Our series of weekly NASCAR driver interviews continues with Front Row Motorsports driver David Gilliland. A California native, Gilliland is in his fifth full season racing in the Sprint Cup Series. He spoke with us last month.
SBN: Who is the most underrated driver in NASCAR?
DG: (Peers out hauler window and looks around the garage) Probably David Ragan. I think he's done a good job and you hear his boss sometimes kind of beat him down. There's organizations with multi-car teams that all don't bring the same stuff to the race track every weekend. I just think he's the most underrated.
SBN: What's a race in your career you didn't win that still bugs you because you feel like you should have won it?
DG: Probably the one that bugs me the most is a (K&N) West race, actually – at Mesa Marin (in 2005). We had led the whole thing, but we didn't come in for tires and Scott Lynch passed me with like two laps to go. It was the first time I had ever gotten beat in the closing laps of a race. Usually, we'd come up and beat people – like on a restart or wherever. So that one kind of sticks in my mind.
SBN: So was it your mistake not to take tires, since you were a former crew chief in the West Series?
DG: At that point in my career, you can't try and crew chief the car from inside the car because you can't see everything that's going on. It was kind of in that stage where I was trying to have less control and trying to give up more of the decisions. Just one of those deals.
SBN: Let's say you're going to be on a four-car Sprint Cup Series team and you can pick your teammates, but you can't choose anyone you're currently associated with. Who would you pick?
DG: Probably Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and Tony Stewart.
SBN: How come?
DG: I just think they're probably the people I respect most.
SBN: When you were growing up, what driver did you want to model yourself after?
DG: For me, it was always Dale Earnhardt. He was the guy who was at the top of his career at the time when I really, really got involved in racing and got the heavy passion to want to race myself. To see some of the stuff he was able to do in a race car, that was what I wanted to do.
SBN: What's a memorable escape you've made from the track to the airport after a race?
DG: (Starts laughing) Probably leaving Pocono. My wife (Michelle) was with me and Travis (Kvapil) was driving. We left Pocono and we were on this side road, and we were hung up in traffic a little bit. I didn't have any sunglasses at the time, so I put my wife's sunglasses on. They were (Dolce and Gabbana) but they were the real big ones, you know?
So I was in the passenger seat and Travis was driving, and we're in the breakdown lane off the side of the road, just passing people. And suddenly, a guy swerved over in front of us to try and stop us. He actually pushed us off into the bushes a little bit, and I got really, really mad. And I don't get mad that often.
Travis and him started going at each other a little bit, and I got into it, too. I crawled out the window and started yelling at him.
When I got back in the car, my wife said, 'I bet that guy thinks you're real tough with those women's sunglasses on!'
We still made our plane, though.
SBN: Who is somebody you'd like to meet who you haven't met yet?
DG: I'd probably like to meet George Strait. I'm not really into movie stars or whatever, but George Strait sings our wedding song and we've been to a couple of his concerts. I just really admire what he's been able to do for as long as he's been able to do it. Every concert you go to is jam-packed. It's pretty cool.
SBN: Last year Jamie McMurray won three big races but didn't make the Chase; Jeff Gordon didn't win any races but made the Chase and contended. Which type of season would you rather have for yourself?
DG: That's a tough question. I've never won a championship, but I've won a lot of races. One year at home on the dirt track, I won nine out of the 15 races and finished second in the points. We set a record for most wins in a season on the Southwest Tour and I finished fifth in the points that year – just blown engines or whatever. So I'd probably go for the Chase. Just because in the past, I've been on both sides of it.
SBN: Everybody is here because they want to win. But where does your motivation to win come from?
DG: Probably to win for myself and the team at Front Row Motorsports. We've been close. We didn't start out the year focusing on wins, you know? We started out the year focused on improving our organization from where we were last year, and I really feel like we've done that. We haven't done it on a weekly basis, but that's what we're working on doing. We are way more competitive than last year.
It would mean so much to the team. I finished second at Infineon in the Cup Series, and I've finished third and I think I have a fourth. Wins are hard to come by, especially in this series and when you're up against other teams in better financial situations.
There are some tracks that are kind of equalizers, and I feel like we can keep improving and put ourselves in position to take advantage of races like that. Hopefully we can continue to grow Front Row Motorsports and someday pull into the race track and feel like we have a legitimate chance to win.
SBN: How much does your personality differ from standing here talking to when you get in the car?
DG: Quite a bit. I'm probably much more aggressive in the car. Outside the car, I'm a little bit shy and a little bit quiet. But I don't race like that. In the car, it's business, you know? I'm out there to do a job and do what we can.
SBN: If you could switch lives with a different athlete, who would you want to be?
DG: Maybe (Dallas Cowboys quarterback) Tony Romo. I'm not a huge football or baseball fan – I'm racing 99 percent – but I've gone and watched him play football a couple times. I've been to the new Cowboys Stadium. All of the people there, honed in on him...that'd be pretty cool.
My son, Todd, and I enjoy throwing the football around. He is actually awesome at throwing a football, and I'm like, 'Man, you need to try and do that!' But his mom won't let him play football yet. He's too young, still growing. Hopefully we can watch him play someday.
SBN: Does your son still want to race?
DG: Yeah, but with our schedule, it's so hard. We're kind of getting all settled in to a new shop and a new house and everything else, but he's on me. He's on me every week about driving.
He's kind of in between ages right now where I'd like to move him up into another class, but I'm also pushing him to try football and other stuff. His heart is definitely set on racing, though.
SBN: If you could take a year away from NASCAR and go do whatever you wanted and then come back knowing you had a ride guaranteed, would you ever want to do that?
DG: At times, you'd want to. Sometimes you feel like that. But every year in the offseason, I'm always itching to get back in a race car about halfway through it. At this point in my career, I'd say no.
SBN: When you eventually quit racing, what do you want your retirement story to say about you?
DG: I think people don't realize how hard it is to make it to this level and how much goes into making it. That'd be my thing: More of what it takes and took to get here.
It was 20 hours a day, seven days a week working on your own cars. Missing your son's first birthday. My wife went home from the hospital by herself after giving birth to my daughter – I was there when she was born, but the next day I had to go race.
It's little things like that which you sacrifice along the way. And everybody in this garage has stories like that. If you're not dedicated 100 percent to doing this, you're not going to do it at this level.
I don't feel like we've had the best career at this level, but I feel like I'm proud of what we've been able to accomplish.
SBN: Let's say you're going to win the championship in a couple years. You can either have it wrapped up after Phoenix or win it off Turn 4 of the last lap at Homestead. Which would you rather have?
DG: Probably after Phoenix. There would still be plenty of races leading up to it (with the title on the line).
And I think we can do it, you know? Even here at Front Row Motorsports. I've got Peter Sospenzo as a crew chief, we've got a great team, we just need more resources. With that, I think it could happen.