Gilliland Stars in Star Nursery.Com in Mesa Marin Swan Song DAYTONA BEACH, FLA. (October 17, 2005) David Gilliland of Riverside, Calif. wanted one more Mesa Marin Raceway victory to add to his mantel. He received just that when he won the Star...
Gilliland Stars in Star Nursery.Com in Mesa Marin Swan Song
DAYTONA BEACH, FLA. (October 17, 2005) David Gilliland of Riverside, Calif. wanted one more Mesa Marin Raceway victory to add to his mantel. He received just that when he won the Star Nursery.Com "300" Saturday night in the final NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Southwest Series race to be staged at the prolific high-banked half-mile paved oval located in Bakersfield, California. Gilliland needed a little luck and pit strategy to pull off the win as he cruised to a 6.661 second victory of Auggie Vidovich. Rip Michels posted his second straight top three finish in third while long-time series veteran Bob Lyon finished fourth to score his best finish of the season. Northwest Series regular Troy Tramell rounded out the five finishers.
The Star Nursery sponsored event was the 65th and final Southwest Series event to be held at Mesa Marin and the first time the series would go 300 laps since 1996. Eric Holmes of Escalon, Calif. made only his seventh start of the season but posted the fastest lap in qualifying to win his second Bud Pole Award of the season. Former Mesa Marin track champion Dan Holtz was just three one thousands off of Holmes' time with Michels, Burney Lamar, and current point leader Jim Pettit II rounding out the top five after qualifying.
Several drivers were making their first starts in the series including former NBA standout Derek Strong from Orlando, Florida. Strong grew up in Los Angeles and attended several events at Mesa Marin as a child. When he heard the track was closing he wanted to say he raced at Mesa Marin. "When I retired from basketball I started driving Late Models in Central Florida," Strong said. "I raced go-karts as a kid and always wanted to race. When I heard about Mesa Marin closing I had to make the trip."
Strong's night ended on lap 52 with engine trouble. Another driver making his first appearance at Mesa Marin and first ever start in the Southwest Series was 20-year old Bobby Latham III from Twin Falls, Idaho. The youngster quickly adapted to the Southwest Series cars and posted the 17th fastest lap in qualifying just two tenths of a second off of Homes' pole time. Latham would do well in his first start finishing the 300-lap distance in the ninth position two laps off the pace.
"That was a blast," Latham said. "My arms were numb about 200 laps in but I had a real good time and learned a lot from the guys out there. This racing is like nothing else I have done."
Holmes started on the pole but it was Dan Holtz who quickly asserted himself as the car to beat. Holtz led the first 108 laps before giving way to Bobby Hogge while the leaders pitted for tires. Hogge and Gilliland would swap the lead a couple of times until Pettit took control on lap 175. Pettit paced the field 66 laps before Vidovich muscled his way past his championship rival.
While Vidovich was leading his left side body panels started to flap and tear away from their supports. Several chunks of debris started to fly off Vidovich's car and unfortunately for Pettit he collected some of the debris causing damage to his braking system and cut tire sending him head on into the turn one wall. Pettit walked away under his own power but his car destroyed and his championship point lead cut in half.
"I do not know what to say. I am just surprised he (Vidovich) was not brought in to fix the problem," Pettit said."This hurt us in the points and did not need to happen but we have a great team and we'll be ready for Phoenix."
Gilliland pitted on lap 217 and had the fresher tires than leaders and was able to make his way back to the front and took the lead on lap 245. Gilliland would not look back and increased his lead to more then six seconds by the time the checkered flag dropped just over two hours after the race began. Vidovich finished second to record his eighth top five finish of the season. Rip Michels continued his late season charge with his second top three finish in as many weeks, while Bob Lyon scored his first top five finish of the season and moved to within 13-points of the top ten heading into the season finale at Phoenix Int'l Raceway November 10.
"We had a great car and made the right calls in the pits," Gilliland said. "This is a real special win for me. To win at Mesa Marin is great, but to win the final Southwest Series race here is very special. I am real sorry to see this track go; there will be a big void to fill."
The race took two hours and two minutes to complete at an average speed of 73.489 mph. Eric Holmes won his first $400 Bud Pole Award of the season with a quick lap of 18.218 seconds. Troy Tramell won the $750 PowerAde Award for improving the most positions in the event (24). Bob Lyon won the $300 Featherlite Award for improving the most positions (18) from the previous event. Don Campbell was the top finishing Sunoco Rookie-of-the-Year competitor with a 20th place finish. Mike Naake won the Lunati Crew Chief Award for preparing the winning race car.
Pettit holds a slim 51-point advantage over Vidovich with the season finale scheduled for Thursday, November 10th at Phoenix Int'l Raceway. Burney Lamar, Eddy McKean, and M.K. Kanke round out the top five with Greg Pursley, Nick Lynch, Greg Pursley, Rip Michels, and Thomas Martin all seeking an invitation to the 3rd annual NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown to be held at Irwindale (Calif.) Speedway November 10-12. This special awards-only event will bring together the top 10 drivers from each of the four NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division series with over $500,000 in prize money on the line in front of a SPEED Channel national television audience.