If it seems like Todd Gilliland has been around NASCAR for a while now, he has. The son of former NASCAR driver and now team owner David Gilliland may only be 21 years of age but he is now competing in what is essentially his fourth season on the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. And more, it is beginning to look as if he has grown into a championship contender.
Gilliland appeared to be bound for NASCAR stardom when he won an ARCA Menards Series race at Toledo Speedway at the age of 15 back in 2015. Later, the Sherrill’s Ford, NC resident signed to drive for powerhouse Kyle Busch Motorsports on the NASCAR Truck Series where he would eventually spend the better part of three seasons. However, the young driver’s stint with KBM ultimately fell short of expectations and the two parted ways at the end of the 2019 season with a single win at Martinsville Speedway resulting from their time together.
After leaving KBM, Gilliland signed on to drive for the Bob Jenkins-owned Front Row Motorsports organization. The NASCAR Cup Series team that just this year won the Daytona 500 with driver Michael McDowell was looking to make an entry into truck racing and tabbed the second generation racer as their pilot at the start of last year.
Over the course of the disjointed 2020 season, Gilliland and his new team managed to make the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Playoffs then ultimately finished 10th in the final standings with a total of four top-5 and ten top-10 results. It was a solid season for their first time out but the driver believes they can do much more.
On Saturday at the rain soaked Circuit of the Americas road course in Austin, TX that belief was confirmed when Gilliland beat the competition to the finish line in the Toyota Tundra 225. It was the driver’s second career win but the first triumph for Front Row Motorsports on the truck tour.
After taking the checkered flag, Gilliland had a message for the crew that prepares and maintains his Ford F-150 machines.
“I know we can do this a lot. Get used to it!” Gilliland exclaimed over his team radio.
Later on, Gilliland explained his radio comment during his post-race media appearance.
“I just think it’s so huge for my team,” Gilliland declared. “A lot of these guys have not really won in their career as a crew member. Me saying that, I was just trying to tell them to soak it all in. We need to remember this feeling and bottle it up and try to do it every single week. I think that’s the biggest thing we can do, keep working together.”
The driver then pointed to what he considers the turning point of his team’s season. Following that race, his crew began to intensify their efforts.
“I’d say since Atlanta, we ran 15th and finished 15th(actually 17th) all day, since then we’ve really gotten to work hard on every single one of our trucks and we’ve seen little steps every single week, with Darlington probably being our best race up to date, winning a stage and being really competitive, then coming here and having the dominant truck, I think, for most of the race. I’ve seen leaps and bounds since the beginning of the season and I’m super proud of my team.”
Gilliland points to the No. 38 team’s steady improvement throughout the season as evidence that they can be in the mix for the season title. After the aforementioned race in Atlanta, FRM has been on a roll. They earned at top-5 on the dirt in Bristol then had consecutive sixth place efforts at Richmond and Kansas. Misfortune struck at Darlington when damage was inflicted as a result of a multi-truck accident after leading 17 laps and scoring a stage win.
“From here, I really think we can compete at this level,” he insisted. “We were sixth at Kansas and at Darlington we wound up getting in that huge pileup. We’ve had good speed and kind of been flying under the radar for the past four or five races.”
Not only was the COTA victory the first for Front Row in truck series competition but it marked the first NCWTS win of 2021 for Ford. With ThorSports Racing’s move to Toyota at the end of the 2020 campaign, only Front Row and David Gilliland Racing remain as the standard bearers for Ford.
“It’s huge,” Gilliland replied after being asked of the significance of the win for FRM and Ford. “This is my first win with Ford and there’s not many of us in the field anymore. To keep them competitive we need to stay in the game every week. We’ve been working really hard on the simulation. Last year there was a lot of learning all the new tools with Ford and I think this year we’re putting them all to use. They definitely put a lot into our two teams and they expect us and want us to succeed.”
Just as important as the win itself is the fact that Gilliland and the No. 38 team are almost certainly locked into the NASCAR Playoffs.
“Last year was the first year I’ve made the playoffs in the truck series and we barely made at Richmond(cutoff race),” he stated. “With no practice, or limited practice, we can go out and try stuff now to make ourselves better by the time the playoffs come. Last year we were just scratching and clawing for every single point and we couldn’t afford to miss it one week so we had to go conservatively. Now we can try stuff for a couple of weeks to find that little extra edge come the playoffs.”
At the end of the day, Gilliland was pleased to see the efforts of all involved with his team rewarded with a winner’s trophy.
“Everyone puts in a lot of effort into this truck team and to see your hard work pay off, I think that’s what this opportunity is to have this race winning truck team now,” he pointed out. “I think people can watch us on Fridays and want to do that for the Cup teams too. We’ve seen Front Row have a great year, Michael McDowell has been running pretty good week in and week out and Anthony(Alfredo) has been getting head and shoulders better every week learning from Michael. If we can start being competitive week in and week out, it will boost the whole morale. To get the first truck win is huge. Like I said, it’s now a race winning team.”
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association
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