When 20-year-old Trevor Bayne crossed the finish line for his stunning Daytona 500 win, a few yards behind him in third was another one-time NASCAR Cinderella story, David Gilliland of Riverside.
Gilliland, 34, teamed up with Carl Edwards on the last lap and both charged to the front, but Bayne blocked them to become the youngest Daytona 500 winner in history.
Still, "it was a huge day" for Gilliland and his Front Row Motorsports team, Gilliland said Friday as he prepared for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series' next race, the Subway Fresh Fit 500 on Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway.
It was Gilliland's first top-five finish since 2008. He has yet to win a Cup race.
"We're definitely not the highest-funded team out there . . . but we've got great equipment and great motors this year and we're going to make the most of it," Gilliland said of his No. 34 Ford.
Once an obscure short-track driver in California, Gilliland got his break in 2006 with an upset win in NASCAR's second-tier Nationwide Series (then called the Busch Series) in Kentucky in only his seventh series start. A few months later, having advanced to the Cup series, he won the pole for the Daytona 500 in 2007.
Gilliland largely has struggled ever since for several different owners. But he said Friday his confidence wasn't shaken.
"I feel like I'm the best driver I've ever been right now and feel like we're ready to take advantage of any opportunity that comes our way," he said, adding that his "realistic" goal this season was to finish in the top 20 in championship points.
"I'm excited to come back here to Phoenix," Gilliland said. "This is a track where I've had a lot of success in other series."
-- Jim Peltz in Avondale, Ariz.
Photos: (Top) Trevor Bayne beats Carl Edwards, second from right, David Gilliland, left, and Bobby Labonte, right, to the finish line to win the Daytona 500 last Sunday. Credit: David Graham / Associated Press. (Bottom) David Gilliland at media day at Daytona International Speedway on Feb. 10. Credit: Mark J. Rebilas / US Presswire