WS: Almuni return to California after Daytona success

Harvick and Gilliland Return to California as Conquering Heroes NASCAR West Series alumni enjoying success in NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 21, 2007) -- The first time Kevin Harvick ran a stock car in a NASCAR event at ...

Harvick and Gilliland Return to California as Conquering Heroes
NASCAR West Series alumni enjoying success in NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 21, 2007) -- The first time Kevin Harvick ran a stock car in a NASCAR event at California Speedway, he finished second to veteran Ken Schrader. Two months later, he qualified on the pole and finished in Victory Lane.

That was 1998, in the NASCAR Grand National Division, West Series, where Harvick drove his way to the championship.

Since then, Harvick has achieved NASCAR NEXTEL Cup stardom, adding two NASCAR Busch Series titles and a NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Raybestos Rookie of the Year trophy in 2001.

And he'll return to the 2-mile, D-shaped oval in Fontana, Calif., this weekend a conquering hero, coming off what he called the biggest race win of his career with his first Daytona 500 victory.

Harvick isn't the only West Series alum returning to Fontana in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup spotlight.

David Gilliland's first trip to Daytona started by winning the pole position for the Daytona 500 and grabbing a runner-up finish in the Budweiser Shootout. He ended the weekend by piloting the No. 38 M&M's Ford to an eighth-place finish in the Daytona 500.

Gilliland's road to stardom also started in the West Series, where he served as crew chief on his father's championship team in 1997. In 2003, Gilliland earned the West Series Sunoco Rookie of the Year title.

In 2005, Gilliland captured national attention by winning the biggest race on the NASCAR Grand National calendar, the postseason Toyota All-Star Showdown at Irwindale (Calif.) Speedway.

Last year, his exposure increased exponentially when he beat back a field of NASCAR NEXTEL Cup regulars in winning the NASCAR Busch Series race at Kentucky. That win led to a job with Robert Yates Racing ... and an opportunity to excel on the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup level.

Harvick's victory in Daytona -- where his No. 29 Shell/Pennzoil Chevrolet swept around Mark Martin on the final lap to culminate what many longtime NASCAR observers called the greatest Daytona 500 finish ever -- was eerily reminiscent of some of his first successes on the West Coast. In two of his five West Series wins in 1998, he took the lead on the final turn of the final lap.

At California Speedway, however, Harvick's potential on a superspeedway was immediately evident. In the May race, the then 22-year-old battled Schrader throughout the event -- leading five times for 32 laps. Harvick settled for second to the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup veteran, satisfied to take the lead in the championship standings and knowing he would have another shot at a Fontana victory two months later.

When the West Series returned for a second visit to California Speedway in July of that year, Harvick dominated the action. After winning the pole, he led 52 laps en route to the win.

Harvick ran double-duty for Spears Motorsports that season, competing in both the West Series and the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series.

-credit: nascar

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About this article
Series NASCAR
Drivers Ken Schrader , Kevin Harvick , David Gilliland , Robert Yates , Mark Martin
Teams Yates Racing