Todd Gilliland is riding high after winning in his return to the Camping World Truck Series last weekend, and he’s carrying that state of mind into his return to Cup Series action at Nashville Superspeedway.
Gilliland ran and won in his one-off race at Knoxville Raceway, doing so for his father’s team, David Gilliland Racing. It was the first time Todd had driven for David.
It was exactly what the younger Gilliland, a rookie for Front Row Motorsports, needed as he rides an up and down first year in the NASCAR Cup Series. He acknowledges the sport’s highest level can do a good job of stealing a driver’s confidence.
“It’s super good,” Gilliland said of winning again. “It’s really a shot in the arm to keep me going and kind of get you back up on your feet because we did kind of talk about how the Cup Series will knock you down quick. To get a win is huge. Really, it’s kind of almost like a different mindset.
“You go in there and I was kind of excited and before we even got there I kind of expected to have a chance to win; but it’s kind of crazy to think that I’ve only won two Truck races, so I feel like it’s just kind of a different mindset going back, but it’s definitely a really good thing. I think I can see why a lot of guys try and run more races in different series.”
A schedule like the Cup Series with 38 races (Busch Light Clash and All-Star weekend included) means Gilliland is racing more than he ever has before in a year. Nearly halfway through his rookie season, Gilliland has a best finish of 15th at Darlington Raceway (May 8) and six top-20 finishes.
Small victories have been the task. Gilliland has completed 97% percent of the laps run and although he’s 29th in the standings, Gilliland has an average finish of 22.9.
“At the beginning of the season, it seemed like we were slowly getting a little bit better — a few spots every week,” he said. “You could just really feel the progress and then once it stalls out it’s really hard to look for any small victory at all. But I think recently we’ve been unloading faster with more speed. For a while there we were really far off when we would unload.
“Even though we haven’t really gained a ton of spots, we’ve gained quite a bit of time based on where we were at the beginning of the year. So I think it’s more about comparing ourselves to what we can do, but also my teammate Michael McDowell has been running super good, so I think that’s a really good benchmark for us and also kind of a good guy to chase.”
If there is one thing the Cup Series has taught Gilliland, it’s that mental toughness is a must.
“I think there’s definitely a lot of mental toughness, and I think it’s also a lot about the people you surround yourself with,” he said. “I’ve always felt like even going through the Truck season, it’s your team versus everyone else. When you walk into the racetrack those are your friends and I feel like that’s just so much more exaggerated on the Cup Series side, just because you’re with these guys so much and that really is just your group of guys versus everyone else.
“It’s all about pushing each other to do the best you can — in the shop, showing up at the racetrack with the best product possible, and then whether it goes bad it’s about getting everyone back on their feet, or when it’s good to celebrate the small victories. But I think it’s definitely about being mentally tough and keeping those around you mentally tough also.”