David Gilliland, No. 38 Love’s Travel Stops Ford
Starting Position: 28
Finishing Position: 29
The No. 38 Love’s Travel Stops team felt good about the car they brought to Phoenix International Raceway, knowing in the first laps of practice they had a better car than they’d had at the one-mile oval in previous events. Starting in the 28th spot, David Gilliland was eager to see what his Ford Fusion could do.
The 312-lap race would provide more challenges than the team expected, though. Gilliland’s car proved to be difficult-handling and needed help with forward drive. The team worked throughout the race to adjust the car to make for smoother laps for its driver as Gilliland hung around the top-30 mark.
The Love’s Ford was starting to turn better and lingering just outside the top-25 when Gilliland was dealt an unexpected blow. On a yellow-flag lap as cars prepared for a restart, the No. 10 of Danica Patrick swerved into the No. 38 as she warmed up her tires, causing a tire rub for Gilliland. After the green flag waved and the field got back up to speed, the rub continued until the tire blew and caused Gilliland to spin, bringing out a caution with just 25 laps to go.
The team pitted multiple times under the yellow flag to repair the damage. After restarting the race in 30th, Gilliland was able to gain one additional position to finish 29th. He also picked up a bonus point for leading a lap earlier in the race.
Comments from Love’s Travel Stops team driver David Gilliland after the Phoenix race:
“We had a really great car off the truck — probably the best car we’ve ever unloaded with in Phoenix. But today it wasn’t quite behaving the way we wanted it to. And then the contact with the 10 on the pace laps under caution, that was just bizarre. But our Love’s Travel Stops team did a good job working on the car all day to make it better and to make repairs when they had to, the pit crew was on their game all afternoon long, and we learned a ton that’s really going to help us as we all try to figure out these new changes for this season.”
David Ragan, No. 34 Farm Rich Ford
Starting Position: 30
Finishing Position: 28
The No. 34 Farm Rich team started 30th for Sunday’s race — the first race that would really test how NASCAR’s set-up changes would play out through the field. In the opening laps, the team knew it would have at least a little bit of work to do, as David Ragan reported that his Ford Fusion was loose getting in and out of the turns.
On a track that was repaved in recent years, tire wear wasn’t much of a concern. So, the team could use two-tire pit stops to gain or maintain track position, including on its first stop of the day, which put Ragan back on track in 23rd.
The crew continued to make improvements as the race progressed, with eight caution periods providing time to bring the car to pit road. But the one-mile oval isn’t very forgiving when you’re working to improve your car as you go, and it becomes a challenge to make up lost ground.
However, after falling back to 31st at the half-way mark, the team was able to make some gains in the second half of the race to cross the finish line in 28th.
Comments from Farm Rich team driver David Ragan after the Phoenix race:
“It was kind of a long day. We struggled a little bit from the get-go, but we worked on our Farm Rich Ford and made it better throughout the day but just could never get back on the lead lap. We probably had a better car than where we finished. But we learned a lot at our first downforce race of the year and everybody did a good job, but we’ve still got a lot of hard work in front of us. I’m excited about Las Vegas, a mile-and-a-half, next week. Thanks to Farm Rich and everybody involved. It was a fun race weekend.”
Blake Koch, No. 35 MDS Ford
Starting Position: 37
Finishing Position: 37
Blake Koch made his second career Sprint Cup Series start and his first for Front Row Motorsports on Sunday, strapping in to the MDS Ford as the 37th car on the starting grid.
As a Sprint Cup rookie on a tough one-mile oval, Koch just wanted to run a solid race, keep his nose clean and learn as much as possible through 312 miles of seat time. In a race that saw eight cautions for 38 yellow-flag laps, he achieved one sizable accomplishment in avoiding all the on-track incidents.
The 312 one-mile laps were a team effort, with the No. 35 crew adjusting the car to help the driver as Koch worked on hitting his marks around the track. Feedback between Koch and his crew chief was constant, and the team came away having learned a great deal about working together as a newly matched team.
Koch crossed the finish line with a clean car in 37th in his first Sprint Cup event at Phoenix International Raceway. He will return for 400 more miles inside the No. 35 Ford next weekend in Las Vegas.
Comments from MDS team driver Black Koch after the Phoenix race:
“It was an OK day for our MDS team. As a competitor, you always want to do better. But we worked hard on it all day long, learned a lot and came out of it able to load the car back on the hauler in decent shape. I’m thankful for the help and support from Todd (crew chief Todd Anderson) and the team and Dave (spotter Dave Ramsey) up on the roof all race long. I’m looking forward to going to Las Vegas now and jumping right back in and making improvements where we can.”