2007 Ride: No. 38 Robert Yates Racing Ford
2007 Primary Sponsor: M&M’s
2007 Owner: Robert Yates
2007 Crew Chief: Todd Parrott
Stats: 36 races, zero wins, one top five, two top 10s, one pole, 28th in points.
High Point: The 2007 season started with a bang, as Gilliland captured the pole for the season-opening Daytona 500 and finished an encouraging eighth in that prestigious event. But with the exception of a fourth-place finish in the April running of the Aaron’s 499 at Talladega, Alabama the No. 38 team that had left Daytona in February with so much hope found the going difficult the remainder of the season – they were largely non-competitive and relegated to “backmarker” status for the most part in the remaining 34 Nextel Cup events.
Low Point: It was difficult to pinpoint any one occurrence during a disappointing season that trumps all others for Gilliland and his No. 38 teammates. But certainly by September, uncertainty as to whether RYR would even survive as an organization had to take center stage. The knowledge that the primary sponsor for both Gilliland’s team and teammate Ricky Rudd would not return in 2008 – coupled with confirmation that legendary owner Robert Yates would retire – had to gnaw considerably at the morale of the team.
Summary: For Gilliland, 2007 was his first full season in NASCAR’s highest division after taking over the M&M’s ride from Elliott Sadler in August of 2006. Gilliland was “fast-tracked” to the top series after one of the most noted “Cinderella wins” in Busch Series history, when in only his fifth start in that series he bested the field in a unheralded and underfunded part-time Busch team entry. Due to his rapid rise through the stock car ranks, it is only fair to say that Gilliland is still a “work in progress.”
How talented Gilliland actually is has been difficult to determine, as the Robert Yates equipment he has piloted this season has been inarguably inferior.
2008 Outlook: Next season should see an improvement in performance by the California native as changes abound for his race team. With Robert Yates’s retirement, son Doug will now control the team to be known simply as Yates Racing. It appears the Doug has taken a major step in the right direction by forging an alliance with Ford powerhouse Roush Fenway Racing, who will essentially build all cars that Gilliland will be competing in next season.
But expect some hiccups. There are still sponsorship issues to be worked out, and the transition to Roush Fenway equipment may take time to gel. However, with one full season of seat time now in the bank for Gilliland, it is safe to predict that there will be a marked improvement next season.
2006 Frontstretch Grade: N/A
2007 Grade: D