2011 NASCAR Preview: The Top 30 Driver Countdown
2011 Driver Countdown
No. 38 Taco Bell Ford
Team: Front Row Motorsports
Owner: Bob Jenkins/Front Row Motorsports
Crew Chief: Peter Sospenzo
Years with current team: 2
Under contract through: 2011
Best points finish: 27th (2008)
Hometown: Riverside, Calif.
Born: April 1, 1976
What a difference a year can make. For David Gilliland, a year means the difference between having to race into the Daytona 500 and being assured of a starting spot. Returning to Front Row Motorsports for 2011, Gilliland and teammate Travis Kvapil will have the luxury of being locked into the first five races, no longer concerned with a third car they need to swap rides with every week just to try to battle for a top 35 spot. How big is that? Now Gilliland and Co. can focus on making their race packages better rather than expending all their time and energy on just keeping three teams afloat.
With sponsorship money hard to come by, the two remaining cars need all the focus they can get. Front Row is woefully underfunded, capable of going the distance each race but not much more. This team has nowhere to go but up, as an average finishing position of 29.3 for Gilliland illustrates how much the gap has exploded between rich and poor. On the plus side, he did complete 96.5 percent of laps run in his 32 starts while failing to finish only twice. That’s half the DNFs of Cup champion Jimmie Johnson. The challenge will be finding consistently better finishes while maintaining that record of finishing races. With competing harder comes more risk, and this team will need to take some chances to keep moving forward on the grid.
A little extra help from Ford will also go a long way. Aligned with the Blue Oval crowd for the first time last season, Gilliland has earned pledges from execs for initial engineering and technical support in 2011, compensating for the loss of at least two full-time teams at Richard Petty Motorsports. FRM benefits in that regard, though, as it purchased 34 racecars from RPM over the offseason.
Crew chief Peter Sospenzo returns to the pit box of the 38 team, a major plus to go along with Roush-Yates, FR9 power under the hood. Owner Bob Jenkins pours his own money into the program, but as a restauranteur — his Taco Bell and Long John Silver’s franchises are the sponsor — a sensible budget and solid income leave him financially stable.
So will Gilliland finish races in 2011? Certainly, and with the right breaks he might snag a few top 20s. But this team fits the mold of so many on the back end of the garage, where even an “A” for effort can’t replace an “F” for cash.
What The Competition Is Saying
Thoughts from anonymous garage-area owners, crew chiefs and team members.
Like his teammate, Travis Kvapil, Gilliland labors on the margin at the struggling, underfunded and inaptly named Front Row Motorsports. “Gilliland is a great example of a driver who got to Sprint Cup before he was ready and wound up paying the consequences,” says a crew chief. “He pulled off a huge upset in the Nationwide Series (Kentucky, 2006), and that alone got him a shot at Sprint Cup. Who’s going to turn down a chance to race Cup? Nobody. But sometimes it doesn’t end up being a good thing in the long run.”
Another says, “Gilliland’s not a bad driver by any means. He’s a good qualifier, which doesn’t get noticed because he’s in a position where he’s getting a below-average car in the starting field every week.”
Top 5s: 0
Top 10s: 0
Laps Led: 8
Laps Completed: 9,696
Lead Lap Finishes: 7
Bonus Points: 40
Races Led: 8
Average Start: 36.0
Average Finish: 29.3
After First 26 Races: 33rd
Final Points Standing: 32nd
Driver Rating: 43.2 (33rd)