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Zack Albert | NASCAR Digital Media

‘Underdog’ Gaulding basks in emotion-filled runner-up result

TALLADEGA, Ala. – It may not have been a victory for Gray Gaulding but the runner-up finish in the MoneyLion 300 at Talladega Superspeedway sure was sweet. Emotion poured out with plenty of jubilation from his family and friends.

“This is Talladega man. This is frickin’ awesome,” Gaulding said after his career-best finish in a NASCAR national series race. “This is what every driver wants to have is a last-lap chance to win a race and we did.”

RELATED: Full results from MoneyLion 300 | Reddick wins at Talladega

The biggest key for Gaulding was going into the race with an aggressive, no-holds-barred mindset.

“I told myself today I’m going to act like today’s the last race I got,” Gaulding said. “I was going to lay it all out on the table and I’m going to play offense and attack all day. I feel like the more times you play defense here at Daytona or Talladega you get yourself in trouble.”

The 21-year-old surged in the closing laps to finish 0.127 seconds off the pace of race winner Tyler Reddick.

“I tried every single trick in the handbook to get it done,” Gaulding said. “The 98 (Chase Briscoe, who finished fourth) got a huge run and went up to block me and then I slingshotted by him. I’ll tell you, it was pretty close … I was at least trying to hope to get to (Reddick’s) bumper — move him out of the way or do something.”

The strong run was far from lost on his fellow competitors — fifth-place finisher Austin Cindric noted how others “underestimated the 08 car” and that Gaulding was a “great helper” — as he and others gave plenty of congratulations to Gaulding after he got out of the car.

“I feel like I earned a lot of respect today,” Gaulding said. “At the beginning of the race, I had nobody. I was a lone ranger on an island with no one out there. I felt like I cut my teeth and showed these guys I could hang in there with the best of them.”

Gaulding has 84 starts across all three national series and the last few seasons have seen him bounce around the garage until landing at SS Green Light Racing to drive the No. 08 Chevrolet for team owner Bobby Dotter.

“We’re the underdogs everywhere we go,” Gaulding said. “Now, I like it like that. The beginning of the year people didn’t really pay attention to us. Now it just seems like every week with the cars we’re building and the way I’m driving and the way my crew chief Patrick (Donahue) and guys are setting my cars up, we’re going to have a shot at it one of these days.”

A bigger prize may be in the offing for Gaulding as his runner-up finish and status as a Xfinity Series regular made him one of four drivers (with Reddick, Briscoe and Christopher Bell) eligible for the $100,000 prize in the Dash 4 Cash finale next Saturday — May 4 — in the Allied Steel Buildings 200 (1:30 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) at Dover International Speedway.