By Don Ward
SPARTA, Ky. (June 2006) A few hours before the start of the NASCAR Busch Series race on June 17 at the Kentucky Speedway, defending champion Carl Edwards was asked what he thought it must be like for Busch drivers who must face up to a dozen Nextel Cup drivers each race.
Photo by Don Ward
A record-setting Busch Series crowd
cheers on the start of the Meijer 300
at the Kentucky Speedway.
After all, Nextel Cup drivers had won 15 of 15 Busch races this season heading into Kentucky.
I dont know youll have to ask them, Edwards snapped.
Edwards obviously didnt want to discuss what he considered a non-issue. But when pressed to explain himself, he said, Im asked that question all the time by the media, but Ive never heard any Busch regulars complain about it. I think it would be good experience for them a chance to prove themselves against some of the best drivers out there.
Edwards may not have to answer the question any more after David Gilliland, a virtual unknown from Bakersfield, Calif., shocked the Nextel Cup-heavy Busch field to win the Meijer 300 Presented by Oreo before the tracks sixth consecutive sellout standalone Busch crowd, this one topping 72,886 and eclipsing the previous track record attendance of 72,312 set in 2004.
Photo by High Sierra
David Gilliland of Bakersfield, Calif.,
shocked the Busch field in his
sponsorless race car, then performed
an impressive burnout.
Whats more, Gilliland, a former dirt track driver, was driving an unsponsored car with engines built by his own team members. His crew was getting its first experience at changing tires in a pit stop. He had never been on the track before that weekend and had only practiced using a computer simulator of the Kentucky Speedway. But down the stretch, his car proved to be the fastest one on the track in the final seven-lap sprint to the end following the races record-tying 10th and last caution.
Its awesome; this is a dream come true, said Gilliland, 30. When they ask me about racing against these cup guys, I tell them I love it because it makes me better. This is an awesome race car. We came here having never seen this track before yesterday. Now were here in victory lane I cant believe it.
Gilliland became the sixth different series winner in Kentucky Speedway history and fourth to claim a victory in his first series start at the track. He also is the first NASCAR Busch Series regular to win a race since Clint Bowyer took an Oct. 22, 2005, victory at Memphis Motorsports Park. Gilliland charted his previous best Busch Series performance on April 8 at Texas Motor Speedway where he started 11th and finished 29th.
Photo by Don Ward
David Gilliland celebrates
with his team in Victory Lane.
We came in here with our main focus to finish as high as possible, and you cant finish much better than that, Gilliland said.
Gilliland earned the $101,300 winners share of the track record $1.4 million purse, one of the largest on the Busch circuit.
The former NASCAR Southwest Tour and Grand National West Series race winner started the Meijer 300 race in fourth place and dropped back to the 19th position before racing back to the front. He then watched J.J. Yeley open a nearly five-second lead on Mike Wallace before a caution closed the field on Lap 184 when Chris Cook spun into the infield on the backstretch entering Turn 3.
Gilliland, driving his No. 84 Hype Manufacturing Chevrolet, restarted second on Lap 188. He took his lone lead of the night two laps later with a low-line pass of Yeley in Turn 1.
We were fast all night and I was just able to pick guys off, Gilliland said. I followed him, found where I was better and was able to set him up and make the pass.
He survived one final caution restart with seven laps remaining and held his car to low line through the final laps before crossing the finish line 0.306 of a second ahead of Yeley.