Gilliand's first win came in the Meijer 300 at Kentucky Speedway on June 17
In six months, Clay Andrews Racing grew from nothing into a team that put a 30-year-old rookie into Victory Lane in the Busch Series, and the improbable first win came against some of NASCAR's very best drivers, breaking a long win streak. David Gilliland looks shell shocked. A week after breaking the Buschwhackers' 18-race win streak in the NASCAR Busch Series, the off-the-radar driver was suddenly on everyone's "most wanted" list. He was on the cover of national racing magazines. His photo was the centerpiece art on NASCAR's Web site. He was spending much of his day with microphones in front of his face and the click of cameras in his ears. And he was fielding offers from some of NASCAR's top teams.
"This is what I always wanted," he says. "I guess I never realized exactly what it was going to mean."Gilliland was an unlikely pick to break the domination of the Nextel Cup regulars in the Busch Series.He is a freshman driver racing on an unsponsored rookie team. He took his first win at Kentucky Speedway on June 17 with a bold move around J.J. Yeley with only 10 laps to go, and then held off a charging field of Nextel Cup regulars. "We came here having never seen this track before," Gilliland said the night he won, "and now we're here in Victory Lane. I can't believe it. It's a dream come true."
With his win, Gilliland immediately became racing's feel-good story for the summer. His victory also helped take some pressure off NASCAR, which had to defend the Nextel Cup regulars and their streak of 18 consecutive wins in the Busch Series. Then, the quietly confident driver backed up his Busch win with a 31st qualifying spot in his first Nextel Cup race, on the road course at Infineon Raceway in California. Driving for a part-time team and in a well-worn car, he outran more than a dozen drivers with far more experience to secure his starting position.
"In North Carolina they're saying it's a big upset, but walking up and down in the pits with the West guys I raced with, they said, 'We knew you could do it,'" he tells a crowd of journalists.He was taking refuge in his team's trailer, simply trying to stay focused on racing.Gilliland and Clay Andrews Racing are the poster boys for all that is good, bad, and ugly in Busch Series racing. They are a tiny team often just struggling to make the show, yet a team that suddenly found itself in danger of drowning in early and unexpected success. While the first victory came in the final 10 laps at Kentucky Speedway, the work to get the win began months-some would say years-earlier.
The fertile Napa Valley falls away in the distance as Gilliland races over the road course
Taking a chanceTeam owner Clay Andrews has never been afraid to take a shot at the unknown."When I was a kid I didn't have five bucks to my name," he says. "But I figured I knew how to make money on the Internet."
So Andrews used the credit line on his mother's VISA card to buy his first home computer. Then he became very successful with the Internet-based business he started. Andrews also is a former amateur racer who stepped out of the car to run his many businesses."I've got too many people depending on me now to risk getting hurt," he says.But the racing bug that bit Andrews wouldn't go away. So he searched for a driver he could build a team around, and found Gilliland just down the road in sunny California."David's a charger," says Andrews. "I remember seeing him at Mesa Marin, starting dead last and going on to win. I figured the guy has the courage to be a champion."
Once Andrews found a driver, he needed a way to get him into a car. He began building his team during the Performance Racing Industry show in Orlando last December. He hired Bill Wilburn as crew chief and former Cup driver Jerry Nadeau as team consultant and Gilliland's driving coach. Wilburn is a former open-wheel dirt track racer. He joined NASCAR's road show as a mechanic and worked his way up from turning wrenches and tuning engines to become crew chief for Rusty Wallace at Penske South.