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Six races into the 2019 season, a sophomore campaign, Todd Gilliland sits in the top 10 in points, with six consecutive top 15 finishes.
And his career is in jeopardy. Because at a powerhouse organization like Kyle Busch Motorsports, top 15s don’t cut it.
Gilliland and the No. 4 team drove it like it Friday night, delivering his first top five qualifying effort on a mile-and-a-half oval since Chicagoland last summer, and followed that up with a third-place finish, his first top five finish of 2019. The soon-to-be 19-year-old looked nothing if not relieved when speaking to the media post-race.
An uneventful night was just the kind of race @ToddGilliland_ needed.
— NASCAR Camping World Trucks (@NASCAR_Trucks) May 11, 2019
“I don’t think we’ve ever needed one (a good run) as a team more than we needed one right now” reflected Gilliland after exiting his truck. “[We] qualified fifth, finished third, that doesn’t sound spectacular, but it is for us.”
“Putting together a really good race means a lot.”
For one, Friday’s race marked an event where Gilliland bested all of his teammate KBM trucks on a night where the entire organization ran well (all four KBM teams finished in the top 10, including a fifth place effort for Xfinity Series regular Brandon Jones). Perhaps more importantly though, the results did not come thanks to a leap forward in equipment or a new regimen at the shop. Rather, the team delivered by acknowledging the heavy pressure they find themselves under.
“Me and [crew chief] Marcus Richmond had a real honest talk this week, recalled Gilliland. “We said ‘both of our careers are on the line.’ Getting that honesty out there, I think that gave us both a bit more confidence.”
The confidence showed in more ways than one. For the driver, Gilliland drove a race that saw the No. 4 come back clean and without incident. But also for the crew chief, who was able to deliver for his young wheelman.
“My crew chief Marcus Richmond did a really good job all night, he stayed calm and made really great adjustments” said Gilliland. “I felt like I had a really good team tonight.”
Gilliland acknowledged that part of their success this evening stemmed from simply being around to capitalize on other teams’ mistakes; contenders Brett Moffitt and Grant Enfinger both took themselves out of contention for the race win with a late-race collision, while Stewart Friesen lost a top 10 finish after sputtering while leading the race with two laps to go. But a good run’s a good run, and for Gilliland, that makes the pressure that weighs literally as much as his career disappear, at least for this week.
When asked whether the intensity of having his career hanging in the balance week after week entered his thought process on a race weekend, Gilliland kept it simple, quipping “You have a good run like this, it doesn’t really.”
“We’re both going to be fine if we keep running good. We both have the talent and means to do so.”