Gilliland takes NASCAR career best 2nd


David Gilliland, driver of the No. 38 Ford Fusion, scored the best finish of his 67-race NASCAR Sprint Cup career on Sunday, finishing in second place in the Save Mart 350 at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, California. Kyle Busch won for the series-leading fifth time this season. Marcos Ambrose, driving the Wood Brothers’ No. 21 Little Debbie Honey Buns Ford Fusion, made his Cup debut, and was running in the top five with less than 20 laps remaining, when he was clipped from behind and broke a gear, ending his day.

DAVID GILLILAND – No. 38 Ford Fusion (finished 2nd) – “It was a great day for us. He kind of hit on some stuff there late in Happy Hour that just made the car drive really, really good, and I told my crew chief, Cully, ‘This is what we need to be able to stay on the race track, not mistakes,’ and it was fast. That’s a combination for a good day, and then it was in my hands not to make a mistake, and that’s harder than it sounds here. I’m just real proud of all the guys, and all of our sponsors, and I’m really proud of Yates Racing. As a whole, where we were last year, just in these 16 races or how far we are now, it’s 180 degrees of where it was and I think it still has the potential to get even better. So, I’m real proud of that and real proud of being a part of that.” WHAT DID YOU THINK WHEN YOU HAD JEFF GORDON IN YOUR REARVIEW MIRROR? “That’s an uncomfortable feeling, I can tell you that. Coming here with my dad and helping my dad race and stuff and watching Jeff win races, so I wasn’t real excited about having him back there, for sure. Our car was pretty good on the restart before the last one – I kind of got away from Jeff a little bit going up the hill. So, that made me a little more comfortable on the second one, but it was super slick the last lap, so as far as challenging for the lead, it was everything I could do just to stay on the race track. It was wild back there. It was incredible.” THERE WERE THREE RESTARTS IN THE FINAL LAPS, AND KYLE BUSCH PULLED AWAY EACH TIME. WAS HE THAT MUCH FASTER? “With the re-starts, out first gear was pretty high. It was hard to really get going. When you’re leading the race and you have control and you can go when you want, it’s hard to time it – especially with the first gear as high as it was – for me, it was. And then the tires want to spin. You gather you so much stuff on the tires under caution here, there was so much stuff on the race track today, it made it difficult.” ON THE FINAL RESTART, HOW MUCH OF IT WAS TRYING TO CATCH KYLE BUSCH AND HOW MUCH OF IT WAS TRYING NOT TO GET PASSED BY JEFF GORDON? “Obviously, I wanted to catch Kyle. But once I got up to turn four, I quit worrying about that and just basically focused on keeping my car on the race track. We went through there once and thought, ‘Well, the next lap will probably be better because 40 cars have gone through there,’ and the last lap it was every bit as slippery as the first lap going through there. It was everything I could do to keep my car on the race track at that point. Kyle was sliding around, and I was, Jeff was – so it was a handful. The restart before that, Jeff said I got a good run on Kyle and was able to apply a little bit of pressure to him, just hoping he’d make a mistake. That’s the toughest thing about this race track that I’ve learned. And my dad told me the first time I raced here, ‘Race the race track.’ And you can see it in the races or out on the track – you’ll catch someone and just apply a little pressure and they’ll start locking up the brakes here, locking it up there, and then overdriving it here and then pretty soon they’ve got two wheels off the race track. You just got to race the race track, and after I went through turn three and four up there I just basically focused on that and trying to keep Jeff behind me.”

