“It’s not easy,” quipped Gilliland when asked about the competition in the NASCAR Cup Series. “These guys you are racing against, from the front to the back, they are all very competitive and race really hard every lap.” But for the 23-year-old Mooresville, N.C. racer, that competition is what drives Gilliland to be better. And after a season of 11 top-15 finishes and four top-10 finishes he has seen improvement and is looking for even more.
“Just going into my second season of the NASCAR Cup Series, I naturally felt more confident because I just knew what the grind is like. I know it’s a long season and you have to take the good with the bad and move on.”
Gilliland and his No. 38 Ford Mustang did just that. They started off the season showing speed and Gilliland again proved himself in the draft at Daytona. He led portions of his 150-lap Duel and had fans on their feet with a miracle save at the end. The Daytona 500 ended with a crash, but Gilliland had once again gained more trust with veterans in the Cup Series that he is a driver to work with at Daytona, Atlanta, and Talladega.
“I think we hear more and more about Todd becoming a good plate racer inside the garage amongst our peers than maybe others give him credit for,” said crew chief Ryan Bergenty. “But I feel that Front Row Motorsports always gives our drivers great cars at Daytona, Atlanta and Talladega and Todd takes advantage of it.”
After leaving Daytona, the west coast trip began with a promising 17th-place finish at the Auto Club Speedway before a disappointing result at the Las Vegas (Nev.) Motor Speedway. The west coast trip ended with Gilliland making his first start for Rick Ware Racing.
Returning to the east coast, Gilliland and the No. 38 team thrived through the months of March and April.
“Spring came in like ‘Lion Mode’ for us,” said Bergenty who coined the terminology of how he approaches the races and the mentality he was instilling into his team and driver.
Gilliland showed incredible driving versatility and driving skill with a 15th-place finish while drafting at Atlanta, turning left-and-right at the Circuit of The Americas for a 10th-place finish, up on the wheel on the Richmond Raceway short track with another 15th-place result, and slip-sliding on dirt at the Bristol Motor Speedway with an eighth-place finish. Gilliland capped April with another 10th-place result at the Talladega Superspeedway.
“Yeah, we had gained a lot of points, had momentum, and things were clicking at that time,” said Gilliland. “That was probably our highest point of the season for us, and I think we learned a lot. And learned a lot about what we need to do in 2024 to carry that momentum forward- especially me being with the team for the entire season now.”
During the dog days of summer, Gilliland continued to show that marked improvement with top-15 finishes at another set of very diverse tracks such as Darlington Raceway, World Wide Technology Raceway (Gateway), Pocono, and the Watkins Glen road course. The summer stretch was not without its frustrations, with less than expected results at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course and the Daytona summer race.
“Those are two races that we want to have back for sure,” said Gilliland. “But, looking back at what we did at some of these different tracks in the summer, they are all different setups, different styles of racing, yet we continued to prove that we can be competitive with any team at any track. That’s something, collectively, we need to be proud of, but also work on these tracks where we struggled.”
From Labor Day weekend through the season finale at the Phoenix Raceway, the team had additional highlights at Bristol, Talladega and a final top-10 result at Martinsville. And, again, there were lessons to be learned at other tracks for 2024.
“After two seasons now, I think we have a grasp of where we need to be better at certain tracks. And at the time, this year, we really improved at a lot more tracks. So, we see increased performance. I don’t think anyone is content, but we’re encouraged with the direction that we’re heading with our 38 team.
“Obviously, next year it’s being in all the races will make the biggest difference. That’s obvious. But there are so, so many small things, tiny details, that we can work on, and I can work on, to make us more consistent.
“But I just love it all. I still have a huge passion for NASCAR, the fans, and our partners. I just want to thank everyone for this past season. I’ll go take some time with my family through the upcoming holidays, but will still be working, too. I want to get my first Cup win and that’s our goal. Until then, I hope everyone has an awesome end to the year and let’s go in 2024!”