Wednesday, Feb 08

Ford Performance NASCAR: Fresh Off Truck Series Win, Gilliland Hopes to Keep Momentum Going in Nashville

TODD GILLILAND, No. 38 Boot Barn Ford Mustang – WHAT CAN A WIN LIKE LAST WEEKEND DO FOR A DRIVER’S CONFIDENCE AND IS THERE ANY CARRYOVER YOU CAN TAKE INTO NASHVILLE?  “I’ve been thinking about that a lot.  I think the win will give me a lot more confidence.  It seems like Sonoma was so long ago and then I think just that is a good break to kind of reset, but then the Truck Series win on top of it I feel like I’m gonna go back into Nashville probably the most confident and probably the most ready I’ve been this year to kind of just attack the racetrack.  The Cup Series will do a really good job of taking confidence away from you, so anything you do to get confidence back is definitely a good thing.”


HOW HAS THIS FIRST SEASON BEEN SO FAR IN THE CUP SERIES?  “I feel like it’s been up and down.  There are a lot of things that I’ve been proud of that we’ve done.  I feel like we started out the year probably a little bit better than I expected, and then things got pretty tough.  We had a few issues with the cars that were kind of self-induced issues.  I’ve put ourselves in some bad situations.  I wrecked my first lap at Dover in practice and definitely have made my share of rookie mistakes.  That’s all very frustrating because I kind of expect to not make those mistakes, but I guess once it happens there’s really nothing you can do except learn from it.  I definitely was excited to have an off weekend, but everyone kind of just get back in the groove of things now.  It’s a grueling schedule.  That’s one thing I’ve learned for sure, and that goes for the whole team, so hopefully we hit the ground running here and have a little bit more speed.”


HAD YOUR DAD PREPARED YOU FOR HOW TOUGH THE SEASON IS WITH ONLY ONE WEEK OFF?  “Yeah, I think it’s one of the things that I knew it was gonna be hard, but it’s been the hardest thing.  Even like Daytona for the whole week I was like, ‘Man, this is so busy.’  And then we go straight into the west coast swing and you’re like, ‘Oh my God.  Am I ever gonna catch up on sleep or get ahead on anything?’  After that, it’s been nice to be racing kind of closer to home where we get home at a decent hour, but it really makes a huge difference from the Truck Series, where you get a day or two to recover before going back at it for the next week, where this it’s right back into it.  I’ve been learning a lot and I feel like honestly it’s something that you can talk about but you’re not really prepared for it until you do it.”


YOU RAN THE TRUCKS AT NASHVILLE LAST YEAR.  WHAT DID YOU LEARN ABOUT THE TRACK?  “I had a lot of fun at Nashville last year.  I think we were fastest in practice.  We had a tech issue, so we didn’t get to qualify, but I finished second in the race.  It seemed like we were pretty fast last year right off the bat, so I’m excited for it.  I think the resin on the racetrack made it really fun.  Watching stuff in the past it seemed like it was really on the bottom, just one lane, so I think NASCAR did a really good job with the racetrack.  Honestly, I’m super excited to go back.”


IS THERE ANY BENEFIT TRYING TO BREAK INTO THE CUP SERIES THIS YEAR AS A ROOKIE COMPARED TO OTHER SEASONS?  “I feel like I almost have the same feelings on this as I was at the beginning of the year.  There are positives and negatives to it, for sure.  When we go to the racetrack the Kevin Harvicks and Martin Truex’s are taking a lap or two or maybe even a whole run to get up to speed, which I would be doing as a rookie with the old car, but they would just be multiple steps ahead of me by starting off so much faster.  Last year, they had so much data to feel confident that the team would start pretty close on setup that you could trust the car, whereas this we’re all learning together at all of these racetracks.  I feel like that makes me a little bit more nervous to go out there and, honestly, a little bit unprepared at times just because there’s nothing to watch.  There’s nothing to prepare yourself at all, but, I don’t know.  I think there are positives and negatives, but, overall, I think it’s been a good thing because I’m learning the car at the same rate as my whole team.”


HOW DOES THIS CUP CAR COMPARE TO WHAT YOU’VE DRIVEN IN THE PAST?  “I think the Cup car is actually a lot of fun.  I feel like you can race a little bit closer than the trucks.  That’s really the only thing I have to compare to on a mile-and-a-half, and I feel like you can race closely.  I think one thing that’s really overlooked is that you can race side-by-side really good.  In every other car we’ve seen that it’s such a side force dependent car that when you get side-by-side you often see trucks get sucked around when the air gets taken off their right side, where this car it’s not even affected side-by-side.  I think that’s a super good thing.  We’re still seeing some issues in traffic following people nose-to-tail, but I feel like that’s gonna be a race car no matter what at the speeds we’re going, but, overall, I’ve had so much fun.  The shifting is a lot of fun.  The digital dash.  Overall, in the Cup Series there’s so much more information being fed to me as a driver.  I think the Next Gen car has been a lot of fun.”


