Scores Six Wins and Second Straight K&N West Title
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Even though he has only been racing in NASCAR for three years, Todd Gilliland has already built quite the list of accolades.
In 2017, Gilliland added to that list by collecting his second straight NASCAR K&N Pro Series West championship. The 17-year-old Sherrills Ford, North Carolina, driver won six of the 14 points events and finished the season with four straight runs inside the top two.
“It was really difficult this year,” Gilliland said. “Going from 2016, I didn’t realize how many things went perfectly our way for us to win that championship. I think this year we really brought much faster race cars to the track and that really helped us overcome those few little things that didn’t go our way.”
The three-year stretch of success in the West for Gilliland has been more than impressive. Dating back to one race in 2015 — which he won at Phoenix — he has 13 wins across 29 career starts. In 2017, he won six races for the second straight year. He also sprinkled in 11 top fives and 13 top 10s, along with seven 21 Means 21 Pole Awards.
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Gilliland started his title run by winning four of the first five races and finishing second in the other event.
“With our strong start, we knew we could be contenders,” Gilliland said. “In a 14-race series, you always have to be looking forward to the next race. It just really makes you prepare yourself the best you can. I just love racing every weekend and I just try to enjoy every minute of it. Hopefully it only gets busier for me, but doing it this much really makes you focus a lot more.”
With teammates Chris Eggleston and Derek Kraus on the track every week, Gilliland knew he would have some of his toughest competition coming out of his own Bill McAnally Racing shop in the West series. Eggleston is the most recent champion that isn’t named Gilliland.
“Chris is a proven champion and I think over the last two years, Bill McAnally Racing has gotten even stronger,” Gilliland said. “I definitely knew going into last year we would have to race our teammates right down to the end of it. I’m really proud of everyone at BMR for putting us in that position to race each other. It definitely made Bill nervous sometimes, but I think it really made him proud as well.”
Even though he has now scored two straight titles in the West, in 2017, Gilliland looked to become the first driver to win both the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East and West championships in the same season. He entered the final East race of the season at Dover with the championship lead, but blew a tire on lap 56, which eliminated his chances at accomplishing the feat. He finished second in the East title race with four wins in 14 races.
But for Gilliland, the season of running on both East and West really allowed him to become a better driver.
“I think every time we went to the track, Harrison (Burton) was really tough competition, along with my teammate Chase Purdy,” Gilliland said of racing on the East. “We were always up there at the front and it was really just survival sometimes. We had a lot of tire problems, we really hurt ourselves more than anything. The experience that we gained going from the East to the West — that was a really big deal for us.”
He also made his first career NASCAR Camping World Truck Series start this season for Kyle Busch Motorsports. He ran six races for KBM, scoring two top fives finishes and three top 10s, with a best of third coming at New Hampshire in September. He was also a member of the 2017 NASCAR Next program.
“Being a part of NASCAR Next and to go into the K&N Pro Series at 15-years-old, you always want to be able to move up and hopefully continue to move up,” the third-generation driver said. “It’s always the dream. But there are a lot of great people with NASCAR in the K&N Pro Series that really helps you get ready for those next steps.”
“It’s really cool,” Gilliland said of his father being at the track. “Before the last two years, he was racing full-time in the Cup series and he really didn’t make it to many of my races. But the last two years has really given me a lot more experience on the radio and on the track. I think that’s been a really big part of my success — him and my crew chief really worked together well this year.”
Going forward, Gilliland isn’t exactly sure what he will have planned for the 2018 season of racing. Even though he may sprinkle in a start in the K&N Pro Series down the line, his attention will turn to some National Series competition.
But for now, he is just soaking in the glory of being a NASCAR champion.
“My mom, my dad, my sister and my entire team, as well as NAPA, Toyota — it definitely takes a lot of people to make this happen,” Gilliland said. “It’s very special, to be a NASCAR champion is something to be very proud of. It takes a lot of people, sponsors and a lot goes into a championship season, no matter what level it is at. It’s always really special for me, and hopefully it’s not the last.”
Gilliland was honored, along with other champions, as part of the NASCAR Home Tracks Awards Ceremony on Dec. 9 at the Charlotte Convention Center in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Todd Gilliland won 10 times across the NASCAR K&N Pro Series in 2017, capturing his second straight West championship. Mike Comer/NASCAR via Getty Images