News & Media


Happy Hour: Gilliland feeling strong after Happy Hour effort

February 25, 2012, Dave Rodman, NASCAR.com

Kurt Busch will move to the back of the field because his team switched engines after Busch hit a bird. (Turner Sports New Media)

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- David Gilliland was smiling after Saturday's Daytona 500 Happy Hour at Daytona International Speedway, and with good reason.

Gilliland was at the top of the 37-car speed chart, but even better than that, he'd turned that fast lap -- 200.138 mph -- while running in a tandem draft with defending Daytona 500 champion Trevor Bayne.

"It means I have what I need to win the Daytona 500. And that's exciting. It's a good feeling. "

--DAVID GILLILAND

Maybe a bigger deal for Gilliland was that his 16 laps in Happy Hour -- including his final one, which was his quickest -- were the first laps he'd run since he wrecked his primary No. 38 Front Row Motorsports Ford in Thursday's Gatorade Duel qualifying race.

"It means I have what I need to win the Daytona 500," Gilliland said. "And that's exciting. It's a good feeling. For sure, what we were able to do in Happy Hour proves to people we're still a viable partner.

"This is the third year I've been [with Front Row] and [owner] Bob Jenkins has stepped up our performance and brought in new people every year. His commitment to the NASCAR program is really pretty amazing when you consider how much he does on his own."

Gilliland's done plenty of work to prove himself on NASCAR's superspeedways. In 2011, Gilliland was an integral part of the dramatic Daytona 500 finish, in which he pushed Carl Edwards in a futile attempt to beat Bayne, eventually ending up third behind Edwards.

Gilliland said the result of that was he typically had a roster of willing partners who wanted to tandem draft with him last season. He agreed his team's strong Happy Hour effort had rekindled interest in working with him Sunday.

"Pat Tryson is leading my team this year and he's doing a great job," Gilliland said. "Nobody panicked and we got it back together."

Gilliland's backup car was purchased from Richard Petty Motorsports and formerly was Paul Menard's primary superspeedway chassis that FRM carried all last season as a backup for Gilliland.

"We kind of felt like it might be a better car than the [primary] car we had, but we had such good success with the other car and it always raced so good and we always had such good finishes it was hard not to bring that car back," Gilliland said. "We had confidence in [the backup] but at the end of the day we weren't really sure. So when we had an accident in the 150 we had to bring it out."

Gilliland's average lap time in Happy Hour, 46.99 seconds, was the 19th-best in practice. The cars with the best 10-lap averages included former Daytona 500 winner Jamie McMurray (195.650 mph), Paul Menard, who was also in a backup car (195.272) and Daytona 500 newcomer Danica Patrick (194.595).

The best overall average lap was Greg Biffle's 45.87, 196.2097 mph effort that was turned over only seven total laps that left him 19th on the overall chart.

In the end, the uncertainty of what impact the Cup cars' heating systems will have on the style of racing seen Sunday leaves a lot of unknowns.

Bayne's Wood Brothers Racing co-owner Eddie Wood said it was nice to know they had a car that worked well in a tandem even if they were uncertain exactly how much good it would do them. Bayne actually turned his second-best overall lap, 200.129 mph, in another tandem draft on his 23rd and last lap on the track.

"No one knows what's gonna happen, but me personally, I think you're gonna see maybe three packs -- I don't think you're gonna see one, huge pack like we've seen in the past," Wood said. "As you get closer to the end I think drivers are gonna be thinking 'OK, who do I need to work with?' or 'who's around me?'

"It's gonna be more about where you are, with like, 10 to go -- or even two or three to go. Then you can make a decision. Like with Gilliland, he may be at the front and you're at the back of a pack, or he might be in a different lane and if you're in a different lane it's like you're in two different packs."

Woods' bottom line was that no one will be able to tell, until the very end.

"I don't think you're going to be able to choose who your partner is -- it's gonna be more who's around you, or whether you want to push or be pushed. We know the combination [with Gilliland] works and it worked at the end of last year, too. And he's a blue oval [Ford], too. But like I say, I don't think you're going to be able to choose -- it's gonna have a lot of unknowns."

During Happy Hour, Kurt Busch's Daytona 500 possibilities were impacted when his No. 51 Phoenix Racing Chevrolet hit a bird. Back in the day, Dale Earnhardt splattered a seagull during the Daytona 500 and the unexpected aerodynamic alteration to his car had a bad effect on his result.

"We hit a bird and I think we cooked the engine," owner James Finch said as he watched his men examine the engine and repair the tear in the car's nose. "We're having so much trouble keeping the engine cool I don't think I want to risk [not changing it]."

A Phoenix crewmember confirmed the bird strike tore a small hole in the bottom of the radiator, which unbeknownst to Busch drained the water and necessitated the change. Thus, Busch will be one of five cars that must drop to the back of the grid on the pace laps before the start of the Daytona 500. Gilliland, Patrick, Juan Montoya and Menard all went to backup cars after their Gatorade Duel qualifying races so must drop back.

Kasey Kahne went to a backup before the Duels so he can maintain his 20th-place starting position.