HOW PREPARED ARE YOU FOR THIS FINAL STRETCH WITH NO WEEKENDS OFF?  “I’m excited.  I feel like I’ve been working hard to be ready for the summer months, so I’m excited for it.  I think the cars are gonna be more fun when they’re sliding around a little bit.  We’ve seen hotter weather.  It definitely makes you slide around at least feel a little more out of the racetrack, so excited for that.  The Cup Series schedule is a lot, so it’s crazy to think our next weekend off will be after Phoenix, but I’m excited for it and just trying to make good progress.  I think that’s one really good thing, too.  You don’t have any off weeks to maybe celebrate the good times, but if you have a bad week you know you’re going right back at it the next week, so it’s just a lot more about keeping the momentum going – good or bad.”


WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE IN THE PRESSURE RACING FOR YOUR DAD LIKE LAST WEEK IN A ONE-OFF SITUATION VERSUS SOMEONE LIKE KYLE BUSCH?  “I think that’s almost a double-edge sword of a question.  It’s like as a Cup Series guy, I don’t know that I can really claim that yet, but when you go to a Truck race people expect you to do good, so I feel like that’s almost a little bit more added pressure, but then on the flip side it’s like you’re not racing for points.  When I walked into Knoxville I was just ready to have a lot of fun.  I love dirt racing and just going back to the Truck Series you don’t have to worry about points and all that, so there is still pressure, especially racing for my dad.  This is a place I want to do so good at and I admire all of his hard work here, so I want to be a part of it.  I think there’s a little bit of pressure there, but also it’s probably a little bit less pressure just going for a non-points race.”


ANY OTHER TRUCK SERIES PLANS FOR THIS YEAR?  “Knoxville is the last Truck race I could have ran with the rest of the Triple Truck Challenge races and then the playoffs start right away, so no more for this year but I’m definitely working on them for next year with him or Front Row.  I’m trying to get some Truck races anywhere I can.”


WHICH TRACKS ARE YOU LOOKING FORWARD TO THE MOST IN CUP AND ARE THERE ANY XFINITY RACES POSSIBLE IN THE FUTURE?  “I feel like I stand on the Xfinity Series the same as racing in the Trucks.  I would love to.  I just feel like on all of these situations it’s just really when the opportunities come up.  That’s really why I’ve never run in the Xfinity Series before is that I’ve never had an opportunity to, so I’d love to.  I’d love to race as much as possible, so I would definitely like to do that.  As far as races coming up, I’m excited to go back to Atlanta.  I feel like that will put on a good race.  I always love watching the regular season end at Daytona.  I feel like that’s always super exciting and I think it will be really exciting this year too with the amount of winners we’ve seen already.  A lot of people will be on the edge of their seats watching that one, I’m sure.  Going to some new road courses.  I’m excited for Watkins Glen.  I think this car will be really fast there, so I think we’ve got a lot of good races coming up.”


HOW MUCH IS THE WIN AT KNOXVILLE A BOOST FOR YOU?  “It’s super good.  It’s really a shot in the arm to keep me going and kind of get you back up on your feet because we did kind of talk about how the Cup Series will knock you down quick.  To get a win is huge.  Really, it’s kind of almost like a different mindset.  You go in there and I was kind of excited and before we even got there I kind of expected to have a chance to win, but it’s kind of crazy to think that I’ve only won two Truck races, so I feel like it’s just kind of a different mindset going back, but it’s definitely a really good thing.  I think I can see why a lot of guys try and run more races in different series.”


WHAT ARE YOU LEARNING ABOUT YOURSELF OR YOUR MENTAL TOUGHNESS BEING IN THE CUP SERIES?  “I think there’s definitely a lot of mental toughness, and I think it’s also a lot about the people you surround yourself with.  I’ve always felt like even going through the Truck season it’s your team versus everyone else.  When you walk into the racetrack those are your friends and I feel like that’s just so much more exaggerated on the Cup Series side just because you’re with these guys so much and that really is just your group of guys versus everyone else.  It’s all about pushing each other to do the best you can – in the shop, showing up at the racetrack with the best product possible, and then whether it goes bad it’s about getting everyone back on their feet, or when it’s good to celebrate the small victories.  But I think it’s definitely about being mentally tough and keeping those around you mentally tough also.”


