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Todd Gilliland reflects on historic championship season

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Todd Gilliland captured the K&N Pro Series West championship in his first full season driving for Bill McAnally Racing, becoming NASCAR’s youngest champion in the process.

At 16 years, 5 months, Gilliland’s season wrapped up with six wins (as well as one win in the K&N East Series), six poles, 13 top-10 finishes, and led 564 laps.

Gilliland will officially be crowned Saturday night at the NASCAR Night of Champions Touring Awards. Before doing so, Gilliland spoke with NBC Sports Thursday at GoPro Motorplex during a champions outing.

NBC Sports: Let’s get business out of the way first, do you know what you’ll be doing in 2017?

Gilliland: Not really, we’re working on some stuff. But we’re working on running as many K&N races as we can.

NBC Sports: Dad (David Gilliland) was able to spend a lot of time with you this year, how has he helped your progression?

Gilliland: I feel like he’s definitely helped my progression. If the learning curve is supposed to take five races he made it take two. So I feel like just that and on the radio just different situations that I’ve never been in that he can really help out; different adjustments you can make inside the car.

NBC Sports: Coming into the year when you sat down and gave yourself realistic expectations what were they?

Gilliland: We wanted to win two K&N West races and one East race, and we won seven (races) this year (between the two series). It’s crazy, but everyone at Bill McAnally Racing definitely gave me the cars to do it every week.

NBC Sports: How did the checklist on the shop wall come about?

Gilliland: I’m not sure. We went over to the open house at Bill McAnally Racing, and Bill had it up on the wall, and I’d say that was one of my favorite things in the whole shop, just being able to go in there and check the boxes off every week and thinking about it at the racetrack, that just one more spot and we can check another box.

NBC Sports: So you were constantly aware of the list?

Gilliland: Very aware. Even at Bristol, it was our fourth race, and we’d won the first three and then all I wanted to do was finish top 10. I knew we did have a car to win, but to just finish top 10 so I could check another box. Definitely kept us all moving forward.

NBC Sports: What has been the coolest thing that has happened since winning the championship?

Gilliland: It’s been a whirlwind. I feel like the coolest part was (Wednesday) night at the Whelen Hall of Champions when I got to take the paper off my name and my name was just a couple above my grandpa’s, one row over. It’s cool that we’re both champions on the West.”

NBC Sports: Some of your peers are nervous about the banquet, are you looking forward to it?

Gilliland: I’m looking forward to the whole night. We actually came last year just to check it out, I didn’t run any K&N races but … I am very nervous about the speech. But we’ll get it done and be fine I guess. It’s already written, and I’ve read through it a couple times, and luckily we have a couple of rehearsal nights.

NASCAR America: Chase Elliott ‘biggest surprise’ of Cup playoffs

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Only two drivers are safely in the third round of the NASCAR Cup playoffs. Martin Truex Jr. and Brad Keselowski secured spots through their wins at Charlotte and Talladega.

That leaves six spots to be decided Sunday at Kansas Speedway.

NASCAR America analysts Parker Kligerman and Kyle Petty broke down the drivers competing for spots. Both of them agreed that Chase Elliott, who has finished in second in three of the five playoff races, has a great chance to make it all the way to the championship race in Miami.

“If Talladega had played out, he was either going to be in victory lane or in the top two or three,” Petty said. “When you look at that, he has had the most solid playoffs of any driver out there. We keep talking about the big three: Larson, Busch and Truex. This guy is a sleeper. But he’s my No. 4.”

Said Kligerman: “He’s been the biggest surprise. That 24 team has been incredible through the playoffs. One thing I’ve noticed about that team, just speaking to (crew chief) Alan Gustafson, speaking to Chase, it’s almost as if they want that first win more than they care about the playoffs.”

Watch the above video for more on the playoff drivers.

Friday’s NASCAR Cup, Xfinity schedule at Kansas Speedway

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Things get started today for the pivotal weekend at Kansas Speedway.

The NASCAR Cup Series will have its elimination race in Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400, where four of the 12 remaining playoff drivers will not advance to the Round of 8.

The NASCAR Xfinity Series begins its Round of 8 with Saturday’s Kansas 300.

But it all begins today, as Cup has its first practice (the other two are Saturday) and qualifying, while the Xfinity Series will have its two practice sessions.

Here’s how today’s schedule shapes up:

(All times are Eastern)

10:30 a.m. – 8 p.m. — Cup garage open

12 – 8:30 p.m. — Xfinity garage open

1 – 2:25 p.m. — First Cup practice (NBCSN, Motor Racing Network)

2:30 – 3:25 p.m. First Xfinity practice (NBC Sports App)

5 – 5:55 p.m. – Final Xfinity practice (NBCSN)

6:15 p.m. – Cup qualifying (multi-vehicle, 3 rounds) (NBCSN, MRN)

NASCAR: Will Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch advance in playoffs?

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The last two drivers to win NASCAR Cup titles are in precarious positions ahead of the Round of 12 elimination race at Kansas Speedway.

Kyle Busch, the 2015 champion, is outside the top eight in ninth. He sits seven points behind defending champion Jimmie Johnson.

NASCAR America analysts Kyle Petty and Parker Kligerman debated who they think had the best chance to advance to the Third round after Sunday.

Petty put his money behind Busch, who has finished in the top five in each of his last five starts at the 1.5-mile track.

“He’s one of the big three: Truex, Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson,” Petty said. “I don’t see where these (last) two races (Charlotte, Talladega) have changed anything. The one thing Kyle Busch brings into Kansas City … he brings speed. These guys have had speed all year-long.”

Johnson on the other hand has produced only four top fives all season and just one since he won at Dover in June.

But Kligerman explained why he thinks the seven-time champion will prevail on Sunday.

“Jimmie Johnson knows how to pass and that is what has become evident throughout this season,” Kligerman said. “No, they have not had the fastest cars at Hendrick Motorsports. No, they have not qualified well. They’ve actually been sort of abysmal at qualifying of late.

“… He has three wins this year. Two of those he started at the back.”

Watch the video for more.

NASCAR America at 5 p.m. ET on NBCSN: Daniel Hemric, Daniel Suarez’ racing roots

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America begins at 5 p.m. ET on NBCSN and continues to preview the Round of 12 elimination race at Kansas Speedway.

Carolyn Manno hosts with Kyle Petty and Parker Kligerman from Stamford, Connecticut.

On the show:

  • We’ll debate which past Cup Series champion will advance to the Round of 8. Defending champion Jimmie Johnson currently leads 2015 champ Kyle Busch by only seven points for the final transfer spot. Who has the edge going into Kansas this Sunday? This elimination race will be a heated competition just to finish above the cut line. Log on to NBCSports.com/NASCARVote and weigh in!
  • Xfinity Series playoff driver Daniel Hemric calls into the show to talk about his chances of advancing to the championship four in Miami. He’ll also describe his experience being one of the four drivers to participate in the recent tire test at the Charlotte Motor Speedway “Roval.”
  • We take a look at the Daniel Suarez’s Racing Roots and discuss his transition from Xfinity Series champion to Monster Energy Cup Series rookie.
  • Parker Kligerman hops into the iRacing simulator to preview Sunday’s elimination race at Kansas, as well as the Formula 1 race in Austin, Texas.

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, you can also watch it via the online stream at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com. If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 5 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.