By Seth Eggert, Staff Writer
They way in which races play out can put drivers in a box, as Todd Gilliland experienced at Texas Motor Speedway. The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Rookie of the Year contender had one of the best races of his career to date in the PPG 400, finishing sixth.
After pitting prior to the final restarts, Gilliland’s No. 4 Mobil 1 Toyota Tundra restarted towards the back of the top-10. In the short runs to the finish, there was no much that the Sherrills Ford, NC native could do in the narrow racing groove. Gilliland made quick work of Tyler Young, Cody Coughlin, and his Kyle Busch Motorsports teammate, Spencer Davis, but ended up just outside the top-five when the checkered flag waved.
Early in the race, Gilliland’s Tundra was the class of the field. He was in front of the field for the first time under green in Truck Series competition, for 62 laps total. As the race wound down, fuel mileage became a glaring issue as crew chief Marcus Richmond informed his driver that they would be seven laps short. A late caution erased the fuel mileage problem, and the team elected to take two tires as they had earlier in the race, but the strategy backfired.
“I honestly don’t know what we would have done different,” Gilliland explained. “I feel like we did everything right. That last set of tires really tightened us up. We did two tires earlier in the day, and it was incredible. Can’t fault anyone for that. We had also gotten back in traffic a little bit. Just learning stuff, being able to get out front, lead laps is a huge confidence booster for me and my whole team. That’s what we’re here to do every week, to get better, and I certainly think that this was a step in the right direction.”
Prior to the race, Gilliland, received his diploma during driver introductions. Like some of his teammates and competitors before him, he walked in a cap and gown across the stage on the frontstretch. However, the 18-year-old was much more focused on the task at hand than on the completion of high school.
“I was trying not to focus too much on graduation,” Gilliland said. “My mom was more excited than me. I’m just out here to be racing. The best thing about that graduation is that I’m done with school and can go racing and focus solely on that. That’s what it’s going to be about from here on out, staying focused and doing the best we can.”
The sixth-place finish is Gilliland’s third top-10 finish this season and sixth of his career. It also moves him up from 17thto 15thin the Championship Points Standings. Gilliland, who has a waiver to be eligible for the Playoffs, is 231-points behind Points Leader, and race winner, Johnny Sauter. He is also 72-points behind Justin Haley who currently holds the cutoff for the Playoffs.
Now Gilliland will look to build on what he’s learned as the series heads to Iowa Speedway for the M&M’s 200 on June 16.