PHOENIX, Arizona -- David Gilliland has served notice to his competition in the NASCAR Grand National Division, West Series. After winning the rookie title last season, the second-generation competitor is aiming for the championship this year.
Gilliland used lapped traffic to slip by Kevin Harvick and pull away to win the season opening United Rentals 100 - which was part of this year's Copper World Classic at Phoenix International Raceway on Sunday. While Gilliland was cruising to victory, Harvick had to make a quick pit stop for a splash of fuel. The late-race stop led to a 13th-place finish for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series competitor and former West Series champion.
"We're here to win the championship," Gilliland said after the race. "I've never won a championship. This year we're going to be 110 percent focused on winning the championship." With his eye on the big picture, Gilliland said he opted to not contest the lead to Harvick early. "Racing him on the first lap wouldn't have been the right thing to do," Gilliland said. "I'm just trying to race a little bit smarter and use some of the experience that I've gained. We had a good car and it kept getting better."
"We learned a lot at the end of last year as far as these cars and where they need to be and where I need to be," the Riverside, Calif., competitor said. "Our team is just getting stronger. (Crew chief) Mike Naake did a really good job. He's outstanding. And my dad (1997 series champion Butch Gilliland) is helping me now. It's the most organized we have ever been at the race track on any given weekend and the results show it."
Although Gilliland won the pole position for the race, with a qualifying lap earlier in the day of 127.461 mph - it was Harvick who set the pace for much of the race. He dashed past Gilliland just after the green flag and led the first 77 circuits. Gilliland eventually closed the gap, however, and took advantage of lapped traffic to put his RaceCarCeilingFans.com Chevrolet out front.
Despite being confident that he had enough fuel to finish the race, Gilliland opted to conserve once he had the lead. "I actually didn't know that he had come in to get gas," Gilliland said of Harvick's pit stop. "We had passed him and then we ran a couple of laps. As soon as I passed him I started to conserve. Once he pulled off, my guys told me we had a straight away lead - from then on it was 'full conserve.' I really wasn't concerned. I did feel that I could make it. Everything worked out right."
Defending series champion Mike Duncan of Bakersfield, Calif., turned in his best finish at Phoenix with a second-place finish in the Lucas Oil/Ron's Rear Ends Chevrolet. Jason Jefferson of Naches, Wash., was third in the Jason Jefferson Racing Pontiac. Mike David of Modesto, Calif., was fourth in the Bennett Lane Winery Ford - followed by Brandon Ash of Umpqua, Wash., in the Vernon Coating Systems Ford.
Open-wheel star Michel Jourdain Jr., of Mexico City made his NASCAR debut with a sixth-place finish in the ppc Racing Ford. He was followed by NASCAR Grand National Division, Busch North Series regulars Matt Kobyluck and Dale Quarterley, in seventh and eighth, respectively. Steve Portenga finished ninth and Scott Lynch in 10th.
Gilliland's margin of victory was 2.823 seconds, at an average speed of 198.532 mph. The win netted him $15,225, including the Bud Pole Award.
The pace of the event was slowed by just one caution for five laps.