Todd Gilliland
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Todd Gilliland appreciates first Truck Series playoff appearance

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Two years ago, Todd Gilliland entered the Gander RV and Outdoors Truck Series season – his second racing with Kyle Busch Motorsports – facing high exceptions.

Son of former Cup driver David Gilliland, the then 17-year-old had two ARCA Menards Series West titles along with 20 wins across the main ARCA series and the East and West Series.

“I really think that when I came to the Truck Series I was just ready to win,” Gilliland said. “I thought that it was going to be kind of easy.”

By the end of 2019 Truck Series season, Gilliland had failed to make the playoffs in consecutive seasons and had just one win.

Gilliland said the experience “beat me down.” Now 20, Gilliland is in better spirits as one of 10 drivers who will compete for the Truck Series title starting Thursday at Bristol Motor Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET on FS1).

He’ll do so in the No. 38 Ford, which is fielded through a partnership between David Gilliland’s DGR-Crosley and Front Row Motorsports.

Todd Gilliland
Todd Gilliland at Darlington Raceway earlier this month. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

“It’s made me appreciate it a lot more,” Gilliland said Monday about making the playoffs after his KBM struggles. “The last two years, I personally expected to make the playoffs and I was expected to make the playoffs and finally being able to do it and seeing the excitement of my team … we’re a part of something that only 10 drivers are this year and it just makes me appreciate a lot more.”

Gilliland doesn’t yet have a win in 2020. Through 16 races he has four top fives and nine top 10s. He enters Bristol ninth on the reseeded playoff standings with 2,003 points.

“Obviously, personally as a team, we wish we would have won more races from here, but we still have a chance and that’s the ultimate goal, which is very important to us,” Gilliland said.

If Gilliland does get that chance, the guy who won the last Truck Series title, Matt Crafton, thinks he’s an underdog to look out for at the season finale.

“Kid’s got a lot of talent and he just needs, honestly, to get his head right,” Crafton said. “He’s got to get the confidence rolling. He was really, really fast at St. Louis (Gateway) and St. Louis reminds me a lot of Phoenix. If Todd can make it to Phoenix, he can definitely be one of the ones to race for a championship.”

Gilliland showed off what his team is capable of in the Aug. 30 race at Gateway. He led 75 laps and won the first two stages. But in the final stage contact with Sheldon Creed forced him into the wall and resulted in a 24th-place finish.

Gilliland’s aware “people have noticed the speed” he’s shown recently.

“Obviously, we still aren’t where we want to be week in and week out,” Gilliland. “We’ve kind of been hit and miss. There’s some weeks that you know, say Gateway, we were the dominant truck and it’s hard to be that dominant in one of these races nowadays. … We’ve had glimmers of that every once in a while, so we just need to do that more consistently and I think that’s in the details of the truck setup that the notes that we’re building and I feel like we’re getting better and better every week still.”

Compared to his experience with KBM last year, where he didn’t win until after the playoffs, Gilliland feels “in my heart” he’s been “more in contention” this season.

“Last year, we had some some weeks we’d be in contention,” Gilliland said. “I still showed up to the racetrack thinking we could win every Truck race (I) showed up to, but this year I just feel like our pit crew’s on it. Every time I come down pit road we’re gonna gain spots. I just really feel like we have all the pieces to be a championship contending team.”

While Gilliland enters the playoffs winless, he’s not alone. Four drivers, including former champion Brett Moffitt, have yet to visit victory lane.

Another one of them is Christian Eckes, who drives Kyle Busch Motorsports’ No. 18 Toyota.

After his own trying time at KBM, Gilliland was asked how much sympathy he has for the 19-year-old’s situation.

“Racing is hard,” Gilliland said. “I think when you walk in the doors at anywhere, you’re there for a reason. You have to believe that in your heart that you can do it and also, you have to kind of be the leader. And most of us being, you know, pretty young, not having much experience at these ranks, people don’t respect you right away and I think … there’s different ways to go about it.

“But you pretty much just have to be the leader right off the bat. I feel bad, but also it’s part of learning. I think every single person in NASCAR has gone through it, you know, where you grow up a lot and then I think you’re just ready and stuff clicks easier. So I think everyone will get there in their time.”

Kurt Busch seeks first Las Vegas win, but without hometown fans

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A win by Kurt Busch in tonight’s Cup race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (7 p.m. ET on NBCSN) couldn’t come under more bittersweet circumstances for the Chip Ganassi Racing driver.

Should Busch claim the victory on the 1.5-mile track, he’d go from being the last driver on the playoff grid (3,001 points entering the race) to the first driver to advance to the Round of 8.

While it would be his first victory of the year, it would also be his first NASCAR win at his home track in 23 starts across the Cup and Xfinity Series.

More: Stage points critical at Vegas

“The Vegas track has definitely been one of the tough ones for me over the years with results and finishes not where I would have expected them to be,” Busch said this week. “And the teams that I’ve raced for just have never quite found that right magic set-up or combination. And then for me, it’s a track that I just have that trouble with.

“There are a few tracks like Indianapolis and Martinsville; those are a few places where I struggle. And so with Vegas, I always put that little extra hometown pressure on myself and I would love to win there.”

The 42-year-old Las Vegas-native rolls off ninth on the 1.5-mile track. It’s his fourth while driving for Ganassi.

In his 21 Cup starts in Las Vegas, Busch’s best result is third in 2005 when he competed for Roush Fenway Racing. He has just one other top five. That came in last year’s spring race when he drove a throwback paint scheme to his 1999 NASCAR Southwest Series championship.

That day he led 23 laps. It was only the seventh time he’d led laps there and just the third time he’d totaled more than six laps led.

