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Gilliland Also Provided Some February Warmth

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, February 25 2011

David Gilliland heads to the checkered flag third in line at the end of last weekend's Daytona 500. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Trevor Bayne and the Wood Brothers were the best of the feel good stories coming out of the Daytona 500 last weekend, but not the only ones.

David Gilliland, a person who has come to be a symbol of the journeyman driver in NASCAR, finished third. He actually had a run at victory and had things opened up properly in front of him last Sunday at Daytona International Speedway, it might have been Gilliland making the talk show circuit this week.

Gilliland was in a Ford fielded by the perennially non-factoring Front Row Motorsports when he had his big moment.

And big, the 34-year-old from Riverside, Calif. said, it was. Bigger than big, in fact.

“It was a huge day for myself and Front Row Motorsports – confidence for me, confidence for our team, the guys,” Gilliland said Friday morning in Phoenix.

Gilliland was making his 150th Sprint Cup career start in Daytona last week. He has not won a race in the series. The highlights of the career had included two poles and two top-five finishes.

His best finish – second place – came at the Infineon road course in 2008.

But there he was last Sunday, steaming toward the checkered flag in his Taco Bell-sponsored Fusion.

This week at Phoenix International Raceway, he reaped some of the benefits – the non financial but highly gratifying kind.

“Walking in the garage Jeff Gordon came up to me and said, ‘Hey, great job,’ and other drivers and

David Gilliland and the Taco Bell car at Daytona. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images for NASCAR)

stuff,” Gilliland said. “So it’s something that at Front Row Motorsports last year, we weren’t nearly as competitive as we’d like to be, but we feel like we’ve taken some big steps over the winter to be more competitive and I think that was a great first stop.”

PIR is not Daytona. But is is important for Gilliland and Front Row.

“Now, we’ve got to back it up this week and continue to build,” he said.  “Momentum is a big thing in this sport and our guys, everybody’s attitude in the shop, I went in there everyday this week and everybody is kind of high-stepping and excited.  They’ve got the fire in their eyes and ready to go again.  I’m excited about it.  I’m excited to come back here to Phoenix.  This is a track where I’ve had a lot of success in other series, and we’ve got much better race cars than we had last year, so I’m looking forward to trying to carry the momentum.”

Gilliland loved the taste of success he got last week. And he wants more in a career that has been pretty dang bland.

“It’s definitely been a rollercoaster ride,” Gilliland, who spent his first three seasons with the Yates organization, said. “Coming into the series with Robert Yates Racing, we had a great opportunity

David Gilliland got his Cup series start with the Yates organization. (Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for NASCAR)

there, but when I went over there Elliott Sadler was leaving and Dale Jarrett was leaving and the place was kind of on a downhill swing.  We tried our best to try and get it going back up, but just couldn’t do it.

“I feel like I’m ready. I feel like I’m the best driver I’ve ever been right now and feel like we’re ready to take advantage of any opportunity that comes our way.  We’re going to make the most of everything we’ve got at Front Row Motorsports.  (Team owner) Bob Jenkins, we’re definitely not the highest funded team out here, probably one of the lower funded teams, but we’ve got great equipment and great motors this year and we’re gonna make the most of it.

“My goal is to win in the Cup Series. I’ve won in every other series I’ve raced in and finished second in the Cup Series, so we’ve been close, but just got a little bit to go.   I want to win and, hopefully, if not this year, hopefully, we can create some other opportunities to get into a situation where we can win, but I feel good about our chances.”

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, February 25 2011
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