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Trucks

Todd Gilliland Looking at “Couple Different Things” for 2020

With Kyle Busch Motorsports finalizing their pair of full-time entries for 2020, it gave confirmation that Todd Gilliland will not return to the organization for another season.

The second generation racer alluded to this fact last weekend at ISM Raceway when discussing his future plans. 

“We have a couple different things,” he said at ISM Raceway. “We’re hoping to have things locked down pretty soon to be able to announce. Right now we’re just staying focused on what’s in front of us. We’ll take it one week at a time and be the best race car driver I can be.”

Gilliland has not performed as well as he has hoped this year driving in the NASCAR Gander Outdoor Truck Series, failing to make the playoffs with just six top-five’s and 13 top-10’s in 22 races. 

However, there has been recent success as he was able to score his first career series victory at Martinsville Speedway a couple weeks ago. He admits feeling relief right upon crossing the finish line. 

“Afterwards you just feel like you belong,” he adds. “It’s something I was really lucky to be able to do was win early in the ARCA Series in my first race and then my first race here at Phoenix in the K&N Series, just makes things so much easier. Puts you in the talks every single week. Just being a winner in every series makes things easier.”

Following a championship in the K&N Pro Series, it’s easy to understand that he felt this season would have gone much better right from the start.

“Still to this day, I don’t feel like it should have been this hard,” he commented. “Even from the beginning of my truck races, I ran almost better than I had been. I started out running pretty competitive and then went downhill slowly. I really don’t know. Communication, people and obviously KBM has really great people. Me and Marcus (Richmond, crew chief) really didn’t gel together. Communication is key in every business.”

The lack of success earlier this year brought forth many critics, including Kyle Busch making comments to the media about Gilliland’s lack of success. After all, Christopher Bell and Erik Jones were both able to win titles quickly in his equipment with Busch winning all five races he entered.

Everything came to a head when Gilliland shouted over the radio upon crossing the finish line that, “Kyle Busch should stay in the f***ing motorhome.” The young driver has since apologized to his team owner for the comments, saying that they talked on the phone middle of the week and got “everything smoothed out.” 

“I feel like obviously he wasn’t happy,” Gilliland said. “I wouldn’t be either, but at the same time a part of him understood just the frustration and I’m sure he didn’t want me to be back here, but luckily we talked things out and I’m happy to still be in this No. 4 JBL Toyota Tundra.”

As the options are considered for 2020, one option that stands out would be having Gilliland driving for his father David Gilliland‘s team. 

“I wouldn’t even really call it falling back on, I think it’s always a good option,” Todd Gilliland said. “He’s always been there for me and at this point, they’ve built a really good race team. That’s always something to look at, but there’s a bunch of other really great race teams out there. Just always have to keep your options open. Just try to get the best results possible.”

Gilliland could also see his father’s team expanding in the future, knowing that David “would do anything he could get his hands on.”

“He has five trucks here this weekend and a K&N car. That’s literally everyone in the shop,” he commented. “It’s pretty cool to see how fast they are growing, but you also see sometimes that people get ahead of themselves. I’m hoping that’s not the case with them. It’s really cool the people they’ve brought in and brought together to be able to expand and be competitive at this level so far.”

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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Trucks

Tyler Ankrum Hopeful of Finding Funding to Make Championship Run

When Tyler Ankrum climbed out of the truck in victory lane at Kentucky Speedway, the first words out of his mouth were simple – “Hopefully it means a sponsor.” After all, if he is able to make a run for the title, it’ll mean overcoming adversity.

He missed the first three races due to not being 18-years-old yet, but was granted a waiver from the sanctioning body. Then once he was able to compete, he had to start and park on two occasions with NEMCO Motorsports due to a lack of funding.

His efforts seem to be paying off, though, as evident by earning the victory last weekend. Now Ankrum is one of the drivers locked into the post-season to battle for the 2019 NASCAR Gander Outdoor Truck Series Championship – if everything comes together as they hope.

“This day and time, sponsorship is hard to come by,” David Gilliland commented. “Obviously we’re going to work hard, as hard as we can. Wins help everything. We’ll dig our heels in and see what we can do to make that happen. We’ve run up until now and we’re going to do everything we can to go out and try to win a championship. That’s been our ultimate goal and we finished 1, 2 in the K&N Series last year, so we can win championships. We’re not going to stop until we go for it again. We’ll see what we can do.”

