Race Weekend Central

2009 NASCAR Driver Review: David Gilliland

David Gilliland

2009 Rides: Nos. 70/71 TRG Motorsports Chevrolet (26 races), No. 02 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota (3 races), Nos. 7/04 Robby Gordon Motorsports Toyota (2 races), No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford (1 race), No. 09 Phoenix Racing Dodge (1 race)
2009 Primary Sponsors: Capital Windows, American Monster, Adobe Road Winery, CompUSA.com, TaxSlayer.com (Nos. 70/71), Farm Bureau Insurance (No. 02), Jim Beam (Nos. 04/7), Motorcraft (No. 21), Miccosukee Gaming & Resorts (No. 09)
2009 Owners: Kevin Buckler (Nos. 70/71), Joe Gibbs (No. 02), Robby Gordon (Nos. 7/04), Glen Wood, Eddie Wood, Len Wood, Kim Wood (No. 21), James Finch (No. 09)
2009 Crew Chiefs: Robert “Slugger” Labbe (Nos. 70/71), Wally Brown (No. 02), Kirk Almquist (No. 7), Bob Gordon (No. 04), David Hyder (No. 21), Marc Reno (No. 09)
2009 Stats: 31 starts, 0 wins, 0 top fives, 0 top 10s, 0 poles, 37th in points

High Point: David Gilliland may have been the most excited to run the No. 02 Toyota out of the Joe Gibbs Racing stable this season – but his greatest successes came behind the wheel of the underfunded but overachieving TRG No. 71. In Las Vegas in March, he charged through the pack from his 30th starting spot, finishing 14th for the team’s first lead-lap, top-15 finish in only their second career start in the Cup Series.

Not only was it Gilliland’s best run since a second at Infineon in June 2008, it assured him a full-time ride in the series with one of the few single-car, underdog efforts that worked hard to race the full distance as much as possible.

Low Point: While Gilliland and TRG impressed even the casual observer, they struggled to find the necessary sponsorship to compete. Once funding ran out in early April, the team was faced with a difficult decision: run the distance at select events while starting-and-parking to save cash at the others. That led to a total of 11 early exits for the California native, sucking up his pride and pulling in before the first pit stop to survive in the current economic minefield that doubles as Sprint Cup.

Summary: After three years at Yates Racing, lack of sponsorship forced the team to release Gilliland in January, literally tearing the rug out from under him with less than a month to go before Daytona. That left the veteran struggling to find a ride, eventually causing him to sit out this year’s Great American Race just two years after winning the pole.

At California the following weekend, owner Kevin Buckler offered Gilliland the opportunity to slip behind the wheel of his No. 71. After missing the Daytona 500 with Mike Wallace, the fledgling team was desperate to establish itself in an underdog effort to sneak in the Top 35 in owner points.

Connecting the desperation of a driver looking to take his Cup career off life support, TRG and Gilliland came together in a move that paid immediate dividends. A 14th at Las Vegas in their second race scored them enough points to briefly enter the Top 35, setting high expectations for a program that didn’t even come together until the same time Gilliland was released from Yates.

But as the year went on, funding deteriorated and Gilliland was forced to start and-park for several events. He never scored another top 25, making it an easy choice for TRG to scoop up Bobby Labonte in September once the chemistry appeared to wear off. Wading back into the free-agent pool, Gilliland became the equivalent of the sport’s “super sub” down the stretch, pulling fill-in roles for Bill Elliott and Robby Gordon while fine-tuning his future options for 2010.

Late in the year, he stepped in for a three-race stint behind the wheel of a Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, setting high expectations but finishing with disappointing runs of 25th or worse.

Considering how many obstacles were thrown his way, you have to give Gilliland credit for making the most of a difficult season. Driving a total of seven different cars, inconsistency combined with instability should have made for a recipe for disaster. Instead, Gilliland persevered, hanging on for dear life when many others would have folded up their tent and gone elsewhere to race.

2010 Outlook: With Labonte returning to TRG full-time in 2010, Gilliland’s a free agent looking for other opportunities. JGR is talking to Farm Bureau about a second limited schedule, but his poor performance makes it questionable he’ll get another chance in the No. 02.

Instead, Gilliland’s best hope lies squarely with Phoenix Racing, who hired him to run the Phoenix race in November (how ironic!) with a shot at the ride full-time in 2010. Should he get it, look for significant improvement across the board from that program; otherwise, his plans are still up in the air as NASCAR’s “super sub.” is actually not in super high demand during a quiet offseason.

2006 Frontstretch Grade: N/A
2007 Grade: D
2008 Grade: D
2009 Grade: C

About the author

The author of Did You Notice? (Wednesdays) Tom spends his time overseeing Frontstretch’s 40+ staff members as its majority owner and Editor-in-Chief. Based outside Philadelphia, Bowles is a two-time Emmy winner in NASCAR television and has worked in racing production with FOX, TNT, and ESPN while appearing on-air for SIRIUS XM Radio and FOX Sports 1's former show, the Crowd Goes Wild. He most recently consulted with SRX Racing, helping manage cutting-edge technology and graphics that appeared on their CBS broadcasts during 2021 and 2022.

You can find Tom’s writing here, at CBSSports.com and Athlonsports.com, where he’s been an editorial consultant for the annual racing magazine for 15 years.

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