When David Gilliland Racing rebrands to Tricon Garage and rolls out Toyota Tundra trucks next season, it’ll be more than a change for the organization.
Tanner Gray, who will go into his fourth full season in the Craftsman Truck Series, is also eager for a reset. A personal reset that is, when it comes to padding his resume.
“That’s the main thing — you’ve got to have success on the racetrack to make all this work, and I just don’t feel like I’ve been where I want to be,” Gray said. “We’ve shown glimpses of being really good, and then there’s times where we’ve had a lot of races that were really bad. I think this is going to be a good opportunity for me to go out and prove myself and prove I can do this.
“(We’ve) got to get the right people around us, and I feel like we have that here with Toyota. I’m looking forward to seeing where this company goes.”
Gray is no stranger to the resources and speed of Toyota race cars and trucks. Not only did he once work with the manufacturer in the ARCA Menards Series, but in 2019 when Gray made his first few starts in the Truck Series with Gilliland, it was in a Toyota Tundra.
“Any time you get an opportunity to do this full time, it’s nice, and you want to take advantage of it. You want to make the most of it,” Gray said. “I feel like I’ve been in a little bit of a rut the last couple of years, so being able to partner with Toyota and have all the resources and tools that they have to offer is going to be nice.
“Hopefully, it can help me improve as a driver, and just kind of help Tricon as an organization take that next step forward. It’s exciting. I’m looking forward.”
Heading for the season finale at Phoenix Raceway on Nov. 4, Gray is 15th in the championship standings. Regardless of his Phoenix finish, Gray will close out the year with the second-fewest top-10 finishes he’s earned in three full seasons. He has never won a Truck Series race and, in 70 starts, has seven top-five finishes and 20 laps led.
A former NHRA Pro Stock champion, Gray came to NASCAR with high hopes and feels he’s adapted well and is comfortable racing trucks. But the execution has been the problem, particularly this season. Gray points to strong race starts for his No. 15 team but weak finishes.
“There are still places that I go that I wouldn’t say I’m 100% comfortable yet, but as far as driving the trucks, I feel like I have a good understanding,” he said. “I understand what I need to do when I show up. I think execution has been a big thing this year. If you look at our first two stages for most of the year, we’ve had fifth- to eighth-place trucks and in the final stages, for whatever reason, we don’t execute and we end up 15th.
“It’s cleaning all that up. There have certainly been places we’ve shown up to this year and didn’t feel we had the speed that we needed, but for the most part, I feel like we’ve had speed and been good the first half of the race. We just have to execute better.”
Gray didn’t place blame for the lack of results. But he isn’t afraid to look inward and puts much of it on his shoulders.
“Oh, absolutely — as the driver, you put all of it on you,” he said. “At the end of the day, you’re holding the steering wheel and have the pedals. Everything comes back on you. No matter what, you’ve got to go out there and find a way to be better and I haven’t done that.
“So, [that’s why] I’m excited about this deal. It’s going to give me an opportunity to go out there and prove myself. Have a lot of new tools and resources to bounce stuff off.”
Gray said he’ll go into the 2023 season with “different” expectations than in years past.
“Everyone shows up to the racetrack and they want to win,” he noted, “but right now, I feel like we’ve got to walk before we run. So, my goal going into next year is being consistent and being upfront where I feel like we should be and do that consistently.
“Put yourself in the top 10 and if you do that consistently, you’re going to start knocking off some top fives. If you’re inside the top five consistently, you’re going to eventually knock off a win.”
Tyler Gibbs isn’t putting any more pressure on Gray than he’s putting on himself. Gibbs, the senior vice president and GM of Toyota Racing Development, said there have been no conversations about setting expectations for Gray. However, naturally, Toyota wants to see improvement over the course of the ’23 season and agrees it’ll be a nice reset for him.
Gray’s owner, however, was blunter about things. David Gilliland said 2023 is an “important year” for Gray.
“He’s been in the series for multiple years, and I think the resources we put around him next year will be the best opportunity he’s ever had,” said Gilliland. “He’s shown the speed, and he has the capability — we just have to put it all together.
“Next year is a very, very important year for him and his future, and we’re going to do all we can to put all the resources and right people around him to accomplish those goals.”
In other words, Gray admitted next year feels like a make-or-break one for him in the Truck Series.
“I feel like it’s a big year for me,” he said, “and I feel like it’s time to do something.”