For now, all Ankrum can keep doing is performing behind the wheel to hopefully open the door of opportunity. That’s why moving forward, he is going to focus on learning how to be a better driver. 

“There’s no such thing as perfection in this sport,” he commented. “You can chase perfection and you can be the closest to perfection, but it’s kind of like chasing a pot of gold under the rainbow. You’ll never find it, but you can definitely be the closest to it. Going forward, I’m really looking for consistency. I feel like I need to run better in the stages. I feel like I need to get better at restarts. Most definitely I need to get better at restarts. Still overwhelmed by what these guys have done and what these Tundras bring.

“I think the preparation we’ll have going forward – like we were so prepared for this race and all the races in the past, we brought it all together tonight. Granted, in a way we did get lucky with fuel and (Brett) Moffitt was a lap short, but in my mind a win is still a win and we led laps. We were able to hold off the 99 (Ben Rhodes) for what seemed like forever. I was fighting against the 99 for the longest time. Going forward, I’m going to be looking for consistency and just performing better.”

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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Home Tracks

Ty Gibbs, David Gilliland Suspended Three K&N Pro Series East Races

Even before the first green flag of the season has been flown, NASCAR is cracking down on teams with the first suspension of 2019 already handed out. DGR-Crosley Racing was the unlucky recipient, in relation to their NASCAR K&N Pro Series East program.

DGR-Crosley Racing was found in violation of section 12-5.3.7.1.5 of the NASCAR rulebook, which pertains to the series’ testing policy. According to the sanctioning body, the team conducted a private test with a NASCAR K&N Pro Series vehicle at a sanctioned track on the 2019 K&N Pro East Series Schedule, specifically New Smyrna Speedway.

The rule states that “private race vehicle testing by any NASCAR K&N Pro Series race team, contractor, affiliate, associate, subsidiary, or surrogate at any facility that appears on the Series schedule or that has been granted a Touring Series sanction will be prohibited regardless of rookie or veteran status.”

As a result, car owner David Gilliland and driver Ty Gibbs were both fined $5,000, and suspended from the first three NASCAR K&N Pro Series East events; they were also assessed a 100 driver and owner point penalty. Additionally, car chief Chad Walters was fined $5,000 and suspended indefinitely. 

DGR-Crosley Racing has stated that they will appeal the penalty.

“This afternoon, NASCAR made us aware of a penalty they are imposing for actions that occurred during an ARCA Racing Series test at New Smyrna Speedway on January 14,” the team statement reads. “We strongly believe that we did not violate any rules and will therefore appeal the penalty immediately. While the appeals process runs its course, we will move forward and keep our focus on the upcoming season.”

Later in the afternoon, a NASCAR spokesperson released a statement in regards to why the penalty was given.

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Notably, NASCAR owns both the K&N Pro Series and ARCA, but agreed to continue to run ARCA independently through 2020.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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News

David Gilliland Grabs Pole for Saturday’s Fr8Auctions 250 at Talladega Superspeedway

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Playoff Race will Trim Field of Contenders to Six

TALLADEGA, Ala. – David Gilliland captured the pole position for the Fr8Auctions 250 on Friday at Talladega Superspeedway, setting the stage for Saturday’s critical NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Playoff race.

The Fr8Auctions 250, set for Saturday at noon CDT, is the last race of the first NASCAR Playoff round for the truck series – and will trim the field of championship contenders to six. After three more events, the series will have its “Championship 4” finalized for the season’s last race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

For the eight drivers currently alive in the championship battle, a victory Saturday will award automatic advancement to the next round. But the “wild card” nature of Talladega’s 2.66-mile tri-oval means that in terms of a race victory, virtually everyone is a contender.

And that high-banked reality is personified by Gilliland (No. 51 Pedigree Toyota), racing in the truck series at Talladega for the first time, for Kyle Busch Motorsports. His overall Talladega resume, though, bodes well for Saturday. Gilliland won the pole for the track’s October 2006 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race, and started second in April 2007. He also has four top-10 ‘Dega finishes in Monster Energy Series competition.

Gilliland topped qualifying at 180.570 mph. Spencer Gallagher (No. 2 Allegiant Chevrolet) will start alongside on the front row. Gilliland’s son Todd (No. 4 Pedigree Puppy Toyota) will start sixth.

