While David Gilliland's 24th-place finish in Sunday's Kobalt Tools 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway may not have amounted to much for the casual viewer, it meant more to the raced the #71 TRG Motorsports team in only its third race.

The result meant that the rookie outfit had achieved what many thought impossible and cracked the top 35 in owner points, and now occupies the 34th spot in the Sprint Cup standings heading into the bye week before Bristol.

Gilliland started the 500-mile race in a hurry and, in 63 laps, had raced from his 31st starting position to 16th. As the team made several adjustments on the #71 Chevrolet during the evening, Gilliland reported that the car became '120 per cent better than it was all weekend' - only to be caught out by an untimely caution on lap 66, which sent the team two laps down.

As a result, Gilliland came to the restart on lap 73 in 24th place, and the remainder of the race was spent as much by filling the notebook for the future as gathering as many points-paying places as possible.

''I am real proud of the TRG Motorsports team,'' Gilliland said, ''We all have a lot to be proud of. We had a better car at the beginning, but the caution came out and caught us, costing us laps. We were solidly on the lead lap the first part of the race although, after that, the car went loose on us, but I was real happy with the result.

''[Crew chief] 'Slugger' [Labbe] and the guys did a great job last night and this morning to make the car better, and we were competitive. Everyone knows that we were here today.''

The finish resulted in a good day for the new team, with valuable points in the bag and an undamaged car with which to return to base for the off-week before Bristol.

''We didn't put a scratch on the car for the third race in a row,'' Gilliland confirmed, ''That is our first goal as we don't have ten of them sitting at the shop. We are doing what we have to do right now and I am real proud of all of the guys.''

Team principal Kevin Buckler was equally proud of his crew, particularly as TRG broke into the 'magic' top 35 that could guarantee race starts in future rounds.

''David did another solid job today,'' Buckler said, ''while 'Slugger' and the team really worked some magic on the car last night and this morning.

''In final practice, we were way down on the timesheet as we worked on the race set-up on used tyres, and it paid off. When the green flag dropped, we were the second fastest car on the track, and David was running an enthusiastic race when that yellow came out exactly after we had pitted and caused us to go two laps down.

''But we are leaving here with our car in one piece and our brand new team inside the top 35 in owner points. That is really cool.''

 

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