Todd Gilliland rolls into Talladega with momentum and a new team as a season of success and uncertainty rolls on.
Gilliland will race the No. 36 Front Row Motorsports Ford while Zane Smith will drive his No. 38 Ford.
FRM named Smith to the No. 38 ride for six NASCAR Cup Series races in 2023, leaving Gilliland without a ride for those races.
However, the young gun worked out a five-race deal with Rick Ware Racing and enough sponsorship for FRM to field a third car for him at Talladega.
In his first Cup Series race away from FRM, at Phoenix, Gilliland finished a dismal 32nd but saved what could be a sophomore season of improvement.
Then, in the four races after Phoenix, Gilliland earned top-15 finishes at Atlanta and Richmond and top-10 finishes at Circuit of the Americas and Bristol dirt.
“I think those four weeks in general have been a big confidence booster. I was kind of joking with my crew chief about how fast my expectations have changed. Like, I was actually kind of disappointed after Bristol, because I felt like we were few changes away from contending in the top-five… kind of top-three area. Definitely, overall, really confident. I see no reason why we can’t keep this momentum rolling,” Gilliland said.
At Martinsville, immediately after that four-race stretch, Gilliland finished seventh in stage two and ran in the top 10. He only finished 25th after losing a cylinder in stage three.
Gilliland finished top-10 twice all of last year’s 36 races. This year, he finished top-10 twice in the first nine races.
“I think I’m definitely in a better place than I was at this point last year – just having a year under my belt of knowing what to expect, kind of managing the race better from start-to-finish. These short practices, I kind of know more of what I need, and I think the team does too. With a whole year of experience with the NextGen car, we can get to a better place. I think we’ve definitely been unloading faster, or just in a better place with a year of notes,” he said.
Now, he heads to Talladega, where he earned one of those top-10 finishes last season.
Front Row Motorsports, in general, is stellar at Talladega. In 10 of the last 12 Cup Series races at Talladega, dating back to 2017, they placed at least one car inside the top-10, includes last fall. In that race, Gilliland finished seventh and Michael McDowell finished third.
The return to Talladega in the No. 36 means Gilliland will work with crew chief Chris Lawson again.
“It’s going to be an interesting weekend. I have all the confidence in Chris. He has been with me since my Late Model days and we even won two championships together when I was running in the K&N Series out West. The trust is there,” Gilliland said. “It’s all about surviving when it comes to superspeedway racing. It’s stressful and gets your adrenaline pumping, but I love it. I can’t wait.”
From 2016-17, Lawson helped Gilliland reign as NASCAR K&N Pro Series West (now ARCA West) champion, with six wins, 11 top-5 finishes and 13 top-10s in each season.
Lawson and Gilliland also worked together on FRM’s No. 38 Truck Series team. They won a race at COTA before Gilliland moved to Cup and Zane Smith joined the No. 38 team.
Smith and Lawson have six wins and the 2022 Truck Series title together.
Catch Zane Smith and Todd Gilliland in this Sunday’s GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway (3 p.m. ET; TV: FOX; Radio: MRN, SIRIUSXM NASCAR Radio Ch. 90)