Also Saturday, at 10:05 a.m. CDT, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series will have its only practice session. Foodland/Food Giant Qualifying is set for 3:35 p.m. CDT, to establish the starting lineup for the weekend’s main event – Sunday’s 1000Bulbs.com 500.

Saturday night, fans also can enjoy off-track activities. Kids Movie Night will take place in the FOX Sports 1 Dome (located behind the International Motorsports Hall of Fame, just outside the track), with doors opening at 5:30 p.m. CDT. Anyone holding a Sunday ticket will also have access to the traditional Saturday Night Infield Concert presented by Wind Creek Casino and Hotel (6 p.m. CDT), located in the infamous infield at the 2.66-mile venue, featuring country music artist Chris Janson.

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Trucks

DGR-CROSLEY Ready for Truck Series Competition

A new team will be on the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series grid this season. David Gilliland Racing (DCR) and CROSLEY Sports Group have partnered together to form DGR-CROSLEY.

“There is so much value in joining forces with CROSLEY Sports Group,” said DGR-CROSLEY President David Gilliland. “Bo LeMastus and I have been working on this for several months, and we’re both very excited about this new company. Bringing together CROSLEY and Red Horse Racing assets are exactly what DGR needed to take it to this unique level. It’s been my plan to get into the Truck Series for quite some time. Now, we have a well-designed driver development program to groom drivers in championship caliber equipment as they work their way up through the ranks.”

Gilliland has been a successful driver in his own right, scoring four top-fives and eight top-10’s over the past 11 years in Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series competition. He has made 10 truck series starts to date.

DGR-CROSLEY bought the Mooresville, North Carolina race shop and assets from Red Horse Racing. After 10 years of success including multiple victories, RHR closed their doors mid-way through 2017 due to lack of funding. The ownership plans to not only field trucks, but also Late Models, K&N Pro Series, and ARCA cars together.

They will field Toyotas through support from Toyota Racing Development and a partnership with Kyle Busch Motorsports. 

“We couldn’t be more excited about DGR-CROSLEY,” said CROSLEY Sports Group President Bo LeMastus. “David brings a wealth of knowledge, experience and credibility to this company. I love our development process, especially for the drivers who now have the opportunity to race from late model to K&N, to ARCA, to the NASCAR Truck Series in championship caliber equipment, all under one roof. If they aspire to go beyond the Trucks, they’ll be very well-groomed to get there.”

DGR-CROSLEY stated they will announce their drivers over the next week.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement

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Trucks

Todd Gilliland Gets Expanded Schedule with KBM

Todd Gilliland may not start off the year eligible to run every single NASCAR Camping World Truck Series event, but he will still compete in the majority of the races for Kyle Busch Motorsports in 2018.

Set to turn 18-years-old on May 15, the second-generation racer will drive the No. 4 Toyota Tundra in 19 events, hoping to take home the Sunoco Rookie of the Year Award. 

“With back-to-back championships in the K&N West Series the last two seasons and a runner-up finish in the East Series this year, Todd’s proven that he knows how to win races and compete for championships,” Kyle Busch said. “He showed improvement over the course of his six-race schedule last year and after he turns 18 in May and is able to get behind the wheel on a regular basis, we expect that he will continue to improve, start competing for wins and be a strong contender for the Truck Series Rookie of the Year.”

Making his debut at Dover International Speedway last June for KBM, Gilliland ran a total of six events in 2017 with a career-best third at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in September. Outside of his truck commitments, the NASCAR Next driver placed second in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East points, while taking home the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West Championship. 

“I’m super excited be continuing my development within the Toyota Racing family and look forward to being behind the wheel of KBM’s No. 4 Tundra this season — especially after my 18th birthday when I can run all of the races,” Gilliland said. “I’ll still be at the track for the early races when I don’t get to compete so that I can learn as much as I can from being around the guys on the team and watching my Dad and Kyle before my first 1.5-mile race at Charlotte.”   

Kyle Busch Motorsports confirmed that Todd’s father David Gilliland will drive the No. 4 Toyota for the truck series season-opener at Daytona International Speedway. A veteran in NASCAR, he has made 332 career starts in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, and has scored a pair of poles and a career-best third at Daytona.

“I’m really excited to be running Daytona and sharing the truck with my son, Todd, which is really special” David Gilliland said. “To drive for KBM with all the success they have had over the years is a fantastic opportunity. Kyle is a great guy and I’m sure that he can teach Todd and I both, so we can’t wait to get to the race track.”

