In A Nutshell: Finally! For the first time in 2006, a non-Nextel Cup driver was sitting in Victory Lane after Saturday night’s Busch Series race at Kentucky. In perhaps the strangest twist to happen all season, it was the driver no one would have ever expected to be seen hoisting that trophy after the checkered flag flew.
David Gilliland, a standout on the Grand National West Series circuit, entered this season with Clay Andrews Racing, a small, unsponsored, part-time Busch Series effort. In spite of the difficulties, there are those who obviously believe in Gilliland’s abilities because Billy Wilburn, former crew chief for Rusty Wallace, is on top of the pit box, and former Cup driver Jerry Nadeau is the driver coach for Gilliland and the team. After a rough start to the year, with a best finish of 29th entering Saturday night’s race, the faith of Gililand’s backers paid off. Gilliland qualified in fourth and stayed near the front all night until he had the perfect car to pick off the leaders. He’d worked his way up to second when a caution with 17 laps to go helped Gilliland reel in leader J.J. Yeley. Gilliland wasn’t shy about going for the win, laying a bumper to Yeley with 10 laps remaining and driving by for a lead he would never relinquish. Yeley wound up second, followed by teammate Denny Hamlin. Mike Wallace and Ashton Lewis, Jr. rounded out the top five.
Who Should Have Won: J.J. Yeley. I know what you’re thinking; a non-Cup driver finally wins a Busch Series race, and I’m saying a Cup driver should have won. Don’t get me wrong; I’m thrilled for Gilliland, but once again NASCAR’s decision must be questioned on when to throw a caution. In the last quarter of the race, Yeley’s crew made a great pit call to skip fresh tires and just do a gas and go on their last pit stop because the car had some front end damage that made it difficult to run in traffic. The stop was designed to get him to the front where he could run in clean air, and the car responded; Yeley ran out to a five second lead on the rest of the field. Gilliland was faster, but buried in traffic, he didn’t have enough time to catch Yeley before the laps ran out. With the win almost in his grasp, Yeley watched it all slip away when the caution was thrown for the No. 43 of Chris Cook spinning out with 20 laps remaining. What I question about the caution is that the 43 spun off the track and harmlessly through the grass, making contact with nothing and driving off onto the access road without stopping. By the time caution was displayed, the 43 was clearly out of harm’s way; there didn’t appear to be any debris or cleanup needed, and the car never stopped, so no safety crew needed to go out to attend to the vehicle.
One thing the caution did do, though, was wipe out a five second lead and put the much faster car of Gilliland directly behind Yeley, setting up the race to the finish.
Three Questions You Should Be Asking After the Race Weekend:
1) How did David slay Goliath?
Or, should I say, David Gilliland. If you had told me this would be the first guy to break the stranglehold of the Cup drivers winning in the Busch Series, I’d never have believed you. No sponsor, no Cup affiliation or support, a part-time schedule, and engines built in-house, yet Gilliland still wins. Amazing.
2) How much does Carl Edwards feel like he wasted his time?
Edwards hustled all the way from Michigan’s Nextel Cup final practice to get to Kentucky just to have a gearbox full of neutral on the first lap that sent him to the garage and relegated him to the back of the pack for the rest of the night. Hardly seems worth the trouble, doesn’t it?
3) Why is there no padding on the inside walls at Kentucky? With all of the obvious information showing that shock-absorbing walls are better, why are there bare concrete walls in an area where cars going at high speed can hit them?
Jeff Fuller was trying to avoid crashing directly into the driver’s side door of Jason Leffler when he opted to turn hard left and take his chances spinning to the infield. Unfortunately, Fuller ended up crashing hard into an unprotected concrete wall. The size of the impact was obvious from the fact that Fuller’s car basically disintegrated around him. The side that made contact with nothing looked just as bad as the side that hit the wall. It created some anxious moments as safety crews had to cut the roof off of the car to extricate Fuller; luckily, Fuller escaped with only minor hand and wrist injuries. He was sent to the hospital, but released the morning after the crash.
Worth Noting/Points Shuffle:
With only four Cup drivers taking spots in the Kentucky Top 10, there was plenty of room for Busch Series regulars in this one, but deciding who was the highest finishing regular gets a little tricky. Winner David Gilliland is not a Cup driver, as he races only part time in Busch, and third place driver Mike Wallace is a replacement Busch driver who did not start the season in his present ride (although the No. 1 James Finch entry he drives is a series staple). If neither one of those drivers suit you, then fifth place Ashton Lewis, Jr. would fit the bill as the first full-time Busch driver in a Busch only ride.
Meanwhile, for the first time this season, the Raybestos Rookie of the Race for this week is none other than the race winner, David Gilliland. It’s the first time since 2003 it has taken until June for a rookie in the Busch Series to win a race.
As for the point standings, Kevin Harvick remains the point leader with a margin of 372 over second place Carl Edwards. Edwards had been chipping away at Harvick’s lead, getting it down to 272 after last weekend, but a stubborn transmission left Edwards with a 36th place result that took back 100 of those points he’d worked so hard to gain. Behind those two, the only actual change in the Top Ten this week is a swap between Denny Hamlin, who moves up to third, and Clint Bowyer, who dropped one spot to fourth. Fifth through tenth remain unchanged, with Greg Biffle, J.J. Yeley, Kyle Busch, Paul Menard, Johnny Sauter, and Kenny Wallace maintaining their spots in that order.
Buschwhackers in this race: 8
Starting spots taken by Buschwhackers YTD: 232 of 688
Buschwhackers finishing in the Top 10: 4
Buschwhackers finishing in the Top 10 YTD: 119 of 160
Races won by Buschwhackers YTD: 15 of 16
Buschwhackers ranked in Top 10 of Busch Series points standings: 7
“After we missed the Charlotte race, I was probably the most down I have been in my career. I went home and sat in my office with some of my trophies and told myself, ‘I can do this.’” David Gilliland
“People have asked me all season how I feel about racing against Cup guys, and my story has remained the same. I want to be where they are someday, and racing against them now will only prepare you for the Cup Series. We beat them tonight so, no, I don’t mind at all.” David Gilliland
“This is the best finish we’ve had this year, other than the road course race. It’s my best career finish. It feels great. I really need to thank Robert Yates Racing. Robert kept me in this car and Doug Yates gave us a great engine here tonight. It was really a team effort.” Stephen Leicht
“I started in second trying to be conservative, and I shifted to third and we broke a transmission. I know Jeff McElwain and all of the guys that build these transmissions do a great job; we have great transmissions. I’ve never broke one like that. It must have just been a bad part or something; there are no gears in it right now. It won’t go.” Carl Edwards
“We had a bad night. I guess on the second caution of the night, nobody knew the caution was coming out and I got into the back of the 06 car and killed my nose. I bent the whole nose in and we couldn’t get the tape to stick; I was pushing, and it was just a really bad night. It’s amazing that we even got 20th. It’s just disappointing. I’m devastated, but we finished 20th and that’s all there is to it.” Kenny Wallace
Next Up: The Busch Series will join the Craftsman Truck Series for a weekend at the Milwaukee Mile. Coverage of the AT&T 250 is scheduled to start at 8:30 PM ET on FX on Saturday night, June 24th.
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