By Cole Cusumano
Front Row Motorsports began 2021 on top of the world with Michael McDowell winning the Daytona 500 and appears to be trending in the same direction to close out the year. Todd Gilliland and the No. 38 team have breathed life into the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series program by establishing themselves as serious championship contenders.
Gilliland enters the postseason for the second-straight season during the best stretch of his young racing career. A win at Circuit of the Americas in May kicked off a series-best seven-race top-10 streak. It’s now August and the Ford Performance driver brings his league leading 4.3 average in this span into the Round of 10 at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway.
John Hunter Nemechek has been the standard of excellence all season and will remain the championship favorite, but could Gilliland serve as his worthiest challenger?
“I definitely don’t think we can say we’re a favorite, but I really do think over the last two or three months we’ve been a top two or three type [team] week in and week out,” Gilliland said. “That gives me a lot of confidence. This is definitely the most confident I’ve ever been going to the playoffs.”
Gilliland believes his team’s enhanced ability to execute is a direct correlation of an improved culture in the shop. The No. 38 team is now working alongside both NASCAR Cup Series entries at Front Row Motorsports, as opposed to David Gilliland Racing last year. He feels the presence of the premier level teams has elevated motivation.
Another contributing factor that’s bred success has been the progressive rapport between Gilliland and his second-year crew chief, Chris Lawson. He notes 2020 was a difficult year in terms of developing chemistry and quality notebook due to COVID-19 protocols in place throughout the season.
Above anything else Gilliland praised the collective team-wide execution from top to bottom, which has alleviated built up pressure over time. Whether Lawson is devising a game plan for an upcoming run or the pit crew is picking up positions during stops, it all eases the expectations of living up to his namesake.
At just 21 years old, you get the sense Gilliland is finding his way in NASCAR after a period where many lost hope.
“When I came into the Truck Series I expected to win and when we didn’t it really took the fun out of it and the pressure was just crazy on me at the time,” Gilliland shared. “This year racing, we’ve just been having a lot of fun and that’s been so refreshing to me and my whole team.
“I really feel like we’ve had a great group of guys, but this year bringing the fun back into it and having a great time at the racetrack is ultimately what it’s all about.”
Gilliland enters the playoffs statistically as the hottest driver in the Truck Series. Although he has yet to put together a multi-win season, the driver of the No. 38 swept both stages and led a race-high 75 laps at Gateway last year.
Rolling off third in the Toyota 200, Gilliland should be deemed the favorite to win the race. With an 8.4 average finish this season (second-best only to Nemechek), could he also be favored down the stretch? Only time will tell, but things are certainly looking great for Front Row Motorsports.