He may still only be 18 years old, but Todd Gilliland reckons the time has come to deliver in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series.
“This is a big year for me,” Gilliland told RACER on Thursday morning. “I feel like the expectations were high last year and we didn’t really do much. They are still high … and there’s nothing you can do but give it all you got. That’s what we’re going to do.”
Don’t take that as Gilliland needs to try any harder or he hasn’t been pushing hard enough. In fact, Gilliland felt he got himself in trouble last season by doing just that. There was also the repeated disappointment of coming oh-so-close to being a NASCAR national series winner, only to have it ripped away in the late laps — being spun from the lead in the final corner on the final lap at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park by Kyle Busch Motorsports teammate Noah Gragson, and running out of fuel while leading on the last lap in Texas a few weeks later.
Winning is what Gilliland wants most right now. Not just to finally get that out of the way, but he’d love to get it out of the way early in the season. Say for instance Friday night, in his first Truck Series start at Daytona International Speedway.
“I feel like we had some ups and downs last year, but we’re going to come out swinging,” Gilliland said. “We’ve built better, faster trucks. Everyone’s been communicating a lot better than last year. I think we have all the pieces in place to get a win early on … once we get the first one, more wins will come easy. It’s just getting in that position.
“That’s how it was in K&N, late models, everything. You watch people that once they get the first one, they win a lot more. It’s just a matter of getting there. We’ve been in position, we’ve basically been there. My team has what it takes. Everyone on my team has won races with different people and now that we’re all together, there’s no reason we can’t do.”
David Gilliland, Todd’s father and a former driver himself, has been preaching patience to his son. While Todd has been praised for his maturity in handling difficult situations, David said he makes sure to share wisdom from what he learned when he was behind the wheel.
“When I got into the Cup Series and started racing, I made a lot of mistakes in that area and tried too hard and got myself behind,” David told RACER. “So, I try to help him with all that stuff. Everything that I’ve learned, both good and bad.
“Just be patient — and it’s hard; that’s his thing that he struggles with. It’s never going fast, it’s just being patient.”
Be patient and not putting unnecessary pressure on himself — like feeling it’s now or never.
“That’s the last thing he needs to do,” David said. “He does a really good job and he learned a lot last year for sure, and I think this year is going to be a good year for him. I think they’ve made some changes internally on his team; he’s much more comfortable coming to the racetrack now. It’s got the making for a great year.”
Now 18, Todd Gilliland will be able to run the full NGOTS schedule this year and he plans on doing more than just winning.
“Last year we had a little bit different mentality, we weren’t really points racing,” he said. “We could pit before the stage breaks, get more track position, but at the same time sometimes that would hurt us, too. Our plan this season is championship racing — it’s all about points, trying to win every stage and score max points.
“It’s going to be a little bit different for me and Marcus (Richmond, crew chief), but fast trucks is always the answer. I think we’ll be up there.”