Race Weekend Central

Derek Kraus Talks Cup Introduction, Kaulig & Jordan Love

New to the NASCAR Cup Series this season is 22-year-old Derek Kraus.

The Wisconsin native made the first two career starts of his Cup career in the Kaulig Racing No. 16 the past two weeks at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Phoenix Raceway. Kraus is scheduled to make four more starts this year in the No. 16, coming at Kansas Speedway and Darlington Raceway in May, World Wide Technology Raceway in June and Phoenix again in November.

Kraus made the jump to Cup after running eight NASCAR Xfinity Series races for Kaulig last year, scoring three top 10s. He broke into the NASCAR scene in the late 2010s, winning the ARCA Menards Series West championship in 2019. He then moved up to the Craftsman Truck Series with team owner Bill McAnally (McAnally-Hilgemann Racing) and spent 2020-22 in Trucks before finding himself without a full-time ride last year.

In the time since then, Kraus served as the simulation driver for Legacy Motor Club and Kaulig, which led to the latter tapping him to run some races for the team.

Frontstretch‘s Michael Massie caught up with Kraus ahead of his Cup debut at Las Vegas to talk the transition to Cup, coming together with Kaulig and his love of Wisconsin sports.

Michael Massie, Frontstretch: It’s been a little windy here in Las Vegas. And there was a video circulating of you running to the car, and people were commenting on it, ‘How’s his hair staying perfectly in place?’ So how was that going on?

Derek Kraus: I don’t know, gel in the morning. But yeah, I was a little late to get in the car for qualifying. I was looking over some SMT data with Travis [Mack, crew chief] before qualifying and trying to learn as much as I could.

Massie: How are you feeling about the Cup car so far?

Kraus: It’s definitely kind of everything what everybody told me about. It’s a lot different than anything else that I’ve ever driven, for sure. It feels a lot different with how the car reacts to the track and changes and all that stuff. So it’s definitely been a great experience and looking forward to the race.

Massie: Who have you been leaning on as you get ready to race in Cup this year?

Kraus: I talked to AJ [Allmendinger] and Daniel [Hemric], the two teammates, quite a bit. And they’ve been really helpful, telling me the do’s and don’ts of the car. But it’s definitely one of those things you kind of just gotta experience. I’ve ran the sim thousands of laps before in the Cup car with Legacy [Motor Club] and then also Kaulig. And it’s definitely, definitely a lot different than the simulator.

Massie: I know you ran some Xfinity races for Kaulig last year. How did that come together and then lead to you doing Cup races this year?

Kraus: Yeah, obviously, I didn’t have anything going on last year and then was able to get into the Kaulig Xfinity car for a couple races and felt like me, Kaulig and everyone at Kaulig Racing kind of meshed really well, and we had a really good relationship.

Everyone at Kaulig, Matt [Kaulig] and Chris [Rice, Kaulig president], they all have really good people working there. It’s a really good atmosphere to be in, and it was really exciting and kind of just started doing simulator for them. And then this winter, when I got back from Wisconsin from Christmas break, I was sitting in the simulator, and Chris called me, and he kind of presented me with the opportunity.

I made a couple phone calls, and luckily enough, Western States Flooring and a couple other people were able to come on board and give me this opportunity.

See also
Only Yesterday: Bristol Kings, Baby

Massie: I remember at the Daniel Hemric announcement at Bristol Motor Speedway, you were sitting in the back of the room — you sat next to me actually, I think we talked some [Green Bay] Packers then — did you know then you were gonna do Cup races, or were you just going to be the sim driver at that point?

Kraus: No, I had no idea. I didn’t have an idea going into the season, to be honest with you, until literally a week after New Year’s. I got back a Monday, and Tuesday, Chris called me about it.

I just kind of went to that [Hemric’s Cup announcement] just to go experience it. Chris and Matt were there, and Chris told me to come in to try to — because remember, the big thing about the handshake [tweet] was then — so they tried to just kind of use me as a plant for that. But it was a really cool experience just to go and see that announcement and see how everybody was so happy.

Massie: You’re talking about when everybody was looking at the freckle on the arm and trying to decipher it and all that.

Kraus: Yep.

Massie: So you’ve kind of had an unconventional path to get here to make your Cup debut. How much of a struggle has it been just to make this happen?

Kraus: I wouldn’t say it’s a struggle. I mean it’s definitely, the sport has come down to sponsorships, for sure. So a big thing is sponsorship and have people funding you behind you. So that that’s what we’re always looking for, trying to get sponsorship.

With Western States Flooring, we’ve built a really good relationship with them, and they were on the car and truck last year actually at Phoenix. So they were happy to come on board with this Cup race [at Vegas], and then we got a couple of other sponsors as well.

Massie: Since you were a kid, you had Freddie Kraft as your spotter. What’s it like not having him as your spotter racing?

Kraus: It’s definitely different. Having that guy in your ear for so long. I mean, I was 12 or 13 years old the first time that he spotted for me. So I kind of built a relationship really good with him, and he knows what my what my things I do on the racetrack are, and he knows how to fix them, how to tell me. But I’ve been able to work with really good spotters here at Kaulig Racing, with Frank Deiny [Jr.] and then also Joe [White]. So I’m looking forward to today, and it should be a lot of fun listening to him [White].

Massie: You got six starts planned in Cup. What would you consider a success in them?

Kraus: Just completing all the laps, just trying to learn as much as I can. I mean, it’s crazy how much you can learn following a Kyle Larson or a Joey Logano or people like that that have been in the series for so long.

Even yesterday in practice, I mean, just following those guys just made me learn a ton. I feel like going into these races, just trying to keep it clean and just finishing all the laps and minimizing all the mistakes that I make and just doing everything I can right.

See also
The Underdog House: Carson Hocevar Stands Tall in Phoenix

Massie: Are you trying to get any other races in any other series? What other racing are you doing outside of these Cup starts?

Kraus: We’re trying to get more races, for sure, whether it’s the Xfinity car or the Cup car. So we’re trying to do that. And then also, I have my super late model at home in Wisconsin that I’ll definitely be running a couple times this year, for sure. It’s always special to go home and run that.

But definitely, the main goal is to try to get starts in the Xfinity or Cup car with Kaulig Racing.

Massie: You mentioned Wisconsin. It wouldn’t be an interview between us if we didn’t talk some Wisconsin sports, right? What do you think about Jordan Love, the new quarterback for the Green Bay Packers, so far?

Kraus: To be honest, I was a little iffy on him from the beginning of the season. But then he really turned it on at the end. I really feel like we should have won the 49ers [playoff] game.

That would have been a really good game to win, just because it was [Bill] McAnally’s team. He was texting me about going to the game. But yeah, I really feel like he’s [Love] got it. So that’s really good to have.

We got really lucky with our last three quarterbacks that I was alive for, honestly. So it’s definitely really cool and really exciting to go into next season with Jordan [Love].

Watch the video below for the full interview and to see Kraus try to pronounce the name of Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo.

About the author

Michael Massie is a writer for Frontstretch. Massie, a Richmond, Va. native, has been a NASCAR superfan since childhood, when he frequented races at Richmond International Raceway. Massie is a lover of short track racing and travels around to the ones in his region. Outside of motorsports, the Virginia Tech grad can be seen cheering on his beloved Hokies.

Sign up for the Frontstretch Newsletter

A daily email update (Monday through Friday) providing racing news, commentary, features, and information from Frontstretch.com
We hate spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared with anyone else.

Share via