Cerro Gordo’s Ricky Benton Racing Enterprises, making its premier entry in NASCAR’s Monster Energy Cup series, finished 14th in Sunday’s Daytona 500 after having started 39th in the field with driver David Gilliland of Riverside, Ca., at the wheel. Team owner Ricky Benton Sr. seemed overwhelmed with emotion after the race, expressing awe at even being able to compete in the event, which he characterized as the “Superbowl” of racing, much less finishing in the top 20. “We’re a small team compared to the big boys. We have only three full time crew members,” Benton said before calling out Bladen County’s Mike Hester and Fair Bluff’s Mikey Hammond as integral parts of his team. “And we could not have done this without the sponsorship of BB&T.”
The Columbus County-based team’s even being in the Daytona 500 had drawn attention, with several broadcast outlets and print wire services talking about their roots “in Cerro Gordo, NC, population 199.” Benton and RBR Enterprises are no strangers to competition, having fielded entries for several years in the NASCAR truck series with moderate success, but Sunday’s race marked their first foray into Cup competition. Gilliland started on the back row, in 39th position in the 40-car field, in Sunday’s race. His advance from 39th at the start of the race to 14th at the finish meant that he was most improved of all competitors in start-to-finish position. Gilliland had worked his way into the top 20 by lap 10 as other cars pitted during a caution flag, but by lap 30 of the 200-lap race, he dropped back into 35th place. However, he would never be in a lower position as the 200-lap competition wound down. From laps 55 to 62, Gilliland worked his way up in the field from 28th place to 20th and then, on lap 63, was in 13th place before briefly breaking the top 10 at eighth place, on lap 64. Gilliland drifted back to run in the 20s positions for much of the remaining first half of the race, but just before the midway point, briefly took the 16th spot on lap 84. He held the 12th place position on laps 104 and 105 before settling down back into the 20s for much of the remaining race. It was with 46 laps remaining in the race that Gilliland broke into the top 20 for what turned out to be most of the rest of the race. He ran anywhere from 19th to 16th through lap 168, then faded back beneath the top 20 for much of the remainder. However, on lap 198 of the scheduled 200-lapper, he broke into 19th spot and never would again leave the top 20. The race went into NASCAR’s version of overtime, caused by a requirement that races not end under a caution flag, and Gilliland ran well in the final dash, as high as 13th position. However, when final results were posted after 206 laps, scorers put him in 14th place. See Thursday’s edition for more on the race.