Todd Gilliland turned heads at Martinsville Speedway in the Valley Star Credit Union 300 with a dominant performance behind the wheel of his No. 98 Frontline Enterprises Inc Toyota Camry. The 15 year old third generation driver’s attempt to become the youngest event winner ended in the final eight laps, but Gilliland was nothing short of impressive during his second showing in NASCAR’s prestigious late model race.
Todd Gilliland’s DGR prepared Camry was strong all weekend, potentially amongst the fastest in practice and qualifying. Unfortunately timing and scoring issues plagued Saturday’s on track activity and while majority of the garage expected to see Gilliland set fast time, he and his team learned they were 14th on the charts when NASCAR posted results hours after the session completed.
Gilliland commented on the outcome, “This is the third time this year I’ve had my qualifying run affected by timing and scoring issues. It’s just frustrating, especially at NASCAR’s biggest late model race of the year.” Crew chief Chris Lawson added, “It’s a frustrating day for the officials as well, and they said they did the best they could with the circumstances. Unfortunately I feel their best efforts bit us. Everyone puts a lot into Martinsville and everyone deserves to get a fair rundown of the day’s times.”
“Many teams had us clocked fastest, and if Todd was the quickest I wanted him to get credit for that. That’s huge for a young kid to say they were quickest among 80 of the best late model drivers. Not to mention with a potential track record,” Lawson continued.
Nevertheless, Todd Gilliland’s clocked time of 20.27 would place him fourth in the third heat race lineup. By lap ten of the 25 lap race Gilliland took his No. 98 to the lead and put distance on the field, making a statement regarding his qualifying speed. His heat race victory earned him the fifth starting position for the 200 lap feature.
After the green flag waived Gilliland wasted little time. By lap 35 he worked his way around Timothy Peters for the second position, and overtook the race lead from Jake Crum on lap 39. The young driver would lead the field thru multiple restarts, and was battling inside Crum as the competitive caution interrupted on track action for the lap 100 fuel break. After restarting second he quickly resumed his lead once the field was back underway. By lap 125 Gilliland showed how dominant his machine was having built a straightaway lead when he began to work his way around lap cars.
At the lap 150 break Todd Gilliland remained the race leader. His DGR team made no adjustments to their Camry, and would restart the final 50 laps 8th following the invert. Gilliland remained calm, started picking cars off and found himself back up to second by lap 170. With less than 20 laps to go Gilliland reeled in Tommy Lemons’ one second race lead and was working Lemons inside when a caution fell, setting the field up for a restart with eight laps remaining.
On the restart Gilliland took a shot to his left rear entering turn one. While gaining his composure he took another hit from behind during three wide action, sending him deep in the pack by the time the final caution waived and Gilliland knew his shot at the checkered flag was over.
15 year old Todd Gilliland was credited with a 24th place finish, unfortunately not the result deserving of his near flawless on track performance. Although little consolation, the DGR team was able to bring their No. 98 Frontline Enterprises Inc Camry home with minimal damage.
“It’s Martinsville, and we got moved on the restart. Then I had marbles on my tires and it was hard to regain composure,” a dejected Gilliland said. “My crew gave me a really good car. We had a dominant car, led the most laps and I learned a lot. It is just frustrating after you’ve been leading all those laps. I’ll learn from this and it’s made me a better driver. I feel I gained a lot of respect, and we’ll come back next year that much better and hopefully make it to the end.”