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Sweet 16: Todd Gilliland’s path to historic NASCAR championship

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Do you remember what you were doing at 16?

Bill McAnally was “fighting to get $2 to put gas” in his pickup in Ukiah, California, where he hauled bales of hay.

David Gilliland helped his dad, Butch Gilliland, field his entry in his first full-time season in NASCAR’s Winton West Series, which became the K&N Pro Series West circuit.

Chris Lawson, the son of parents who work in the insurance industry, chipped away at his own racing dreams in Dayton, Ohio.

In the last 15 years, McAnally won five of his record seven K&N West titles as a team owner. David Gilliland competed in 398 races in NASCAR’s three national series, including 332 in Sprint Cup. Lawson embraced the life of a crew chief.

All three men would help Todd Gilliland become NASCAR’s youngest champion.

THE NEW KID

McAnally only made 56 starts as a driver in what used to be the Winston West Series.

One race weekend, at All-American Speedway in Roseville, California, stands out to the owner of Bill McAnally Racing thanks to the helping hand of Butch Gilliland.

Gilliland flew from Anaheim to help McAnally with his car after he ran behind him in a previous race and saw how bad it handled as he ran behind it.

After they were done, Gilliland refused to let McAnally pay for his plane ticket.

“’I’m just glad you’ll be in a better car so I’m not in harm’s way,” Gilliland said.

Two decades later, at the same .333-mile track in Northern California, McAnally doused Butch Gilliland’s grandson, Todd, in a Gatorade bath, yelling “Congratulations, Champ!”

Todd Gilliland finished eighth last month in the Toyota / NAPA Auto Parts 150 to clinch the K&N Pro Series West title.

At 16 years and 5 months, the Riverside, California, native became the youngest NASCAR champion in history, topping the mark set a month earlier by Cayden Lapcevich (16 years, 10 months, 16 days) in NASCAR’s Pinty’s Series. Before that, Joey Logano held the distinction after winning the 2007 K&N Pro Series East title at 17 years, 3 months, 28 days.

“We had a lot of family there, that’s where almost everyone is from.” Todd Gilliland said a week after winning the title. “They all came out to the track to support us. It’s super cool to be able to take a picture with everyone I’ve grown up around.”

The path to those championship portraits started at Roseville in August of last year. McAnally held a two-day driver expo at his team’s shop and All-American Speedway.

Todd Gilliland, who won his first ARCA Racing Series start in May, was among the drivers invited, including Brandon McReynolds and Chris Eggleston.

Also present: former NASCAR crew chief Larry McReynolds, multiple NASCAR officials and representatives from NAPA Auto Parts, Toyota and the WIX Corporation.

Waiting for the drivers at the track were six K&N cars prepared by McAnally’s team. On the first day, each driver made three, 15-lap runs. After tune-ups based on driver feedback, they made  mock qualifying runs.

It was before the initial practice session that McAnally had his first lengthy talk with Todd Gilliland. McAnally said he thought the young racer seemed “really nervous.”

“His driving showed it,” McAnally said. “He wasn’t consistent, he wasn’t smooth. David (Gilliland) was on the radio leaning on him. The coach we had with him was calming him down, and by the second session he had calmed down and he went out there and ran some smooth, consistent laps. By the next day, he was the fastest, smoothest driver out there by far.”

Todd Gilliland also was impressed.

“We saw the A+ operation he had going on there, the people he had in place,” the driver said of McAnally in May. “We just felt it was the best fit for us this year.”

McAnally and his sponsors agreed.

Gilliland ran the No. 54 Toyota for McAnally at Phoenix at the end of the year. In his first K&N West start, he led six laps and won.

TALLADEGA, AL - OCTOBER 21: David Gilliland, driver of the #35 Dockside Logistics Ford, stands in the garage area during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Hellmann's 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on October 21, 2016 in Talladega, Alabama. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
David Gilliland (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

FATHER-SON TIME

While David Gilliland had a hand in building his son’s cars, he didn’t get to see much of Todd’s career.

That’s what happens when your Sprint Cup Series career takes priority for 10 years.

But David was there when his son did donuts in a quarter-midget in a dirt lot across the street from the family’s Riverside home. He also saw Todd’s first quarter-midget race on his son’s fifth birthday, his ARCA win and the 2015 Phoenix race.

Without a Sprint Cup ride for the first time since 2006, David Gilliland finally experienced a full season of his son’s career.

And he did do so in his least favorite racing role – as a spotter.

“’I just didn’t want to be part of a problem or making a mistake or something like that,” David Gilliland said. “It was something (Todd) really wanted me to do.”

Instead of having a driver coach, spotter and crew chief taking to his son, David Gilliland would be the coach and spotter.

“I think that’s something that’s helped me a lot this year to have him tell me when I’m doing something wrong or right,” Todd Gilliland said. “He kind of makes myself better throughout the entire race. He also knows a lot about those cars and different situations that he’s been in before.”