WHAT WAS YOUR STRATEGY TODAY, AND DID YOU THINK IT WORKED OUT? AND, DID YOU THINK YOU WERE CLOSE TO RUNNING OUT OF FUEL AT THE END? “No. Our strategy was pretty good. We’ve done a lot of road-course testing to try to our fuel mileage the best we can, and the cautions fell right for us today, too. It put us in a position to be able to run in the top six or seven, there and we were able to stay up there, our car was good enough to stay up there, which is good. I think for the last about 80 percent of the race we were up there. So, it’s good. When you’re back in the back, there’s a lot more stuff that happens and you take more chances running up through there. Our fuel mileage was good. I was conserving fuel up until we had those last couple of cautions and my crew chief, Cully, said, ‘Go ahead and go. Give it all you got.’” HAVE YOU EVER SEEN AN ENDING LIKE THAT BEFORE HERE? “It was tough. As the run went on and you burned the fuel off my rear brakes kept wanting to wheel hop a little bit, so as the run went on I had to keep adjusting my brake bias to the front a little bit. But, it can happen. Every lap you’re on the edge, right there, keeping your brake balance the best you can, so you can stop the best. But that’s something that helped me, is adjusting my brake bias. I wheel-hopped there probably four times there today, and luckily I wasn’t on the inside of somebody today to cause an accident.” DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU’RE MAKING STEADY PROGRESS TOWARD BEING COMPETITIVE AT THE OTHER TRACKS? THIS IS KIND OF A HOME TRACK FOR YOU. “Absolutely. That’s why we go to the race track each week. We’re working hard at it. It’s not easy, I’ll tell you that. It’s a challenge each and every week, but definitely. I feel like we’ve definitely made an improvement on the mile-and-a-half stuff. Our short-track stuff has been much better than it was last year. Richmond, we had our best car we had and we ran in the top-10 and got involved in an accident. So, we’ve had a little bit of bad luck, but, definitely, I feel like our performance has improved 90 percent from what it was last year – our cars are much better. You talk to people and they say, ‘You’re just learning experience,’ but you really learn anything driving a car that really shouldn’t be on the race track. So, we’re having to re-learn a lot of things this year, and running up in the front with Jeff Gordon, and you’ve got to earn that respect and that goes a long ways. It’s just a steady process that we’re chipping away at.”

MATT KENSETH – No. 17 DeWalt Ford Fusion (finished 8th) – A TOP-10 FINISH ON A ROAD COURSE MUST MAKE YOU VERY HAPPY. “I feel like we won. This is the only track on the circuit that we never had a top-10 at, and we fixed that today. That’s my best finish ever here – and Dale Jr., too, that was pretty fun racing him at the end. I think that’s both of our first top-10s – I think it’s the only track  neither one of us had a top-10 at, so that’s pretty cool that we drove hard and got a good finish.”

YOU’VE NOW MOVED INTO THE TOP 12. IS IS TOO EARLY IN THE SEASON FOR YOU TO BE CONCERNED ABOUT BEING IN THE TOP 12? “I don’t know if it’s ever too early to look at it – you always look at it on the way home, especially if you’re moving up to see where you’re at and see what happened. But, the bottom line is really you do the best you can every week, and try to finish as high as you can and try to lead laps and do all that and the points take care of themselves – the higher you finish, the more points you get. So, really, it’s not a strategy, when you race hard and try to be smart and do the right things and hopefully get some good finishes and get back in it.”

GREG BIFFLE – No. 16 3M Ford Fusion (finished 11th) – YOU MADE A LOT OF SPOTS UP AFTER DROPPING FROM THE LEAD. “Yeah. I mean, I feel stupid. I just had a bunch of rubber on the tires and just screwed up.”

IS THAT A CONDITION YOU DON’T KNOW UNTIL AFTER THE FACT? “Yeah, obviously. The thing is, it caught me off-guard. Here’s what caught me off-guard – our tires don’t shed rubber anymore, they put off powder or dust. Well, this was the first race track where there’s marbles again – the old famous marbles. And I had it all over my tires, and when I made the first initial left, I just thought it was because the nose was up in the air because we were going so slow, and I kept in the gas a little bit. If I would’ve let off then, then I would’ve been okay. But, just gum on the tires, like bubblegum – all that stuff rolled up on the tires. And you had to peel it all off before the car would turn or stop – and I just ran off the race track.”

