Through 18 races this season, the organization has accrued three victories. Sauter kicked off the year with a win at Daytona, while Ben Kennedy waited until crunch time at Bristol to secure his spot in the inaugural Truck Series Chase. Kyle Larson won his only truck race of the season at Eldora.
Though Gallagher has come up empty in the win column, he believes that this is the season GMS Racing needed to prove that it belonged.
“It’s definitely been the best year so far,” Gallagher told Frontstretch. “I think every year we’ve been an operation I’ve said that and it’s been true so far. There’s no reason not to believe that won’t continue. I think it’s been a great season for GMS; we got two trucks in the Chase. ThorSport’s got one, KBM has two, BKR’s got one, Red Horse Racing has one and Nemechek.”
Comparing themselves to Kyle Busch Motorsports is something Gallagher didn’t want to do yet as KBM has won half of the races in 2016. However, on a personal level, Gallagher believes the team can get there and that he can be the guy to lead the organization in that direction.
At Chicago in mid-September, Gallagher won his first career Truck Series pole, an accomplishment he had been getting close to for several weeks. During the race, he led eight circuits, the second most he had led in any race this season. It was the third pole of the season for the fourth year team, but the last month or so Gallagher has seen the team come full circle.
“If you look at the last couple of weeks, at Michigan we were battling for the lead and got in a wreck,” Gallagher said. “At Canada we were running third and get dumped coming to the checkers. I win that race if I don’t get dumped coming to the white. It’s as simple as that. Chicago, we were in contention for the win and the pit crew had a problem.
“We’ve been quite fast lately and don’t get me wrong it’s great to see the fruition of all that work because we’ve been putting in all that work and effort.”
Though Gallagher has seen improvement, the statistics show otherwise. The event at Chicago was the first top-10 finish for the No. 23 truck since Charlotte in May. Prior to that, he had five top-10 finishes in the first six races of the year, sitting as high as fourth in the championship standings.
2016 has been a year of getting to know new people. Gallagher is happy with the team his father, Maury Gallagher, has assembled to build a front line organization. One of the key additions in team history was bringing in the veteran in Sauter. The driver of the No. 21 truck has 11 career Truck Series victories, the most wins a driver racing at GMS has had.
“He’s brought leadership and experience,” Gallagher said of Sauter. “When Johnny Sauter tells you ‘no, this [expletive] has to turn here and feels like this here’ you believe him because he’s been doing that for so long. The value of that cannot be overstated over a course of the season. He can state with authority that in a Toyota truck you can get through there wide open or ‘no I think our handling balance needs to go this direction.’ He hasn’t been wrong. For a guy like Johnny, whenever you can bring that kind of experience into the fold it’s invaluable.”
While Gallagher’s No. 23 team has shown bright spots this season, his average finish is 15.1, down from 14.6 last year, and execution has been a big part of it. He fully believes that if the team can put a full race together, it will end up in Victory Lane.
“There are two ingredients into winning a race: having a fast performance package and crossing the finish line first,” Gallagher elaborated. “Then you must execute on pit road and off pit road and in the garage. I think that’s where we’ve been hurt. Chicago is a perfect example of it. I got up front and was putting the boot to the max until I got a speeding penalty. We failed to execute. That’s what looses races when you’ve got the speed, it comes down to who executes the best.”
“My name is on the door, so it’s everyone’s responsibility,” he continued. “As a driver and as someone who sits and listens at the ownership table, it’s guys, I don’t care if it’s me, Johnny or Ben, we can’t come in sixth and go out 17th. As a driver I have to be involved in having my voice heard. I let these guys know like seriously this isn’t okay and then on the ownership side we need to have discussions on how we can help get this fixed.”
With five races to go in the 2016 season, Gallagher has one goal: win all of them. In doing so, he would be working with Jeff Hensley as crew chief, a veteran of the sport dating back to 1987. The duo has felt instant chemistry with one another all season long, so they don’t think ending the season on a hot streak is out of the question.
There is no doubt Gallagher wants a GMS Racing truck to win the championship. However, he wants to beat the other teams on the track. With the first cutoff race looming at Talladega, Kennedy sits fourth in the standings, 18 points to the good. Sauter is currently on the bubble, 15 points above Daniel Hemric and John Hunter Nemechek.
“It’s about building an organization and making it a team,” Gallagher said. “That does quite a lot to win the first truck Chase. It obviously elevates our status within the truck garage and the NASCAR garage as well. It’s not a little thing to win a championship in any national series. If you can do that it’s something to hang your hat on because you beat a lot of competitive guys who get up every day and think about this [expletive] in the morning.”
Winning in the Truck Series is the goal for 2016, but for 2017 the focus is looking to shift to the XFINITY Series. Gallagher has competed in seven XFINITY Series events this season, finishing eighth at Daytona in July.
With an average finishing position of 21st, Gallagher admits there is a lot to learn going forward. But in order to move up the ranks, the XFINITY Series is the next step.
“It’s definitely been an eye-opener,” he said of running in the XFINITY Series. “If nothing else, it gives you a true perspective of the depth of talent that exists at every level in this sport. You’ll be back in 15th driving your butt off and all of a sudden Kyle Busch comes flying by you going 20 mph faster than you. It gives you a good perspective on how elevated the competition is even in the secondary series.”
The seven starts by Gallagher in the XFINITY Series are the first events GMS has competed at the next level of NASCAR. With the 2016 season coming to an end in November, the team has begun to discuss negotiations for next year.
“We’re working hard on it right now,” Gallagher said. “There is something to be said that is the natural progression of things, but I am one of many pieces that have to fall into place between here and Daytona. If we can get a deal together there is no reason why you wouldn’t think hard about XFINITY.”
While Gallagher would love to move up the ranks into the secondary series of NASCAR, he knows it will be a struggle. From a team aspect, there is nothing sweeter than delivering for a race team that has believed in him since his first race in 2013 at Kansas.
GMS expanded to three full-time teams this season and one part-time team with Grant Enfinger and Kaz Grala. Many of the elite teams of NASCAR started in the Truck Series and worked their way up, and GMS looks to be the next one to make the jump.
“It would be a big deal,” Gallagher said. “We’re an organization that has run competitive trucks that has wins to its name, stepping up to the plate and becoming a member in the XFINITY community. That really does put us on the map. We’re no longer a little tank of a truck team. We’re here, we’re serious and we’re here to compete.”
About the author
Dustin joined the Frontstretch team at the beginning of the 2016 season. 2020 marks his sixth full-time season covering the sport that he grew up loving. His dream was to one day be a NASCAR journalist, thus why he attended Ithaca College (Class of 2018) to earn a journalism degree. Since the ripe age of four, he knew he wanted to be a storyteller.
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