WHAT HAVE BEEN SOME OF THOSE SMALL VICTORIES THIS YEAR?  “I don’t know.  I guess at Darlington we finished 15th, I think, so that’s my best finish so far.  At the beginning of the season it seemed like we were slowly getting a little bit better – a few spots every week.  You could just really feel the progress and then once it stalls out it’s really hard to look for any small victory at all.  But, I think recently we’ve been unloading faster with more speed.  Even for a while there we were really far off when we would unload.  Even though we haven’t really gained a ton of spots, we’ve gained quite a bit of time based on where we were at the beginning of the year, so I think it’s more about comparing ourselves to what we can do, but also my teammate Michael McDowell has been running super good, so I think that’s a really good benchmark for us and also kind of a good guy to chase.”


WOULD YOU LIKE TO RUN MORE DURING THE WEEK IN OTHER STUFF OR JUST FOCUS ON CUP AS A ROOKIE?  “I like all of motorsports.  I wake up on Sunday morning and watch F1, IndyCar, I watch everything and I would love to do all kinds of different racing.  That’s something I always joke with – after the win I was talking to Ricky Stenhouse and I was like, ‘Does this get me a ride in your sprint car team or anything like that?’  I’m always working on stuff.  I was telling Harrison Burton that he needs to talk to Roger about running the Indy 500, so I’m pushing all of my friends to do different stuff too.  I would love to try different things and, overall, I’m just a huge motorsports fan and definitely admire all types of racing.”


YOU GET A 50-MINUTE PRACTICE THIS WEEK, WHICH IS THE LAST TIME UNTIL PHOENIX.  WHAT IS THE VALUE OF THAT SESSION?  “I think really the biggest difference is maybe not the time per se that you get, but the opportunity to be able to change stuff after practice.  I think that’s kind of overlooked in the 20-minute format.  Twenty minutes is enough time to give yourself a good direction of which way you need to go, but you really can’t change anything of a substantial amount to probably make a big difference, so that’s what I’m most excited about.  That’s my favorite part about how racing used to be is going at practice super hard, making as many changes as you can, and then afterwards kind of thinking about it, especially in the Cup Series with your engineers.  There’s so much more support around the team that you can really make an educated guess overnight to start the next day a lot better, so I think that’s what I’m most excited about.  I think we’ve made a lot of progress when we’ve had that opportunity, so just to be able to sit down and make a really good guess at Saturday and then hopefully something that will race good on Sunday.”


THE FORECAST IS HOT THIS WEEKEND.  WILL YOU WEAR A COOL SUIT OR ANYTHING LIKE THAT?  “I’m a wimp.  I’ve been wearing it everywhere since the beginning of the year and I’ve got a cool box.  I’ve been nice and cool.  I haven’t been really too hot.  I feel like Gateway was pretty warm and I’m sure this weekend will be super hot, so I don’t know.  We’ll see how it goes.  It’s 400 miles, I believe 399, so it’s a long one.  I think we might see guys definitely look warm when they get out of their car, so we’ll see.  Hopefully, I’m not one of them.”


WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO YOUNGER DRIVERS ENTERING THE SPORT?  “That’s a tough question.  I just think you need to really learn from every situation possible.  I always think back to when I was racing at KBM.  At the time,  I was frustrated, but there’s always so much to be learned.  No matter where you are there are always people that are gonna teach you something new, so I would say even in the lows there’s always something you can learn.  Like I said earlier, just keep stacking the little wins up and I think that’s the biggest thing.  Keep moving forward good or bad because there’s always another race.”


WHAT DO YOU SEE THAT MICHAEL’S TEAM IS DOING BECAUSE THEY MAY NOT BE IN THE TOP 10 EARLY IN THE RACE, BUT THEY’VE FINISHED THERE IN FIVE OF THE LAST EIGHT RACES?  “That’s a hard question.  I don’t really know that there’s one thing that’s really changing in the middle or later stages.  I think Michael does a super good job of knowing and being really prepared of where the track is gonna go, what adjustments, and I would say he’s a super analytical guy.  I’m sure he knows his car in and out and could probably set it up by himself.  I think him and his crew chief are hitting their stride for sure.  Blake coming in at the beginning of the year was brand new, so I’m sure he’s getting his feet under him, and also a lot happens in these Cup races.  I feel like we’ve seen a lot more attrition over the races this year with the Next Gen car.  A lot more guys have wrecked and spun out and had issues, but it really takes a great team to run in the top 10.  Like I said, we’re trying to dig into all that stuff and definitely learn the most we can from them.”


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