It was just another Saturday night Busch race; at least that is how it started out. It ended up being a storybook race that no one, whether they are a supposed expert or the most diehard fan, could have predicted. A part-time team with no sponsor and in-house engines won a NASCAR Busch Series race. David Gilliland was standing in Victory Lane, covered in sport drink and beer, having just beaten eight Cup regulars and a field full of full time Busch teams. It was the greatest Cinderella story the Busch series had ever seen.
Could anyone have seen this coming? Not to toot our own horn, but the Frontstretch had spotted Gilliland's talent over a year ago: http://www.frontstretch.com/nkrone/270/. Gilliland has turned some heads in the past, but nothing like he did this past weekend.
Now, there have been some other great upsets in the past in NASCAR. On the Busch side, Matt Kenseth won at Rockingham in 1998 with an unsponsored operation that was later picked up by Jack Roush; however, the team was running a full schedule that year. Over in the Cup series, unheralded Derrike Cope won the Daytona 500 in 1990 on the final lap; however, he was the recipient of the fortuitous chicken bone that blew out Dale Earnhardt's tire and handed the victory to Cope.
Gilliland’s victory, on the other hand, was a flat out win. No funny weather, no pit strategy or fuel mileage to help him to the checkers. Simply put, Gilliland drove to the front and beat everyone in the race fair and square. Yes, he was the benefactor of a late race caution, but he still won the race by passing the leader and pulling away from the field.
The question now is, what will the ramifications of this win be? Will Gilliland secure the Cup ride he covets? It is hard to say. In the modern NASCAR world, David is an old man at 30 years old. We've already seen drivers lose their rides simply because they are too old for the sponsor's desired demographic (Sterling Marlin). Gilliland found this out the hard way, losing out on the Roush "Gong Show" to younger drivers Erik Darnell, Danny O'Quinn, and Todd Kluever.
Of course, you have to wonder if Jack is regretting the decision he made. Will Roush consider putting Gilliland in the #6 next year instead of Kluever? If Jack doesn't give Gilliland a ride, you’d like to think there will be someone out there with a seat to fill who will give this kid a shot. Of course, the bigger question is if one race prove that Gilliland can drive…actually, it does. He took an underfunded car and made a winner out of it against veterans with Nextel Cup experience. There is little doubt that, with quality equipment, Gilliland could do the same thing for an established team. There have been other drivers who haven't fared as well in the Busch Series that secured full-time Cup rides (see : Tony Stewart, Jimmie Johnson). Any team out there looking for a new driver would be well served to give Mr. Gilliland a call.
Another ramification over this win may be about what NASCAR does to Buschwhackers now? Does this victory take the pressure off, or does it turn up the heat even more? In the short term, it would seem that it takes the heat off the problem. Gilliland proved that, on any given day, anyone can win a Busch race. Six of the top 10 finishers were Busch only drivers, and Gilliland drove around a Cup regular for the win. It would seem as though this win reinforces the belief that there isn't anything wrong with the Cup regulars in the Busch series. It is just a matter of getting the moon and stars to align properly and any team can finish first.
While the long term effects of Gilliland’s victory will be remain uncertain, there is no doubt what the short term effects are. David Gilliland has been transformed into a hero. He has given every local short track driver the belief that they can run with the big boys, and hope to the Busch regulars that they can indeed compete with and beat the 800 pound gorilla Cup backed teams. He has also given reason to all of the long standing Busch fans who have been so disenfranchised with the series this year a feeling that it might be worth turning the races back on after all.
Thanks for the uplifting victory, David. It was almost certainly the biggest upset in the history of the Busch Series.
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