Todd Gilliland and the sacrifices of a racing family

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It’s almost a cliché.

The rising stars of NASCAR – Chase Elliott, Erik Jones, John Hunter Nemechek, Cole Custer – are young.

They’re old enough to vote and race at 180 mph for living, but can’t buy a beer.

Then there’s Todd Gilliland. At the age of 15, only one of those is an option.

The son of veteran NASCAR driver David Gilliland, Todd Gilliland is the newest kid on the block in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series circuit.

In the last year, he has won all three K&N Pro Series races he’s entered with Bill McAnally Racing and become the youngest winner in ARCA Racing history.

But last July, the need to drive on a speedway temporarily derailed his chances of driving around an actual block in his hometown of Mooresville, North Carolina.

“I didn’t get my permit on my birthday (on May 15),” Todd Gilliland told NBC Sports. “I was in driver’s ed … and then I was going to go run Iowa (Speedway) in an ARCA car. I had to quit. I had to miss the last day of driver’s ed. I had to retake driver’s ed.”

Making a sacrifice, big or small, is nothing new in the Gilliland family when it comes to pursuing racing dreams.

When Todd Gilliland’s sister Taylor was born 13 years ago, David Gilliland had enough time to welcome her into the world. Then he jumped into a waiting truck in the hospital parking lot that carried him to his next race.

Just a few short years into Todd Gilliland’s career, the racing had to stop. His father’s NASCAR dreams came to fruition, meaning the family would move from California to North Carolina.

“When we moved out to North Carolina from California we got really busy and took off for a little bit,” Todd Gilliland said.

A little bit was two years. Meanwhile, friends he had back in California continued to race

“I went out there sometimes and watched them do really good and stuff like that,” Todd Gilliland said. “But having to watch kills me. It still kills me when I have to go to the race track and not race. I think it gave me more passion, not that I didn’t have it before. I never want to be out of the race car ever again.”

The only thing that may keep him out of a car now is his mother, Michelle Gilliland, and her one mandate for her son’s career.

“My mom says I have to have As and Bs to race,” Todd Gilliland said.

A sophomore in high school, Todd Gilliland doesn’t have plans to attend college. He plans to take the same road that led his father to 10 seasons in the Sprint Cup Series, a Daytona 500 pole and one win in the Xfinity Series. That road also led his grandfather, Butch Gilliland, to winning the 1997 Winston West Series championship.

The road’s already leading to good career stops. Todd Gilliland is competing full-time in the K&N West series this year in addition to joining Kyle Busch Motorsports’ Super Late Model team.

Todd Gilliland’s pursuit of his dream will be fully shared with his dad, who is without a full-time ride in NASCAR for the first time since 2007.

“He’s always been super involved, but I think this is the most involved he’s been,” Todd Gilliland said. “Last year he put every minute of time he was home into my stuff, but that wasn’t even that much because he was gone so much. This year, he has the time and I’m going to be the main thing that he does. He’s been at the shop every day (crew chief) Chris (Lawson) has. The shop is out there in Sacramento, California, and we live in Mooresville, North Carolina. He’ll go out there for like a week at a time before every race and work hard and everything. He’s always out there.”

After a family vacation this week, Todd Gilliland will be on a plane out to Bakersfield, California, to compete in the K&N West race at Kern County Raceway Park. It will be the latest stop in young career that can find its roots at the North Carolina Quarter Midget Association track in Salisbury, North Carolina.

That’s the site of Todd Gilliland’s earliest memory of racing himself, in an event that still drives him years later.

“There was only four cars in my race, I was running third,” he remembers. “There was a caution with a couple of laps to go and the guy (behind me) beat me so I finished last in the race. Gosh, that race still gets me inside because that was the first race I even remember racing. I finished last.

“I think I’ve gotten better since then.”

Chase Elliott, AJ Allmendinger unveil Darlington throwback schemes

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Both Chase Elliott and AJ Allmendinger have revealed the paint schemes they’ll drive in the Sept. 3 Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.

Elliott will use his No. 24 Chevrolet to pay tribute to the car his father, NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott, drove in his first Cup start.

The light blue look was on his No. 9 car when he started in the Feb. 29, 1976 race at Rockingham Speedway.

The car was revealed on Facebook in the below video.

AJ Allmendinger will pay tribute to two-time Cup champion Terry Labonte with his No. 47 Chevrolet.

The car will resemble the No. 44 Piedmont Airlines Oldsmobile that Labonte drove in during the 198 Cup season when he competed for owner Billy Hagan.

NASCAR America: Felix Sabates: ‘I’m lucky to be here’ after near-death experience from illness last year

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For nearly a month last year Felix Sabates was at death’s door.

The fears were so great that Sabates might not wake up from a coma he spent 29 days in, Chip Ganassi bought a blue suit for the possibility he might have to attend his co-owner’s funeral.