As previously announced, Busch will run the No. 4 at Atlanta Motor Speedway (Feb. 24) and Kansas Speedway (May 11). The team will reveal the driver for Las Vegas Motor Speedway (March 2) at a later date. 

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement

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Trucks

NASCAR Next Drivers Gilliland, Burton Already Making Big Moves

One of the most exciting aspects of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series is the huge influx of new talent coming into the series.

Young drivers like Ryan Blaney, Chris Buescher, Chase Elliott, Erik Jones, Kyle Larson — all of whom are less than 25 years old — are filling the void created when established stars such as Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Carl Edwards and, soon, Dale Earnhardt Jr. step away from the cockpit.

But the young guns of the Cup series are hardly alone.

There is an entire new wave of even younger drivers coming up through the ranks and they are in a hurry to get there.

In exclusive interviews with PopularSpeed.com, drivers Todd Gilliland and Harrison Burton talked about the challenges and opportunities ahead of them.

Gilliland, 17, and Burton, 16, are two of the nine drivers in the NASCAR Next program for upcoming racers, and despite their young ages, the two already have impressive records.

After nine races this season in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East Burton has four victories and leads the points in that division.

In the K&N Pro Series West, Gilliland is the defending champion and the current point leader with four victories in eight races. In his career dating back to 2015, Gilliland has 11 victories in just 23 West starts. And he’s also racing in the K&N Pro Series East, where he has a pair of victories and is second to Burton in points.

As if that wasn’t enough, both Burton and Gilliland are racing limited schedules in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series with Kyle Busch Motorsports. Heady stuff, for a couple of guys who aren’t even old enough to vote yet.

Of course, it helps that the two grew up with fathers who were NASCAR racers, Harrison being the son of Jeff Burton and Todd the son of David Gilliland. Still, these two are getting it done in a big way at a young age.

For his part, Gilliland gives a lot of the credit for his success to the Bill McAnally Racing team that he drives for.

“No driver can do it without a great team and great equipment,” Gilliland told PopularSpeed.com. “They definitely give me the cars I need to be able to win. And from there, it’s just learning for myself. The races we finish second in or don’t win, it’s about learning how to get myself to the race-winning caliber that my cars are.”

As for the best advice Gilliland has gotten from his father, it’s this: “Just stay humble and patient.”

That’s a sound strategy. The opportunities certainly will be there for Gilliland in the future, although like Burton he’s still finalizing his 2018 plans.

“Being 17 years old, there’s really no rush,” said Gilliland. “It’s really about taking your time and making sure you’re 100 percent ready for every opportunity when it presents itself.”

Burton, on the other hand, sounds a little more impatient.

“It’s been a great advantage having my dad in the sport, but I’m ready to make my own name,” Burton said. “Everyone knows me as Jeff Burton’s son. If you Google my name, it comes up as ‘Jeff Burton’s son.’ I’m ready to make my own name and add to my stature.”

For both drivers, racing in the Truck Series this year has been a positive experience.

“It’s been huge,” says Burton, who has two more races in the trucks this year. “I’ve been able to learn from one of the best in the sport in Kyle Busch. And having the experience of racing with the truck guys is huge. It’s a big deal. I’ve been blessed to run with KBM and have some good finishes, but I’m looking for better ones. We haven’t really finished as good as we’ve run.”

Gilliland said he’s enjoyed racing with the Truck Series regulars.

“It’s really cool to be able to gain their respect,” said Gilliland, who has four more Truck Series starts scheduled in 2017.

For now, both Gilliland and Burton are concentrating on running for K&N Pro Series championships and learning what they can in the Truck Series. But it likely won’t be long before they both move up the NASCAR ladder. And they will be fun to watch along the way.

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Front Row Motorsports Laying Foundation for Competitive Future

By Matt Weaver — Front Row Motorsports is the little engine that could in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series but its current conductor, general manager Jerry Freeze, believes the right set of circumstances could eventually transform the locomotive into one of the premiere convoys in all of motorsports.

Make no mistake, the current FRM little resembles one of the elite organizations in NASCAR, like a Hendrick Motorsports, Team Penske or Joe Gibbs Racing but it has steadily risen up the grid since making its debut in 2005. In the process, the team has earned both a reputation and a well-defined organizational personality as a winner and beacon of hope for the “little guy.”

