|06-22-2008, 09:40 PM||#1|
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Gilliland impresses peers with career-best Cup finish
Battles friend Busch in final laps, comes home second
SONOMA, Calif. --For David Gilliland, it always has seemed simple at Infineon Raceway, a tricky 1.99-mile road-course that gives other Sprint Cup series drivers serious fits.
Gilliland made his first Sprint Cup start at the track in June of 2006, but it wasn't the first time he had raced at the venue. He had raced there while on the NASCAR Camping World West circuit and also in the NASCAR Southwest series, winning two events.
So it came as no surprise -- at least to Gilliland -- that he registered a Cup career-best second-place finish in Sunday's Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Infineon. He said he owes much of his Infineon success to his father, Butch, formerly a formidable driver in his own right in what is now known as the Camping World West series.
"My dad has won here four times, and the first time I ever road raced I came here," said Gilliland, who served as his father's crew chief when Butch won the Camping World West series championship in 1997. "I had never road raced or nothing, and I qualified fourth. We broke a transmission then, but I just always came here with the attitude that if my dad could do it, I guess I can do it.
"I've never really taken any lessons on road racing. I'm just kind of at home here. It's been good. It's been a great racetrack for us."
The only one better Sunday was race winner Kyle Busch, who said he once drove for the Gilliland family in a lower series when he was starting out as a driver.
"We've been friends kind of through the years," said Busch, who recalled getting moved out of the way for a spot by Gilliland on the last lap of one of those early races.
It was ironic, then, that Busch felt all along that Gilliland wouldn't attempt to do the same in the final laps Sunday -- even though he said he knew how badly Gilliland hungers for his first Sprint Cup victory.
"To be racing with him at the end of the race was neat. I knew he would race me clean," said Busch, who won his series-high fifth Cup race of the season. "I've got to thank him for doing that and also congratulate him on a great finish of his own."
Jeff Gordon, who finished third right behind Gilliland, also said he was impressed with the way Gilliland smoothly negotiated his No. 38 Ford around the 12-turn Infineon beast.
"I wasn't around him enough to know what he did most of the race, but there at the end he was definitely impressive," Gordon said. "He was good on the restarts. He would get in there, and I thought he was going to have something for Kyle there at the end. I think actually if all the speedy-dry hadn't been on the racetrack, he might have.
"Kyle did a great job. It shows all the talent he's got and what a great team effort it was. But David really impressed me. I was happy for him; I like David a lot."
The speedy-dry was on the track after a 12-minute delay when the race was red-flagged, following a late-race accident that removed three key players from contention and benefited Gilliland perhaps most of all.
It occurred in Turn 4 when Kevin Harvick drove his No. 29 Chevrolet in too deep, locked up the brakes, and got into the back of the No. 26 Ford of Jamie McMurray, who then hit the No. 20 Toyota being driven by Tony Stewart. All three cars had been running in the top five when Harvick, running fifth, attempted to pass Gilliland, who was running fourth, and set off the melee (watch video).
Much to the pleasure of Busch as well as Gilliland, the No. 38 Ford drove right through it all and into second place, where Gilliland remained the rest of the race.
Everybody makes mistakes sometimes, but when Harvick comes up to me and runs his mouth like he did at Michigan [after an incident in a Craftsman Series truck race last weekend] and says all the stuff he did, he kind of stuck it right back in his mouth here this weekend. That was good to see," Busch said.
Gilliland was just happy to survive the incident and come home with the best finish of his season and his Cup career.
"It looked like Harvick got in there and wheel-hopped a little bit. It was not on purpose. It was just one of those deals," Gilliland said. "Turns 7 and 11 are dangerous, just for that deal. You try to get in as hard as you can, and if you wheel-hop the back tires at all, it's trouble.
"It was close. It was right there in front of me, but we were able to get past it."
Avoiding that kind of trouble was key to Gilliland's strong day, as he ran in the top seven most of the sunny afternoon.
"We never got off the track, we never missed a beat, and our brakes were perfect," Gilliland said. "That's what it takes to do well on a road course: no mistakes."
Gilliland said he hopes to build on it and help his employer, Yates Racing, and a full-time sponsor. The organization has been in search of one all season long.
"To come here and have a good day, we're in a sponsor search right now for a full-time deal, so hopefully this will help. We're just excited about it," Gilliland said. "We had a terrible run last weekend [finishing 27th at Michigan]. This should help us build some momentum. We're going to use this; we're going to build this up.
"We ran strong all day long. We ran in the top six or seven 90 percent of the day, and I'm really proud of that. I'm just really proud, most of all, of Yates Racing and where we've come as a team -- [fellow Yates driver] Travis [Kvapil] and I both -- in the six months from where we ended the year last year. Yates Racing is definitely coming back, and I'm proud to be a part of it."
Last edited by Joe Starr; 06-23-2008 at 12:10 AM.