SPEEDWAY, Ind. — Adjusting to NASCAR Cup Series competition hasn’t been an easy thing for Todd Gilliland. But finally, after 22 races, Gilliland started to see the fruits of his labor pay off.
In Sunday’s Verizon 200 at the Brickyard, Gilliland finished fourth after running in the top 10 for most of the afternoon. He recorded both his first career top-five and top-10 finish with the result.
“It’s just really exciting,” Gilliland said after the race. “This rookie season has been really tough. The Cup Series is hard. I’ve learned that. It’s easy to give up and that’s one thing, too. You have confidence when you come to the Cup Series, but you get beat down quick.”
Gilliland started his weekend in Indianapolis strong, advancing to the final round of qualifying for just the second time this season. He officially started Sunday’s race in the ninth position, two spots behind teammate Michael McDowell.
Many teams had different pit strategies for the scheduled 82-lap race, but Gilliland and the No. 38 team chose to stay out and earn stage points in Stage 1. He finished sixth and proceeded to pit road during the caution.
Gilliland did not earn stage points in Stage 2, but during the final pit cycle of the race, he stayed out to lead his first Cup Series laps. After pacing four circuits, Gilliland peeled off to pit road for his final stop of the race.
Once the pit cycle was completed, Gilliland blended in around ninth place. Two late cautions shook up the running order and Gilliland weaved past several spins in overtime to come home in fourth.
“That’s really our best weekend start to finish by far, so hopefully that’s just something to build on.” Gilliland said. “Road course racing is tough, too. I’ve always loved it, but it hasn’t really loved me so much this year, especially the first time here at Indianapolis.
“You have tunnel vision. Guys are getting spun right in front of you. You’re facing somebody and then you’re past them, off in the grass and then you’re just trying to merge out and get single-file as quickly as possible… I’m super happy to have survived those last few restarts and then obviously to put myself in position to capitalize on those restarts.”
With four races remaining in the regular season, Gilliland sits 28th in driver’s points and well outside the playoff picture. However, a win before Darlington in September locks him into the playoffs, barring there aren’t more than 17 winners.
Winning a race is not out of the cards for Gilliland and Front Row Motorsports. McDowell recorded his ninth top 10 of the season Sunday and has regularly shown that the team has speed to contend.
Gilliland will try again next weekend at Michigan International Speedway in the FireKeepers 400. The race is scheduled for Sunday, August 7 at 3 p.m. ET on USA Network.