The other voice talking to Todd Gilliland was Lawson, the crew chief who has worked with the Gillilands since 2014.

With that arrangement, Todd Gilliland won his first four K&N starts, tying the 60-year-old record set by Dan Gurney. His eight wins in 2016 surpassed the mark set Joey Logano (2007) and Dylan Kwasniewski (2014).

Source: Bill McAnally
Source: Bill McAnally

FILLING UP THE BOARD

McAnally was concerned.

Todd Gilliland hit his first real bump by finishing ninth in his second K&N East start at Bristol in April.

“All of sudden we’re off on our setup,” McAnally says. “We missed it. We had a top-10 car. So he finishes the race. I’m shaking my head, ‘How’s he going to be getting out of the car?’ All he’s ever done is win in a K&N car and now he’s fighting to be in the top 10.”

When he arrived at the No. 16 car, McAnally found his driver sitting on its door in good spirits.

“Lead a lap, top-10 finish,” Todd Gilliland announced. “I get two more splats on the board!”

On the wall of McAnally’s shop is a 10-by-20-foot board labelled “2016 Team Checklist.”

The board has 11 items that can be checked off by McNally’s four drivers for any given race. They include finish race lead lap, top-three finish, win race, and at the bottom, win championship.

Todd Gilliland was the only teammate to put a “splat” in every box.

While Todd Gilliland enjoyed a rookie season no one else has, including being named to the NASCAR Next class, he’s enthusiastic about learning what he hasn’t from his owner, father and crew chief.

Lawson saw that enthusiasm during the K&N East race in July at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Todd Gilliland was in second on a restart with two laps to go. Corey LaJoie, a veteran of 37 K&N races, led.

“(LaJoie) just smoked us on the restart,” Lawson said. “He just wore us out bad, and right after the restart was over, literally going down the backstretch, Todd is about four car lengths back off of him and goes ‘Man, that is awesome. I need to learn how to do that.’

“To me that’s cool, not only that he realizes it, he understood what happened, he wants to step his game up to be that good. He wasn’t mad, saying we got beat. He said ‘man, I want to do that. I want to be able to do that.’”

He’ll get that chance next year, whether it’s in the K&N Series, ARCA or venturing into the Camping World Truck Series.

Before that, Todd Gilliland will celebrate his title Dec. 11 at the NASCAR Touring Night of Champions Awards.

Then he can start preparing for next season and giving people reasons to consider what they were doing at 17.

Danny Stockman Jr. returning as Daniel Hemric’s crew chief in 2018

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After ending his rookie Xfinity season with Randall Burnett as crew chief, Daniel Hemric will be back with Danny Stockman Jr. on top of his pit box in 2018.

Hemric made the announcement Saturday during the Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series Award ceremony in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Burnett led Hemric’s No. 21 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet for the final five races of the season. Stockman was suspended for four races after a weight fell off Hemric’s car during practice for the Dover playoff race in September

After Hemric narrowly raced his way into the Championship 4 in the Phoenix elimination race, RCR stuck with Burnett for the title race at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Hemric wound up placing fourth in the standings after a battery issue resulted in him finishing 34th.

“I’m very excited about that,” Hemric said of Stockman’s return. “We had some situations that were thrown our way with five races left in the season. … I have all the faith in the world in Danny and in our race team and the direction we’re going as a company and knowing I’ve got him to lead our group is very exciting.”

Hemric finished his rookie year with no wins, seven top fives and 16 top 10s.

He’s still winless in three full-time seasons in NASCAR, including two in the Camping World Truck Series.

The 26-year-old driver addressed some of the struggles he faced in his transition into Xfinity.

“You’ve got more Cup guys on a regular basis,” Hemric said. “Those guys you’re trying to race but you’re trying to learn from them and you’re trying to as a rookie in this series and with a rookie team. We were all working together, so just trying to process all of that. But more than anything else, you’re racing so much more that you see the learning curve kind of take its own path a lot quicker throughout the year. It’s taking advantage of the moments knowing that you get to turn around every four or five days and get back on the race track and you get to work on your craft. It was good to be able to that and kind of have some success early on like we did.”

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. dominates in 2017 RCCA ELITE Diecast sales

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With Dale Earnhardt Jr. retiring from Cup Series competition this season, that means one thing for diecast collectors.

Get them while you still can.

The Racing Collectables Club of America, through Lionel Racing, has released its top-10 list of 1:24-Scale RCCA ELITE diecasts for 2017. The list was included in the RCCA’s year-end catalogue.

According to the Lionel Racing website, ELITE diecasts are the most detailed produced, with more than 260 individual parts.

Earnhardt, who just earned his 15th straight most popular driver award, dominates the list with six of 10 cars.

The only other drivers represented on the list are Ryan Blaney, Kurt Busch, Austin Dillon and Chase Elliott.

Below you can see a picture of the full top-10 list.

Here’s the entire top 10.