Freeze has been with the team since 2009, having just come off a lengthy stint at Petty Enterprises, and has been able to oversee the biggest leap in prominence yet with the additions of drivers @DavidGilliland and @DavidRagan in 2010 and 2012 respectively.

During their combined tenure at Front Row Motorsports, Ragan and Gilliland were able to bring home the first race victory in team history, finishing 1-2 at Talladega Superspeedway in May 2013. Ragan recently achieved another organizational milestone in October, scoring the first non-restrictor plate top-10 finish for FRM at Martinsville Speedway.

While the achievements would not have been possible without dedicated engineers and mechanics, Freeze believes that Ragan and Gilliland, who previously competed for Jack Roush and Robert Yates, played a pivotal role in their recent success by adding an element of big team experience to their humble shop in Statesville, N.C.

“We were able to offer them an opportunity — that while we weren’t ready to win races or make the Chase — we were willing to make steps to work towards that,” Freeze told Popular Speed on Wednesday afternoon. “They’ve added a lot to our organization, and coming from someone who often deals with the business side of the sport, I can tell you that they are capable drivers both on and off the track.

“They’ve seen how a big team operates. They’ve done the off-track stuff with sponsors, partners and the media. They know how to go test and evaluate parts and pieces and have brought a big team mentality to us when their opportunities at Roush and Yates were downsized.”

READ MORE: Ragan Working Towards Front Row Return in 2015

The current roster at Front Row has enjoyed a lot of success in recent seasons but there have been struggles in equal abundance. The team does not have an affiliation with a major Ford powerhouse like Penske or Roush and the multitude of rule changes have often left them behind the proverbial eight-ball.

Ragan says he believes the team has reached a competitive peak of sorts under the status quo, without the aid of a partnership with an elite team.

“I do feel like we have peaked as an organization with what we have right now,” Ragan said. “I don’t think a lot of people remember that we don’t have a partnership with a bigger organization. We have a great relationship with Ford and they provide us a lot of feedback but we build our own parts and don’t get a lot of information from other Ford teams.”

A self-made millionaire and Yum! Foods franchisee from Tennessee, Front Row Motorsports owner Bob Jenkins prefers to maintain the in-house approach for the time being. With that said, Freeze maintains that it is not an inflexible policy. Front Row is open to establishing partnerships with other teams but it has to be something that makes sense. In fact, it may be more viable for several smaller teams to form an alliance to stretch their limited resources, an option that Freeze says has been discussed.

“We’re not totally closed to aligning with other teams,” Freeze said. “What I think would work for us at Front Row, is if we looked to teams that were on a similar platform as we are, some of the smaller teams that haven’t lined up with a bigger team, and then worked with them…

“As it stands, I don’t see us outsourcing or eliminating our own production of parts and chassis. We’re not totally against it but I don’t know if there are a lot of opportunities because everyone appears lined up with a dancing partner and our owner, Bob Jenkins, believes we’ll be better for it in the long run.”

Even with a budget that is roughly a third of each of the major contenders in the sport, Freeze and Ragan believe the future is bright for Front Row Motorsports. Ragan says that his current team has set itself up to potentially become a major player over the next decade as established team owners retire or diminish their presence, allowing owners like Jenkins to rotate into the forefront.

“I think the outlook is bright,” Ragan said. “You look at the ownership situation in the Sprint Cup Series right now and you have a lot of owners who are likely going to retire over the next several years — and would likely agree that they won’t be around forever.

“So I believe that this presents an opportunity down the line for a team like ours.”

Ragan’s sentiment is one that Freeze says has a degree of logical merit, adding that it all depends on the commitment level of the heirs in place at Penske, Hendrick, Gibbs and Richard Childress Racing.

“We think about it, Bob thinks about it and so do our partners,” Freeze said. “I know NASCAR has really worked to open itself up to more owners entering the mix but it is such a huge undertaking, This takes the right person to take the flagpole, put it into the ground and commit to going after it. That someone has to be passionate about the sport.

“Jack, Richard and Rick are just so passionate. It takes the right guy and I believe Bob is the right guy. He’s very involved in the day-to-day in his (other companies) so as a race team, we have to become more established and get more partners so we are no as reliant on Bob with the operations and the like. But yeah, I think we all feel that way and time will tell when it comes to looking at the current crop of powerful owners.”

