Phoenix Race Report: Fast Ford Boosts Gilliland in Points

David Ragan, No. 34 Taco Bell Ford
Starting Position: 34
Finishing Position: 35

David Ragan and the No. 34 Taco Bell team came to Phoenix looking to break two weeks of bad luck. They took the green flag in 34th for 312 laps of racing.

Ragan gained a handful of positions in the opening laps, telling crew chief Jay Guy that he just needed a little help in the center of the turns and on exit. The team only had one pit stop under its belt and was running 27th when Ragan reported a power problem on Lap 65. He was forced to take the car to the garage where the team diagnosed an electrical problem that took about 20 laps to fix.

Ragan got back out on track on Lap 87 and in 41st position. Unfortunately, the issues were not completely solved, with the team needing to do additional work on pit road multiple times through the remainder of the race.

The driver was still able to pick up six more positions by the time the checkered flag flew to finish in 35th.

Comments from Taco Bell team driver David Ragan after the Phoenix race:

“Obviously, this is not how we wanted to finish up the season these last few weeks. It’s pretty disappointing to have a decent car on track and then have an electrical issue that dogged us throughout the afternoon. We handled it the best we could and picked up spots where we could, but obviously it wasn’t what we were hoping for. We definitely need to come back strong at Homestead to end the year on a good note.”

 

David Gilliland, No. 38 Long John Silver’s Ford
Starting Position: 33
Finishing Position: 24

David Gilliland and the No. 38 Long John Silver’s team lined up for Sunday’s race not having had the best practice and qualifying days on Friday and Saturday. But Sunday was a whole new ballgame.

Crew chief Frank Kerr and his crew made various changes to their Ford Fusion for Sunday, and it only took a handful of laps for Gilliland to remark how much better the car was. After starting 33rd, he had moved up to 28th by the first caution of the day on Lap 50.

Needing only minor adjustments throughout the afternoon, the No. 38 Ford continued to climb up the leaderboard over the first half of the race, into the top 20 and then the top 15. A combination of passing competitors, pit strategy and quick pit stops eventually pushed Gilliland into the top 10, with the driver taking a Lap 159 restart in sixth.

Gilliland held strong in the top 10 until coming down pit road for fresh tires and fuel on Lap 193. On a different pit cycle than the leaders, he restarted in 24th and hoped for the chance again to pair his fast car with pit strategy to move farther up the field. The cautions and opportunities didn’t work as well for the team as they wanted in the final third of the race, with Gilliland maintaining position in the top 25 the rest of the day.

He crossed the line in 24th, a finish that was not fully representative of the strong race run by the No. 38 team all day. The day’s point earnings, including a bonus point for leading a lap, boosted Gilliland up to the 25th position in driver points, positioning him for the best-ever point finish for a Front Row Motorsports driver with one race to go.

Comments from Long John Silver’s team driver David Gilliland after the Phoenix race:

“That was probably the best car we had all year. Frank and the guys did a great job. We weren’t that great in practice Friday and Saturday, but the guys did a fantastic job fixing it up for Sunday. We had some brake issues at one point, but overall it was a great car and a good points day. I’m really proud of this team and what we’ve been able to do this year.”

 

Josh Wise, No. 35 MDS Transport Ford
Starting Position: 28
Finishing Position: 36

Josh Wise was the top qualifier for Front Row Motorsports in Phoenix, starting 28th for Sunday’s 312-mile event.

Likes their teammates, the No. 35 MDS Transport team rolled their car to the starting grid with some changes made since the close of Saturday’s practice sessions. And, like their teammates, the changes were positive ones. Despite asking for help rolling to the center of the turns, Wise was told he was running good lap times in the early part of the race.

Changes made the No. 35 extremely loose about a third of the way into the race, with Wise dropping back to the 38th position. Crew chief Todd Anderson called for more adjustments to the car with each pit stop, helping the driver with the car’s handling and allowing him to advance a few spots to 34th.

The final 100 laps of the race showed improvement in the car’s handling, but not much opportunity to advance with the field fairly strung out. Wise eventually crossed the finish line in 36th.

Comments from MDS Transport team driver Josh Wise after the Phoenix race:

“Our car wasn’t too bad for parts of the race — definitely better than during practice. The guys made some good changes. But we had a stretch in the middle of the race where it was just really loose and it kind of set us back. This track is tough. It’s still changing after the repave and it can be tough to stay on top of it.”