In June, David Gilliland drove a Busch car, fielded by a
scratch team, to victory over teams fielded by the heavy hitters of the
NASCAR world in front of a national audience. Since that time he's been
the talk of the NASCAR world, with virtually every NASCAR team trying to
sign him up. On Friday, August 18, Gilliland was officially named as the
driver of the Robert Yates Racing #38, sponsored by M&M - Mars. Luck, they
say, is when opportunities meets preparation. David Gilliland, under that
definition, is quite lucky.
Gilliland is a 30-year-old from California who started off in 1997 as a
crew chief in the Winston West series, winning the Crew Chief of the Year
title in that series in 1997 and 1998. He got the driving bug in 1999, and
by 2004 was the Rookie of the Year in the NASCAR Southwest tour. Still, he
wasn't a household name outside of that series, and his career seemed to
stall at that point. Indeed, only 3 weeks before winning at the Busch race
at Kentucky, he was too slow to make the Busch field at Lowes Motor
However, the June Busch race at Kentucky changed all that. In an
unsponsored car that didn't even have its own pit crew until shortly
before the race, Gilliland broke an 18-month string of NASCAR Cup driver
victories with his victory. The team, started before the season with only
4 employees, disbanded shortly after it became clear that Gilliland was
moving on to Cup racing, emphasizing its fragility. "It's a big deal for
an unsponsored team building our own motors to beat those guys" Gilliland
said afterwards in describing the most dramatic upset NASCAR win in at
least a decade. In winning, he beat Cup regulars JJ Yeley, Kyle Busch,
Carl Edwards, Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin and Greg Biffle.
Kyle Bush welcomed being beaten by his friend and former rival from his
own Winston West days. "Gilliland, he's a pretty good friend of mine. I've
known him for a few years now, especially running the Southwest tour and
stuff like that. We exchanged phone numbers years ago when I ran in the SW
Tour." Indeed, Gilliland stayed at Bush's house when Gilliland made the
move to run in the Busch series. "He's gonna be good, he's a very good
shoe, he's got a great head on his shoulders, I know he's not quite the
age that people are looking for nowadays," Bush explained in an interview
at MIS on Friday.
Gilliland needed the universe to converge some more in his favor to get
this ride. First of all, Elliott Sadler was having a miserable season with
Robert Yates Racing, and was looking to get out of his contract. When
Jeremy Mayfield went public with his complaints over the 19 car owner's
love interests (an extra-marital affair with driver Erin Crocker, who
certain does not owe her continued ride to her on-track talents) the 19
car became suddenly vacant, and Sadler crossed over to the Dodge camp to
take that seat. Yates, a troubled shop for some time itself, was unable to
land any top names already in the Cup series, and was looking for a Busch
driver when Gilliland won at Kentucky.
In the press conference announcing the change, Yates was gushing in his
praise of Gilliland: "I've got some friends in the business, been around a
long time, and earlier this season they said, 'You need to watch this guy.
This is the next Dale Earnhardt. And early on, I started watching him, and
every practice session he'd be at the top of the sheet."
Adding to Gilliland's lucky stars was the return of championship crew
chief Todd Parrott, and the new driver-chief combo returned the 38 car to
the top of the practice sheets at Michigan, a place where the Yates team
hasn't been for some time. And, Michigan is a great place for a rookie to
run their first race. "It's nice and wide, if it pushes up a little bit
you're not gonna get into trouble 'cause it is so wide.
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