In February, Busch finished 25th.

If Busch were to finally make it to Vegas’ Victory Lane, the celebration would be somewhat muted.

It was announced last weekend that fans would not be allowed to attend the races at Las Vegas due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I would love to win through the spirit of the camera and everything on NBC Sports; and I know the fans there, local, will be watching and cheering on the Busch brothers,” Busch said. “So, that’s where I would connect. And hopefully do it through the TV side of it. We’ll get fans back one day and we’ll come back and race.”

Busch enters the Round of 12 having earned just one top 10 in the first round, an eighth-place finish at Darlington. He finished 13th at Richmond and 15th at Bristol.

“What I like is we have had better lap times at all three races so far compared to maybe the five or six races leading into the playoffs,” Busch said. “We know that our cushion is gone. We ended Bristol with 33 points to the good. And now we start Vegas minus four (points behind Austin Dillon in the cutoff spot). So that’s just part of the system and now we have to be perfect. We have to get every point possible that we’re able to get on our own at Vegas, Talladega, and the Roval. And, that should help us advance.”

Carolina Blue: Brad Daugherty and Michael Jordan bonded by NASCAR

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Brad Daugherty and Michael Jordan were teammates from 1982-84 at the University of North Carolina and Eastern Conference rivals throughout the 1980s and ’90s in the NBA.

But their friendship was about more than just hoops. While growing up on opposite ends of the Tar Heel State, Daugherty and Jordan both developed a passion for following NASCAR.

Tobacco Road meant fast cars and hard-driving heroes for these two North Carolina natives.

LIFELONG FAN: Michael Jordan explains why he’s partnering with Denny Hamlin

In a NASCAR on NBC feature, Daugherty recalls how NASCAR impacted his life and Jordan’s and led both into team ownership. Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin announced they will form a team to field cars for Bubba Wallace next season.

Daughterty notes in the feature that Wallace “has led a dynamic transformation as NASCAR banned Confederate flags and recommitted to inclusion amidst times of great unrest. This is a huge moment for NASCAR, a cultural momentum shift. This is people of all colors coming together to create an all-American race team already with championship lineage.

“With proper funding, equipment and crewmembers, this will be the best chance ever for a Black driver to win – and while driving for a Black owner. An opportunity to shock the world like Muhammad Ali once did.”

Watch the feature above on Brad Daugherty and Michael Jordan or by clicking this link.

Las Vegas Xfinity results, driver points

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Chase Briscoe‘s victory Saturday night at Las Vegas Motor Speedway sends him into the next round of the Xfinity playoffs.

Noah Gragson led a 2-3-4 finish for JR Motorsports. Gragson was second and followed by Daniel Hemric and Justin Allgaier. Ryan Sieg finished fifth.

Briscoe dominated the race, leading 164 of the 200 laps.

Click here for Xfinity race results

POINTS

Ross Chastain finished 16th, last among the playoff drivers, and fell out of a transfer spot to the second round. He’s two points behind Harrison Burton for the final transfer spot. Michael Annett is 10 points behind Burton. Riley Herbst is 14 points behind Burton. Brandon Brown is 20 points behind Burton.

Click here for driver points report

Chase Briscoe scores 8th Xfinity win of year with Las Vegas triumph

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Chase Briscoe met a preseason goal of winning eight races with his victory in Saturday night’s Xfinity playoff opener at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Briscoe, who also won at Las Vegas in February, advances to the second round.

Briscoe dominated, winning both stages on the way to his second consecutive victory and eighth of the year. He led 164 of 200 laps.

“Awesome car,” Briscoe said on the radio of the car that also won at this 1.5-mile speedway earlier this year. “Can’t say enough, awesome car.”

Gragson said of Briscoe’s car on NBCSN: “Lot of race cars out here and one space shuttle.”

Las Vegas native Noah Gragson finished second and was followed by JR Motorsports teammates Daniel Hemric and Justin Allgaier. Ryan Sieg placed fifth.

Austin Cindric placed sixth and was followed by Michael Annett, Anthony Alfredo, Harrison Burton and Justin Haley.

Briscoe’s eight wins through 27 races ties him with Jack Ingram and Sam Ard for the most wins by non-Cup drivers through 27 races in a season. Ard and Ingram both did it in 1984. Briscoe’s eight wins ties him with Carl Edwards for most wins by a Ford driver in a season in the Xfinity Series. Edwards accomplished the feat in 2011.

“I knew this team was fully capable of achieving that and even more,” Briscoe told NBCSN of winning eight races this year. “I just can’t say thank you enough to Gene Haas and Tony Stewart and everyone that lets me drive these race cars. It has been an unbelievable season and we still have a lot, six more wins that we can try to get and a championship. That is what we are going to try to do. I am so happy to start the playoffs like this. After the last couple weeks we had, to go to Bristol and win and now here is a pretty good way to start our playoffs.”

The 25-year-old Briscoe does not know where he’ll run next season. He has a year left on his contract with Ford.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Chase Briscoe

STAGE 2 WINNER: Chase Briscoe

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Ryan Sieg’s fifth-place finish is his fifth top five of the season, the most he’s had in a season. … Runner-up Noah Gragson has finished in the top six in all four of his Xfinity Las Vegas starts. He did it by overcoming a bloody nose during the race. At one point, he put roll bar padding up his nose to clog it. … Daniel Hemric had finished 24th or worse in four of his last five starts before Saturday’s race. He finished third at Las Vegas.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Ross Chastain finished 16th, last among the playoff drivers. It’s his first finish outside the top 10 at a 1.5-mile speedway this season.

NEXT: The series races Oct. 3 at Talladega Superspeedway (4:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN) in the middle race of the opening round of the playoffs.