  1. Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Axalta “Last Ride” No. 88 Chevrolet – Earnhardt drove this car, based on the No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet from his 2000 rookie season, in his final start at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
  2. Ryan Blaney: Motorcraft No. 21 Ford, Pocono race win diecast – Blaney drove this car to his first Cup win on June 11 at Pocono Raceway.
  3. Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Nationwide No. 88 Chevrolet, Darlington throwback paint scheme – Earnhardt raced this car, based on his ACDelco paint scheme from his two Xfinity Series championship seasons (1998-99), in the Southern 500.
  4. Kurt Busch: Haas Automation No. 41 Ford, Daytona 500 race win diecast – The confetti and grass-covered car Busch won the 59th Daytona 500 in to start the year.
  5. Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Nationwide No. 88 Chevrolet, primary paint scheme
  6. Austin Dillon: Dow Salutes No. 3 Chevrolet, Coca-Cola 600 race win diecast – The car Dillon drove to his first Cup win in May, sending the No. 3 to Victory Lane for the first time since Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s last win in October 2000 at Talladega Superspeedway.
  7. Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Nationwide No. 88 Chevrolet, patriotic paint scheme – Earnhardt drove this scheme in the Coke 600.
  8. Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Mountain Dew/Ride With Dale No. 88 Chevrolet, race version – Earnhardt drove this car in his final start at Talladega Superspeedway in October. Fans were able to register to have their names inscribed in the scheme. Earnhardt started from his 15th and final Cup pole in this race.
  9. Chase Elliott: Hooters No. 24 Chevrolet – Elliott drove this car in the spring Talladega race and the playoff races at Phoenix Raceway and Texas Motor Speedway.
  10. Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Nationwide “Gray Ghost” No. 88 Chevrolet – Earnhardt drove this car in his final Cup start at Martinsville Speedway. Earnhardt originally intended to run the scheme in the 2016 Southern 500, but Jeff Gordon did when Earnhardt missed the last 18 races of the season for a concussion.

See the list below.

Photo by Daniel McFadin

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Social Roundup: Sights from the Xfinity, Truck Series Awards Banquet

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The NASCAR season officially came to a close Saturday night in Charlotte, North Carolina, with the annual Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series Awards at the Charlotte Convention Center. The ceremony will air at 9 p.m. ET on Dec. 17 on NBCSN.

Xfinity driver William Byron and Truck Series driver Christopher Bell were recognized as this season’s champions before they move on with their careers. Byron will race in the Cup Series for Hendrick Motorsports and Bell moves up to Xfinity with Joe Gibbs Racing.

NASCAR handed out plenty of annual awards for each series.

Rookie of the Year: Byron (Xfinity) and Chase Briscoe (Trucks)
Manufacturer title: Chevrolet (Xfinity) and Toyota (Trucks)
Comcast Community Champion: Chip Ganassi Racing pit crew department

Mobil 1 Driver of the Year: Kyle Busch (Xfinity) and Bell (Trucks)
Mahle Engine Builder of the Year: Roush Yates Racing’s Doug Yates (Xfinity) and Joe Gibbs Racing’s Mark Cronquist (Trucks).
Duralast Brake in the Race: Busch (Xfinity) and Bell (Trucks)

JR Motorsports’ Elliott Sadler was voted most popular driver for the third time after he finished runner-up in the season standings to Byron.

Brad Keselowski Racing’s Chase Briscoe was voted most popular driver in the Truck Series, though there was a slight mixup with his name on the trophy. We’ve all been there.

Here are more sights from the award ceremony brought to you by social media.

Your guide to the 2018 Cup Series paint schemes

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The 2018 NASCAR Cup season is still two months away from its start with the 60th Daytona 500.

But it’s not too early to start brushing yourself up on the various Cup Series paint schemes.

Some teams haven’t made many changes to their cars (Team Penske, Joe Gibbs Racing), while others have completely revamped their looks (Hendrick Motorsports, Chip Ganassi Racing).

Here’s your look at all the released paint schemes so far for next season.

This post will be updated.

Jamie McMurray

Brad Keselowski

Source: Lionel Racing

Austin Dillon

 

Lionel Racing
Lionel Racing

 

Kevin Harvick

Lionel Racing
Lionel Racing

Trevor Bayne

Roush Fenway Racing
Lionel Racing

Chase Elliott

Lionel Racing

Aric Almirola

Stewart-Haas Racing

Denny Hamlin

Lionel Racing

Ryan Blaney

Team Penske

Ty Dillon

Lionel Racing

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Lionel Racing

Kyle Busch

Lionel Racing

Daniel Suarez

Lionel Racing

Erik Jones

Lionel Racing

Paul Menard

Lionel Racing

Joey Logano

Team Penske
Lionel Racing
Lionel Racing

William Byron

Hendrick Motorsports
Lionel Racing

Ryan Newman

Lionel Racing
Lionel Racing
Richard Childress Racing

Kyle Larson

 

Chip Ganassi Racing

Darrell Wallace Jr.

(Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway)

Jimmie Johnson

Martin Truex Jr.

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Lionel Racing

Alex Bowman

Nationwide