But the 71-year-old made a full recovery through a rehab process that included learning to walk again.

NASCAR America’s Kyle Petty and Sabates have a special relationship. Petty drove the No. 42 car for Sabates’ SABCO Racing for eight years in the 1980s and 1990s, winning six of his eight Cup races for the millionaire owner from Cuba.

Sabates sat down with Petty to discuss the ordeal, which began in January 2016 when Sabates began feeling ill during the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

“I came home and woke up the next morning and I (couldn’t) breath,” said Sabates, who drove himself to the hospital. “The minute they saw me I was in intensive care.”

Sabates was in the hospital for two and half weeks before he was released, but Sabates “should’ve know I wasn’t cured.”

The Chip Ganassi Racing co-owner returned to his usual grind until it caught up to him in August.

“My blood pressure was through the roof, my oxygen level was 55, which you should be dead then,” recalled Sabates, who has no memory of a three-month stretch. “They thought was I was brain-dead. They were pretty much going to disconnect me. So 4 o’clock in the morning, they took my tubes out.”

That’s when Sabates began the process of waking up.

“I’m lucky to be here,” said Sabates, who aside from being back at the track is also back to playing golf.

“I used to worry about little things,’ Sabates said. “Now I don’t even worry about big things.”

The full feature will air Sunday on Countdown to Green, which begins at 2:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN before the Cup race at Pocono.

NASCAR America: Ryan Blaney glad Team Penske news is finally out in the open

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On Wednesday it was finally announced that Ryan Blaney would move from Wood Brothers Racing to Team Penske full-time next year in the Cup Series in the No. 12 Ford while Paul Menard will take over the No. 21 Ford.

NASCAR America’s Dave Burns caught up with Blaney on Thursday. Blaney was happy that his 2018 plans were finally public knowledge.

Blaney also acknowledged how a technical alliance between the two teams helped Wood Brothers Racing return to a competition level that allowed Blaney to get his first Cup win this season earlier this year.

“That was a big deal,” Blaney said. “That was getting us to where we could run a full-time season. That was really helpful not only to me but to (crew chief) Jeremy Bullins, will be coming with me to the 12 car.”

Blaney has been driving for Team Penske part-time in the Xfinity Series since 2012.

“It’s been nice to get the news and tell everybody finally about what we’re doing,” Blaney said. “But mainly we’re trying to finish this year out strong with the Wood Brothers, getting their 100th win, that’s really big. That’s on my bucket list for this year and getting as far as we can in the playoffs.”

The No. 21 team returns to Pocono Raceway this weekend, the site of Blaney’s first Cup win last month.

Watch the video for the full interview.

Numbers add up for Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Pocono

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Just six races remain for Dale Earnhardt Jr. to make the playoffs in his final NASCAR Cup season.

Earnhardt is ranked 22nd in the NASCAR Cup standings and there are only four open positions — that could shrink further with additional first-time winners in 2017 in the next six races — left for winless drivers to qualify for the 16-driver playoffs strictly on points.

As a result, Earnhardt and his fans know that with each passing race where the No. 88 remains winless, the urgency to win even just one race to make the 10-race playoffs increases exponentially.

Junior’s fans may be heartened to hear some positive tidbits about his chances this weekend at Pocono Raceway, courtesy of RacingInsights.com.

  • Did you know that during Junior’s nine-plus year tenure with Hendrick Motorsports, he’s earned the most top-fives at Daytona (seven in 20 starts) and … this may come as a surprise … at Pocono (seven in 18 starts).
  • Earnhardt also has six top fives both at Martinsville and Michigan (18 starts each), and five top fives at Phoenix and Talladega (also 18 starts each).
  • Of Hendrick Motorsports’ last 10 wins, Jimmie Johnson has won eight, Kasey Kahne won last Sunday’s Brickyard 400 and Earnhardt’s most recent Cup win came on Nov. 15, 2015 at Phoenix Raceway.
  • Earnhardt has gone 39 races since his last win.
  • Earnhardt won both races at Pocono in 2014. In the four races he’s been in since then, he’s finished fourth (mid-summer 2015) second (early 2016 race) — meaning he’s had four top-five finishes in his last six starts at the 2.5-mile tri-oval.
  • He also was 11th in the early 2015 race there. His only finish lower than 11th came last month at Pocono when he completed just 58 of the scheduled 160 laps before his motor expired.
  • In 34 career Cup starts at the Tricky Triangle, Earnhardt has two wins, 11 top fives, 15 top 10s and one pole.
  • Earnhardt is ranked sixth for most laps led by winless drivers this season, with 24 laps led. By comparison, Kyle Busch has led 1,040 laps, the most of all winless drivers in 2017.

Add all those elements together and could Junior’s best chance up to now to win and lock in a playoff berth come this Sunday?

We’ll soon find out.

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