DAYTONA BEACH, FLA. – Numbers are often synonymous with families in NASCAR, such as the Petty family with the 43, the Earnhardt family with the 3 – and even the Gilliland family with the 38.
Like the Petty and Earnhardt families, the Gilliland family will have a third-generation NASCAR Cup Series driver to their name after Sunday’s Daytona 500.
Todd Gilliland will start 29th in his NASCAR Cup Series debut Sunday – joining the likes of grandfather Butch and father David who also piloted the No. 38 Cup car.
Gilliland is also the third driver, in as many years, who will run their first full-time NASCAR Cup Series season in Front Row Motorsports’ No. 38 Ford.
In 2020, John Hunter Nemechek showed flashes of brilliance en route to a season with 3 Top-10 finishes and a 22.4 average finish – while in 2021, Anthony Alfredo slumped to just 1 Top-10 finish and a 27.5 average finish.
Gilliland’s experience, featuring 4 full-time NCWTS seasons and 2 career wins, falls somewhere in between his predecessors’ experience levels. However, Gilliland has a plethora of unknowns that neither Nemechek nor Alfredo. or almost any previous modern-day NASCAR rookie had in their favor.
“I think everyone in Front Row Motorsports thinks it’s a great time for me to come into this with the Next Gen car,” Gilliland said. “We had four preseason tests where we were able to get a lot of laps that I feel really prepared me to come to the track for the first time for an actual race. It would have been really tough to come into the Cup Series last year with no practice whatsoever and just unload at these races, so I feel like I’m set up pretty well to succeed this year.”
The Gilliland family has had success in the past that’s been built from the ground up and often against all odds. In 2006, David earned the No. 38 Yates Racing ride indirectly by defeating drivers from JGR, Hendrick and RCR to earn his first NXS win with a skeleton pit crew from an independent, shoestring budget team that lasted only 6 other NXS races.
For Todd, he came from a torn relationship with Kyle Busch Motorsports, where his future was up in the air after 2019, to Front Row’s start-up NCWTS team in 2020. In year one, Todd helped build the team into a playoff qualifier and, in year two, brought them their first NCWTS win.
“You never know when you’re going to get a second chance. I really feel like I already have a second chance at Front Row Motorsports, starting up the truck series team and really building it from nothing to be able to win a race last year and be really competitive week-in and week-out to finish the season last year,” Todd Gilliland said. “So I think it gave me so much more confidence in myself that two years ago – or pretty much any time other than the end of last year – I would have never even thought about going into the Cup Series.”
Heading into this season, Gilliland will be leaning on another building block at FRM – his Daytona 500-winning teammate Michael McDowell – as a metric for success as a rookie.
“I think that’s one of the good things about having a good, really experienced teammate Michael McDowell. He’s been helping me a lot in these in these tests leading up to the season,” Gilliland said. “I think over the last few years, he’s really been getting a lot out of the cars and putting together really consistent races, which leads to consistent seasons, so I’d really like to try and perform close to him by the second half of the season.”
However, Gilliland anticipates this type of performance will require going through the motions of a rookie during the first half of the season.
“The beginning of the part of the season, I think just really finish as many laps as possible trying to earn some respect from my fellow Cup Series drivers now and then hit the second half of the season going full steam ahead,” Gilliland stated.
While Gilliland anticipates 2022 will be a time of growth and lessons learned, he first sees it as an opportunity to be among the very drivers he grew up watching as a fan.
“It’s crazy to think I’m one of those guys now and it’s gonna be fun just to get more confident, every single race – honestly, every single day,” Gilliland said. “Just drafting with Brad Keselowski, like some of those guys that, once you knock them off the list that you’ve been around these guys already, it’s nothing to do it again.”
Rest assured for David, Todd still rates his 2007 Daytona 500 pole-winning dad as being the one he learned the most about racing from.
The 64th Daytona 500 (TV: FOX; Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) goes green around 3 p.m. ET. Todd Gilliland will start 29th in his No. 38 First Phase Credit Card Ford Mustang.
Did you know? Lee Petty drove a No. 38 Buick to a 17th-place finish in the first-ever NASCAR-sanctioned race. The 200-lap race occurred June 19, 1949, at Charlotte Speedway. Petty crashed out on Lap 105 after starting 9th.