Tanner Gray
(Photo: Adam Glanzman/ARCA Racing)

Tanner Gray overcomes flat tire at Charlotte to claim his first ARCA Menards Series victory

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Obtaining that elusive first ARCA Menards Series (national) victory required Tanner Gray to work extra hard at Charlotte Motor Speedway in the General Tire 150 on Friday evening.

After losing a lap early in the evening due to a flat tire, Gray methodically grinded his way back toward the front of the field before inheriting the lead after a late caution. He then withstood a valiant charge from Carson Kvapil to finally park his car in Victory Lane, becoming the sixth different winner in six ARCA Menards Series races this year.

RELATED: Complete race results from the General Tire 150

Gray was frustrated by the circumstances that befell him early, but knew he could get himself back into contention as long as he was patient and avoided unnecessary risks.

“We fired off really free and it kept building freer as we went until [the tire] finally went,” Gray said. “When it first blew, I was obviously really disappointed, but once we got back out there and figured out where we were at, we were quite a bit faster than everyone else. Once we got our lap back, I felt like we were in a good spot.”

Gray is no stranger to going fast with a successful background in drag racing, yet duplicating that success in stock cars has not been an easy feat for the veteran racer.

Now in the middle of his sixth season in the discipline and fifth in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, Gray made a strong early impression by winning at South Boston Speedway in only his third ARCA Menards Series East start. Consistency during that debut season enabled Gray to place third in the final point standings.

In the following years across the Truck Series and ARCA platform, Gray had come close to finding Victory Lane on several occasions. His Truck Series resume alone features 10 top five performances, including a career-best finish of second at Daytona International Speedway last year.

Joining Joe Gibbs Racing’s ARCA Menards Series program for the 2024 season provided Gray his best chance to break the long winless drought. Aside from a crash that derailed his race early at Daytona, Gray has shown race-winning speed in his limited starts that includes a second at Kansas Speedway after he led 86 laps.

Heartbreak appeared to follow Gray to Charlotte when he was forced to make an unscheduled stop for a flat right-rear tire. Gray did not let the adversity deter him and used his superior speed to pick off his competition one spot at a time.

With a late caution bringing Kvapil and most of the field into the pits for fresh tires, Gray was required to go on defense over the final eight laps. Both Kvapil and ARCA Menards Series points leader Andres Perez provided plenty of pressure, but Gray utilized the clean air to hang onto the lead until the checkered flag waved.

Kvapil, who led a race-high 61 laps in his third ARCA Menards Series appearance, was unsure if he would have been able to hold off Gray had the final laps gone uninterrupted. Despite his disappointment with second, Kvapil was thrilled with the speed his No. 82 Pinnacle Racing Group Chevrolet displayed all day.

“[Gray] had a really good car there towards the ¾ point of that race,” Kvapil said. “He was running us down there a little bit in clean air. We had a pretty good car all race long, but we didn’t have clean air and were a little too tight there to get the job done.”

Kvapil believes the laps he is logging with PRG are providing him plenty of experience ahead of his upcoming NASCAR Xfinity Series starts and hopes to have more opportunities to win with the organization soon.

With his triumph on Friday, Gray joins his brother Taylor as an ARCA Menards Series winner, making the pair the sixth set of brothers to prevail in the primary series. That list also includes Troy and Joe Ruttman, Benny and Phil Parsons, Jack and Tom Bowsher, Dick and Ron Hutcherson, as well as Michael and Darrell Waltrip.

Gray admitted to having some doubts about earning his breakthrough win with so many drivers behind him possessing fresh rubber. Prevailing despite the odds for Gray came down to utilizing his car’s strengths and leaning on the race-winning environment built around him.

“I was nervous because I knew [the drivers] behind me had fresh tires,” Gray said. “Our car was really good, so it was about stalling them out early and trying to let things equalize so I could aero block and keep them back there.

“It was a matter of making the right moves, and [my spotter] Coleman Pressley told me to do that.”

Perez settled for third behind Gray and Kvapil, with Will Kimmel and Lavar Scott completing the top five. The rest of the top 10 finishers were Gus Dean, Dean Thompson, Lawless Alan, Jason Kitzmiller and Sebastian Arias.

The ARCA Menards Series gets a couple weeks off before returning to action at Iowa Speedway on June 14 for the Atlas 150. FS1 will carry live coverage of the event starting at 7 p.m. CT/8 p.m. ET.