A string of freakishly bad luck can’t shake Joe Graf Jr.’s mental toughness

Joe Graf Jr.

MOORESVILLE, N.C.: After a blazing fast start to his sophomore NASCAR Xfinity Series (NXS) season with SS GreenLight Racing (SSGL), Joe Graf Jr. heads to Circuit of the Americas (COTA) hoping to shake off a month-long stretch of freakishly bad luck.

“It is during times like this that all your mental discipline and training really come to the forefront,” said Graf. “I can’t stress enough the importance of mental toughness in overcoming obstacles you don’t control.  We have an amazing pit crew, but two weeks in a row they have suffered late-race problems that ruined our day.

“SSGL team builds great cars and never have had a parts failure, but when we were running seventh at Talladega, we have a front-end component break with only a few laps left in the race. At Martinsville, we brought a completely new car setup and were running very strong when a competitor intentionally wrecked us.

“Those were actually four really solid performances by the SSGL team that were tainted by a dash of bad luck.”

While the performances may not back it up recently, Graf said his program at SSGL is stronger than his rookie season in 2020.

“When I look at the speed and balance of our cars this year they are much better than last year,” added Graf who started the season with a career-high 11th at Daytona International Speedway. “That isn’t from luck. That is from the hard work and grind it out mental toughness of this team.

“It’s such a shame that we have had such a rough month or so, but this is no different from life.  We all experience highs and lows in life.  Like anyone at a low point, we are going to remain mentally tough and keep moving forward. We embrace the suck. We know it can’t last.

“The SS GreenLight Racing team led by Bobby (Dotter), Mike (Tyska, crew chief), and the rest of the team have been super troopers getting our cars prepared and staying positive even through this rut.”

The bad luck began at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway last month, where Graf was wiped out of the rain-delayed Cook-Out 250 by Gray Gaulding. Graf, who was running inside the top-20 at the time of the incident, entered the race being the only driver in the NASCAR Xfinity Series in 2021 without being involved in an accident.

In the following race, a superb run at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway which saw his No. 07 Z Grills Chevrolet Camaro draft from the rear of the field to post one of the fastest laps of the race, as well as spending numerous laps inside the top-10 was foiled by a front suspension failure with just a few laps remaining in the race – resulting in a disappointing 33rd place finish.

Two weeks ago, during NASCAR throwback weekend at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway, Graf raced smart and carefully maneuvered himself into the top-20 until a late-race caution sent teams to pit road for service. An unfortunate error during the pitstop left Graf’s wheel with only three lug-nuts.  On the restart, a tire issue forced Graf to lose control of his race car and end the race with a dejecting 37th place finish.

This past weekend at Dover (Del.) International Speedway, the 22-year-old battled back from being one lap down to getting his No. 07 Z Grills Chevrolet back on the lead lap and slicing and dicing his way through the field before an unscheduled pit stop under green for a loose wheel ruined any hopes of a satisfying finish.  Instead, he finished 29th in his third Monster Mile start.

Because of the unfortunate setbacks, the team has dropped to 35th in the Xfinity Series owner points and 26th in the driver standings with the current New York University student determined to climb his team out of this hole and forge ahead with an upbeat, realistic approach.

With just 10 races in the book thus far in 2021, Graf said he and his team are prepared to leave nothing on the table looking ahead.

“Going forward we are going to focus on what we can control and continue to execute at our highest level,” he said.  There are a ton of races left in the season and hopefully, we have shaken the bad luck.  I would be worried if our cars lacked competitiveness, but they don’t. We have a lot of racing left and we are due for some good luck.”

The former ARCA Menards Series winner marketing partner support throughout the 2021 season has been amazing despite the bad luck the team has endured. However, the interest in Graf, SSGLR and the NASCAR Xfinity Series continues to be favorable for the distant future.

For more on Joe Graf Jr. visit JoeGrafJr.com, like him on Facebook (Joe Graf Jr.), follow him on Twitter (@JoeGrafJr) and Instagram (@joegrafjr).

The COTA 250 (46 laps | 156 miles) is the 11th of 33 NASCAR Xfinity Series races on the 2021 schedule. Practice is set for Fri., May 21 from 3:00 p.m. – 3:55 p.m. Qualifying is set for race day, Sat., May 22 beginning at 10:05 a.m. The inaugural race will take the green flag later in the day shortly after 3:00 p.m. (4:00 p.m. ET) with live coverage on FOX Sports 1, the Performance Racing Network (Radio) and SiriusXM NASCAR Channel 90. All times are local (CT).

About SS Green Light Racing:

As one of the most tenured teams in all of NASCAR, SS GreenLight Racing has been a developmental hub for drivers looking to climb the ranks. Led by owner and former driver Bobby Dotter, the team has fielded entries in either the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series or the Xfinity Series competition since 2001.

SS GreenLight Racing will continue with a two-car program in the NASCAR Xfinity Series in 2021.