When the 2008 race season ended, it was a time for many NASCAR drivers to sit back on their laurels and enjoy their past successes. It was time to take off, have fun, frolic, and for a couple of drivers, get married. Other drivers, though, would have loved to be able to enjoy the off-season, but were unable to do so. They were the ones whose jobs were in jeopardy.
Many of the mid-pack and back-marker teams were also reflecting on their past, and planning for their futures. One team in particular, Yates Racing, made some dramatic changes, and made them with such speed it left the media spinning and the drivers' fans reeling.
Fans of David Gilliland and Travis Kvapil spent a watchful season, waiting for news of sponsors or a show of driver support from the owners. After all, things were looking positive, as Paul Menard was slated to be a third team mate, along with the cash infusion from Paul's family business run by his father, John. As December rolled closer to Christmas, we were thrilled to hear David on Sirius radio, talking about the need for sponsorship, but that he would indeed be in a car at the Daytona 500. We also heard from various sources that Travis also had sponsorship for 5 races, and he too would not only be in the 500, but was qualified for the Budweiser Shootout.
The bottom fell out of the hopes of the fans on January 13th. The announcement of Hall of Fame's 'alliance' with Yates Racing was a bombshell, surprising the media, and leaving many shocked. One of those shocked was David Gilliland, as he had heard via the internet that he was out of a ride. By the next day, he had talked with Max Jones, and appeared on Claire B Lang's show "Dialed In" on Sirius. David admitted he had heard the initial news from the internet, and David did a notably good job of being positive.
In the last three weeks, fans of both Yates drivers have heard that the owners points earned by Travis would be sent to Paul's car, and the points earned by David would be passed to Bobby, thereby enabling both newly installed car numbers/drivers to be entered in the Shoot-out.
We have also heard Doug and Max proclaim that David was a good guy, and they were trying to find something for him. Discerning fans immediately saw that there was nothing available for a Ford driver in Cup, Nationwide or Camping World Truck series. It was extremely noticeable that Yates would not do anything to support David, or try to find sponsorship for David, when they announced the new Business Development team. The announcement specifically mentioned the 28, the 96, and the 98. Neither the 38 or David Gilliland was mentioned anywhere in the announcement, a clear statement that they were not going to be working towards any sponsorship for David.
Travis also lost his sponsor to Bobby Labonte, and will be running his five races with 'catch as you can' sponsors, or with a blank car. At this point, David continues to be under contract, and it is hopeful that he is being paid due to that contract. David was also not invited to the Charlotte media tour, and he is also not part of the Media 'cattle call' at Daytona. And one wonders why, if Travis will run five races, why they can't use David for a few races? David would most certainly be a great ringer for the road course events.
It is painfully obvious that David is on the team in name only, and there will be no effort to support him. I understand that Max and Doug certainly have the need to run profitable businesses. Having sponsored cars is great. Having a driver the likes of Bobby Labonte is equally great. But both Bobby and Paul need to be grateful that Travis and David paved the way for them. If not for the efforts of Gilliland and Kvapil, there would not be teams there waiting for them to step into.
The two Yates cars will probably do much better in 2009. But, it will be because Yates is running with sponsorship funds, not due to lack of effort from either of the 2008 drivers. In fact, Max Jones and Doug Yates owe huge debts to both Travis Kvapil and David Gilliland. One hopes that Doug and Max keep that in mind. David, for one, is remaining very generous in his relationships with Doug and Max. It is much more challenging for the fans to remain as generous.