’d say, right now, I’d say the places I struggle most would probably be road courses, which is alright because we actually have one coming up this week [Sonoma Raceway]. I feel like I really need to get better at those tracks, more specifically, some of the more technical stuff and lower-grip places.

For whatever reason, I’m honestly not that good on them, so I need to improve on those and probably a little bit everywhere, but I’d say those stand out the most.

See also
Tracking the Trucks: Kyle Busch Dominates at Sonoma, Extends Truck Win Streak

Tomlinson: What are your goals for the rest of this year and beyond this year?

Gray: I can’t really answer beyond this year, because I’m not sure what the future really holds, I guess. I would say our main goal to start the year [was] to make the playoffs, and right now we’re kind of sitting outside the bubble. That was our main goal coming in was make the playoffs, and now we’re sitting on the outside of that, so we need to work really hard to put ourselves in position to get back inside there.

If we can do that, I feel like that will kind of check that box. Then we’re gonna have to reevaluate and see kind of where we’re at from there. I think the biggest thing right now is getting back inside the playoffs and being a little more competitive week in and week out and kind of getting our program back on track where we feel like it should be. We’ve fallen off a little bit in the past handful of weeks and kind of need to get back to where we were to start the year.

About the author

Joy joined Frontstretch in 2019 as a NASCAR DraftKings writer, expanding to news and iRacing coverage in 2020. She's currently an assistant editor and involved with photos, social media and news editing. A California native, Joy was raised as a motorsports fan and started watching NASCAR extensively in 2001. She earned her B.A. degree in Liberal Studies at California State University Bakersfield in 2010.

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