In the meanwhile, Front Row will continue to battle the adversity associated with life as the underdogs. Freeze believes the private testing ban enforced against NASCAR teams next season will actually help them bridge the gap to the rest of the field.

Front Row did not test as much as the established organization to begin with and Freeze believes this could gain them at least 0.3 of a second on the rest of the field.

All in all, Freeze likes the position his team is in right now. They have a talented core of engineers, two hungry drivers and an owner committed to the sport. There will be peaks and valleys but the team is continuing to work towards excellence and could someday be a face of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

“I can’t really see a downside to a team like ours,” Freeze said. “We get to go do the 7-posts and wind tunnels. We have a great relationship with Ford and they have time allocated for us so we can go to those places and continue to learn. We just can’t take it to the next step and track test as often. Now the same rules apply to the rest of the field.

“I like the opportunity that presents.”

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Repeat Talladega Victory Would Provide Boost to Front Row Motorsports

EXCLUSIVE By Matt Weaver — Front Row Motorsport teammates David Ragan and David Gilliland have struggled this season but the duo have a legitimate opportunity to erase many months of woe with a victory on Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway.

While trips to Victory Lane are usually a distant proposition for underfunded programs like FRM, Talladega is a wild card race of sorts, where restrictor plates and the big pack evens the playing field for anyone who takes the green flag. This is a fact, perhaps best understood, by Ragan and Gilliland as they finished 1-2 after a wild green-white-checkered finish last April.

Ragan and Gilliland know all too well the opportunities that exist at Talladega as they finished 1-2 after a wild green-white-checkered finish in April 2013. It was the highest point in the history of Front Row Motorsports but the team has fallen off the pace in the year and a half since.

The duo finished with a combined with 26.5 average finish last season but have dipped to 30.0 through the first 31 races of the season. Ragan says while the numbers look as if Front Row has struggled, the team has just stayed in place while everyone else has improved.

“This year has been the worst start to a season I have ever endured,” Ragan told Popular Speed. “But we haven’t gotten worse. I feel like we’re at the same level as last year and we didn’t keep up with the aero changes and the suspension changes.

“It’s 100 percent the rules and other trams like the (No. 47) and (No. 13) have gotten better.”

READ MORE: David Ragan Discusses Interest in RPM No. 9 and Future with Front Row

Gilliland agreed with his teammate’s assessment but believes the turnaround is right around the corner. While Front Row is not yet in a position to compete with Hendrick Motorsports or Team Penske, he does see the team getting back in the mix to battle for top-20s, like last season, due to changes and improvement in their fleet of Fords.

“I feel really optimistic about the rest of the season and next year,” Gilliland said. “We’ve started to hit on some things and we have some parts and pieces and that are coming in the next few weeks that will really start to show on the track, especially at the mile and halfs, where we have experienced most of our struggles. But again, I really feel like we’re catching up.”

Another victory at Talladega has the potential to expedite the process. While winning increases the chances that potential sponsors and partners will want to team up with Front Row Motorsports, a victory would also boost morale inside the garage during a point of the season they need it the most.

“Winning that race last year obviously meant a lot for us and for the sponsors and our owners,” Gilliland said. “But it meant a lot to the team too, the guys back at the shop who work on and prepare our cars. This season has worn on them a lot.

“A good run on Sunday would just give them something positive to build off on.”

The stars aligned perfectly last April when Ragan and Gilliland were able to line up and push each other to victory. Naturally, the duo would like to work together again but are preparing to let the race simply play out. In short, it’s hard to make a plan at Talladega, according to Ragan.

“It just depends on where you’re running during certain points of the race,” Ragan said. “Sometimes you get shuffled to the back and sometimes it makes sense to get yourself to the front. There’s a lot to learn when you go back and watch the replays and study the trends of these races. You have to just prepare for those cautions and use your instincts.”

Gilliland agrees.

“I don’t ever go into these races with a plan,” Gilliland said. “We’ve seen these races play out all sort of different ways. I roll off pit road and then see how it plays out and hope he plays out in your favor.”

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For David Gilliland and Love’s, One Miracle Deserves Another

EXCLUSIVE By Mary Jo Buchanan – While the top sixteen drivers hope for Chase miracles at Chicagoland Speedway this weekend, @DavidGilliland and his sponsor Love’s Travel Stops are creating miracles of their own, particularly for one young boy who himself is a miracle.

