Gilliland Rebounds from Setbacks to Climb Leaderboard

David Gilliland, No. 38 Love’s Travel Stops Ford
Starting Position: 27
Finishing Position: 21

David Gilliland is always happy to strap into a race car at Sonoma Raceway. The rolling road course is the site of his best Sprint Cup finish (second in 2008) as well as multiple race wins in other series. When the green flag waved on Sunday’s 110-lap race, he was eager to push his way up the leaderboard from his 27th-place starting position.

Frank Kerr and the No. 38 team had their Love’s Travel Stops Ford dialed in for the 1.99-mile course, ready to help their driver perform on a track where he excelled. With the crew chief originally planning to run a two pit-stop race, Kerr kept his driver out on track as other teams began green-flag pit stops about 20 laps into the event. Gilliland asserted his way into the top 20 by Lap 25 and into the top 15 by Lap 30.

When a yellow flag waved at Lap 31, Gilliland was up to 10th. Kerr decided to bring his driver in for fresh tires, and the No. 38 returned to the track in 22nd. Several laps later, Gilliland’s Ford took a dip off the asphalt, filling up the grille with grass. The debris caused the engine to begin to overheat, so Gilliland had to make an unscheduled pit stop on Lap 50 to get the grass cleaned off the nose.

The stop sent Gilliland back to 36th, but he started his climb back through the field. He was all the way back up to 18th and battling for more on Lap 87 when he got spun from behind by the No. 41 of Kurt Busch. Once again, the No. 38 fell back after another impressive surge. But even back in the 30th position, the driver said his Love’s Travel Stops car was still strong. He made one final pit stop for fresh tires on Lap 92 and started his push one more time.

Taking the final green-flag restart in 26th, Gilliland gained five more spots before the checkers flew, finishing the day just outside the top 20 in 21st. The finish was one of the best of the year for the Love’s Travel Stops team and it boosted Gilliland one spot in the championship standings.

Comments from Love’s Travel Stops team driver David Gilliland after the Sonoma race:

“Our Love’s Travel Stops Ford was great today. Frank (Kerr) and the guys really did a great job bringing a strong car for us, and it was a better car than our finish showed actually. We were closing in on the top 15 when the 41 spun us and knocked us to the back. If not for that, I’m sure we would’ve had a top-15 finish today or maybe even better. But the guys did great, the pit crew did a good job all day, and I’m proud of our effort.”

 

David Ragan, No. 34 Long John Silver’s “Free Fish & Fries” Ford
Starting Position: 31
Finishing Position: 36

David Ragan started Sunday’s 350-kilometer race in 31st, running a new paint scheme to promote Long John Silver’s upcoming Free Fish & Fries event on June 28.

As the race got under way, he would initially tell crew chief Jay Guy that his No. 34 Ford was tight through the right-hand turns of the 10-turn course. But he was still able to gain some ground. The driver was running good lap times and was able to get around slower cars to climb to 22nd by Lap 25 as green-flag stops got under way.

Ragan gave up his top-25 slot to come to pit road for fuel, fresh tires and an air pressure adjustment. Rejoining the field in 32nd, the caution flag flew as soon as Ragan completed his stop in an incidence of bad timing. The bad luck repeated itself after Ragan’s next green-flag stop on Lap 59, with the caution flag once again flying as soon as Ragan exited the pits.

Restarting the race in 31st and now a lap down to the leader, Ragan’s immediate goal was to get back on the lead lap, and he had plenty of race left to do it. But a few laps later, the driver radioed that the car was extremely difficult to turn. The problem persisted, and Ragan also said he could feel something amiss at the left front of the car. Under the next caution, the pit crew went under the hood and determined a steering box mount had broken.

After a couple badly timed yellow flags earlier, the team got a well-timed caution on Lap 82, allowing Ragan to take the car to the garage for a rapid repair. The broken part was quickly welded back together and Ragan returned to the track having lost only one position.

Racing at Sonoma generates as much car-to-car contact as a short-track race, and the Long John Silver’s Ford was fairly roughed up over the course of its run. It didn’t have much left to give for the final 15-lap green-flag run. After taking the Lap 95 green-flag restart in 34th, Ragan hung on to cross the finish in 36th.

Comments from Long John Silver’s “Free Fish & Fries” team driver David Ragan after the Sonoma race:

“Our Long John Silver’s Free Fish & Fries Ford actually started out pretty decent. We were running good laps and making some passes, and it looked like we could have a pretty good day in front of us. But a broken part set us back and we weren’t quite able to recover. It’s unfortunate because I think the car was faster than it had a chance to show.”