Monday, March 23, 2009

David Gilliland: Another Cinderella Story?

Photo by Snafam

Bristol has taken its toll on many of the competitors. The #82 Red Bull car, driven by Scott Speed, is below the Go or Go Home bubble, tied with the #8 car of the Ganassi/DEI stable, driven by Aric Almirola. Two of the 3 Yates Racing entries, the 28 of Travis Kvapil and the 98 of Paul Menard, are still solidly below the bubble. More on that subject coming up!

We have good news this week, and we have bad news! First the bad news!

Travis Kvapil will most likely not be in the 28 car at Martinsville. Multiple sources on the web report that Yates Racing will suspend operations for the 28, unless a miracle happens and a sponsor shows up with dollars in hand, by Wednesday of this week.

This has been a source of frustration for many on the web, especially long-time fans of the storied #28 of Robert Yates Racing fame. Last year, David Gilliland and Travis Kvapil performed exactly to their instructions, to get the most out of the car and to do everything they could to grab the attention of sponsors. Both drivers had their cars solidly in the Top 35. For this year, due to a reported lack of sponsorship, David Gilliland was given his walking papers, and his points were given to the #96 car of Bobby Labonte. Travis was given a 5 race bye to perform and find a sponsor, but his points were transferred to the #98 car of Paul Menard.

After the first 5 races, Travis suffered from not qualifying for the Vegas race and a blown engine at Atlanta. He had, however, a splendid run at Bristol, with a 10 to 15 lap battle with Kyle Busch, to try and maintain his lead lap. Finishing 18th, it may be too little, too late. And after the first five races, team mate Paul Menard now joins the ranks of those who have to qualify on merit, rather than inheriting the efforts of someone else. (To be fair, he would have been 'in' the race if he could have used his points from DEI, but he also stated on Sirius, over the off-season, his contract required that he would have Top 35 points available to him for the first five races of 2009.

Many feel that Travis is getting the short end of the stick, when it is obvious that he can get the job done, and when it is widely felt that Paul Menard has squandered away the points, and the opportunity that was provided to him from other than his own efforts.

As a David Gilliland fan, I too should be feeling the same way. However, David opted out of his contract with Yates Racing, missing the Daytona 500. By the time that the Auto Club Speedway race rolled around, David had a 4 race deal with start-up team TRG, The Racers Group, led by motorsports enthusiast Kevin Buckler. And that, leads to the good news! TRG team 71 left Bristol in the top 35 in owner's points, thereby insuring that they have a qualifying spot reserved for them at Martinsville!

Start up, or upstart?

Is TRG a start up team, or an upstart team? A bit of both, it appears! Buckler has a solid racing history, dating back to 1988, and most recently in the Grand-Am series, with his GT cars winning 1st and 2nd at the 2009 24 hours of Daytona. Started from a garage operation in 1994, Kevin and wife Debra built their businesses to success in many areas, including the TRG enterprise, and the Adobe Road Wines. Kevin dangled his toes in the NASCAR pool last year, with 1 win in the (then) Craftsman Truck Series, by driver Donny Lia.

The 'bad' economy, which has so negatively impacted many both in and out of racing, gave Buckler the opportunity to jump into Cup racing. Starting with a single car, the team failed to qualify for the Daytona 500. Buckler then hired David Gilliland, and brought in crew chief Slugger Labbe. Both Gilliland and Labbe have proven to be a cohesive force, and dropping the cars firmly into the Top 35 after Bristol. They now have 4 cars, and ten employees!

It's a kind of magic!

There appears to be a certain magic with this team. Even though they did not have the best of runs at Bristol, (a lugnut penalty and two green flag flat tire changes were to blame!) they stuck it out and still finished in the Top 35. The chemistry between Gilliland and Labbe is amazing! Many reports have statements from Driver, Crew Chief and Owner, all saying how much fun they are having. This team is the epitome of grass roots racing. Gilliland's first three races were in the same car. And the first two races were on the same transmission. The team left California, headed to Vegas, and spent a few days in a casino parking lot preparing and painting the car for the Las Vegas event. Very old school! Their pit crew is rented, and they have been know to hustle for tires on pit road, from competitors who have fallen out of the race early. They are bare bones, with a plain pit box. However, it is apparent that they are not scrimping on parts, as their runs have been good, but tied up with misfortune not of their making!

Magic, or a hunger to succeed?

Perhaps it is not all magic! TRG recently took the time to send out a press release in an off week. The whole purpose of the release was to remind the media that there was a Cinderella story brewing. Since the NASCAR teams were on an off-week, this placed the TRG firmly in the middle of the mind of the media, resulting in multiple articles and interviews, leading up to race day. Even late last night, after the race, TRG was busy making sure that all of the media outlets had their post-race reports in their email boxes by the start of today's business day.

Evidently, it takes work to make magic! Perhaps the Yates Racing team needs to look at what is happening with The Racers Group, as they are doing better than two of the Yates cars, with even less funding. They are most certainly working to make that magic! As for Slugger Labbe, David Gilliland and TRG, magic indeed! And as for the fans of the 71 team, we are all completely enchanted!


Anonymous said...

Thats a fine blog you have there. A great story about a hard working ,overachieving race team and driver who are making a little go a long way.
Hope this story doesn't end anytime soon!

Anonymous said...

What is happening to Yates and Travis Kvapil is a travesty. But what is happening to David Gilliland and TRG is like watching a Phoenix rising from the ashes! Bravo!

Anonymous said...

This is truly "the little team that could". So very Proud to be a member of "Gilly's Gang".