AFTER YOU DROPPED TO 30TH, YOU MADE UP 19 SPOTS, SO YOU OBVIOUSLY HAD A GOOD RACE CAR. “I did. I had a good car. I probably stood a chance at winning if I could’ve gotten out front. But, I just screwed. That’s all there is too it. I feel bad for the guys, real bad for 3M, and everybody who works so hard on these cars. We did our pit strategy right, we got the lead, and I just drove off the track on the green flag.”

JAMIE McMURRAY – No. 26 Crown Royal Ford Fusion (finished 18th) – WHAT HAPPENED LATE IN THE RACE? “I don’t know. I just got run into the back of. I guess the 29 car wheel-hopped or, I don’t know, just drove over his head. We had a second- or third-place car and should’ve finished there, and we didn’t.”

WHEN YOU HAVE A CAR THAT’S THAT GOOD, AND YOU’RE RUNNING WELL, AND THEN SOMETHING HAPPENS THROUGH NO FAULT OF YOUR OWN TO COST YOU A GREAT FINISH, HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH THAT? “There’s nothing you can do about that. You can’t really focus on your results. I think, as a driver, you do your job and the team did their job. We had a good car, we had a good pit strategy, good fuel mileage, I drove really well – just had a guy get out of control and get into us. That’s out of our control, so what are you going to do?”

MARCOS AMBROSE – No. 21 Little Debbie Honey Buns Ford Fusion (finished 42nd) – “It’s just very unfortunate. We were racing really good there. The Wood Brothers and the whole crew gave me a great car. We were fighting with Elliott [Sadler] pretty hard; he got into the back of us, spun us out, but that wasn’t the problem – I was actually just selecting first gear on the downshift when he hit me. It’s just unfortunate, one of those deals. But, we leave here with our heads held high. We raced hard and we raced well at the front there, and it was just a lot of fun.”

YOU MUST BE SATISFIED WITH YOUR DEBUT. “I couldn’t believe it, you know? Here I am passing Jeff Gordon and racing with Earnhardt – it’s just fantastic. It’s what I dreamed about, dreamed what it would be like, and it’s certainly like that. It’s just fantastic. It’s just a shame we couldn’t finish the race.”

MORE ON HIS DEBUT. “Yeah, I’m just so excited about it. I would never have dreamt that we would’ve run this well. I just wanted to try to get in the race and just race. We did that, we ran up front, raced some guys, with Gordon and Earnhardt – just a blast. It was everything I dreamt it would be like.”

IS THERE A LESSON THAT YOU TAKE OUT OF TODAY? “It’s hard work. I wish I would’ve come over 10 years ago. I’m just so lucky to have this opportunity with Little Debbie and the Wood Brothers crew. I just want to thank them so much for giving me the chance. Road racing is my background, it’s where I feel most comfortable. I’m not saying every week is going to be like this; this is definitely a race I’m going to remember for a long time.”

YOU MADE UP A LOT OF GROUND AFTER YOUR FIRST PIT STOP. DID YOU GET MORE DOWNFORCE? “Not really – just had to drive harder. We were just rolling around there through the first third of the race. The pressure’s coming on there the last part of the race, and unfortunately we just didn’t make it home. What happened in the incident when Elliott got into the back of me, I was just downshifting to first gear and the impact behind me just must’ve shoved the gearbox and broke the gears. We actually finished without first gear – it put a hole in the gearbox casing. We didn’t want to oil the track down for everybody else. We leave with our heads held high.”

LEN WOOD – co-owner No. 21 Little Debbie Honey Buns Ford Fusion – HOW DID HE MARCOS AMBROSE DO IN HIS DEBUT? “He did what we all expected – to put it up front. He managed to get up in the top five – pretty much most of the time no worse than a sixth- or seventh-place car. It was just unfortunate the way it worked out. He just got hit in the rear wheel. I don’t know whether – when he went to change gears and go to first gear it must’ve broken first gear and thrown a tooth out of the side of the case. There’s a hole in the transmission. Pit strategy was worked great and the car was good – it just didn’t work out.”