Jack Czapla
(Jack Czapla)

Jack Czapla, a nine-year-old who hails from Mundelein, Illinois, will celebrate his miraculous victory after a two-year battle with acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) by taking his first ever trip to the racetrack with the driver of the No. 38 Love’s Travel Stops Ford.

This special experience will also help to create awareness of childhood cancers and will top off Love’s Travel Stops’ and Gilliland’s week of promoting their annual fundraising campaign for the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals.

“A few months ago, a woman from the Foundation at our hospital contacted us and said that Love’s Travel watched a video of Jack and wanted him to do an art piece for a NASCAR race,” Vickie Czapla, Jack’s mom, said. “We thought that was pretty cool but we had to do it in one night because we were going away.

“Jack had an idea of what he wanted to do and his uncle is an artist so he helped Jack put that on paper. Jack drew the cancer ribbon with fire coming out, like the race car going fast, and it’s orange because that is the color for leukemia. When Jack found out he was going to the track, he was super-excited, screaming and yelling.”

She continued, “He has told all of his friends and teachers so they are all tuning in. He writes about it every day for his journal for school. He feels very honored. He was shocked that they picked him. He feels like a celebrity. I think we all do.”

“He’s heard of racing but we’ve never been to a NASCAR race ever. But since this occurred, Jack’s been watching NASCAR on You Tube and we’ve been watching every Sunday. He’s been following David and it’s been really neat. David has called him a couple times on the phone and they talked which was so cute. He’s just really excited.”

Jack is apparently not the only one excited about this race weekend.

“I feel very honored to be part of this and to have Jack at the race track,” David Gilliland, Front Row Motorsports driver, said. “His story is such an inspiration and to bring awareness to help the Children’s Miracle Network hospitals is such an honor.

“I’ve not met Jack yet but I’ve talked to him on the phone,” Gilliland continued. “He’s a very energetic young boy that likes racing. I’m excited to hang out with him all weekend.”

“He has an identical driver’s suit as mine that he will wear all day. He helped design the hood of the car and the helmet that I’ll be wearing this weekend. His family sent me a picture of him in his driving suit and man, the smile on his face, it makes me overwhelmed with joy every time I look at it.

“I’m going to do everything I can to make it the best weekend possible for him.”

(Jack's artwork that will be featured on David Gilliland's No. 38 this weekend)
(Jack’s artwork that will be featured on David Gilliland’s No. 38 this weekend)

Jack’s family has received an hour-by-hour itinerary of what they will be doing at the track, from attending the drivers’ meeting to sitting atop the pit box during the race. But they are a family on a mission so they also have a purpose of their own for being at track.

“Raising awareness about childhood cancer is what we are most excited about,” Vickie Czapla said. “But we are really looking forward to meeting the driver and the people from Love’s. I think just to have a fun day with people we don’t know that feel like family will be the best part of it.”

Gilliland and Love’s share in that excitement as well.

“Seeing Jack and a short video of what he has gone through and overcome is very inspirational to me,” Gilliland said. “I think this is the most I’ve looked forward to a race all year.”

“This is what it’s all about,” Jenny Love Meyer, vice president of communications for Love’s, said. “Our Love’s team members are working hard to raise money, and our customers give generously every year to help CMN Hospitals make miracles happen for sick and injured kids.”

This month marks the 16th year that Love’s Travel Stops has created miracles through fundraising for the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals. Cashiers at the Love’s locations have raised the funds by asking all of their customers to buy paper balloons to benefit the CMN hospitals.

Gilliland will also be visiting the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago on the Thursday prior to the race weekend. This was the hospital where a miracle occurred for Jack in his cancer treatment.

“I’m really looking forward to visiting the children’s hospital and seeing the great work that these doctors and nurses do,” Gilliland, a father of two himself, said. “As a parent, it just breaks your heart to know the things that these kids have to go through. And it makes me extra proud to have Love’s as a partner, knowing how much they do to help raise money to help get these kids healthy again.”

“Love’s Travel and David have been amazing,” Jack’s mother said. “They have made us feel very, very important.”

“This is an honor beyond honors and we are super excited. Thank you is not a big enough word for all of this.”

EMAIL MARY JO AT mj.buchanan@popularspeed.com

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