Race Weekend Central

The Underdog House: Todd Gilliland Overcomes Martinsville Mayhem for Top 15

Top Dog: Todd Gilliland

Todd Gilliland’s welcome to Martinsville Speedway in April was less than optimal.

The rookie was one of the lone highlights during an otherwise uneventful race when he hit the turn 3 wall late in the event. Due to the incident and damage, he finished his track debut in 30th position.

But, like most mistakes in rookie seasons, you have to shake it off and move on. When freshmen make a second trip to the same track, an uptick in performance is anticipated. That is exactly what Gilliland did in the Xfinity 500 at Martinsville (Oct. 30) with a stout 14th-place finish.

Martinsville provided a mixed bag of results for Gilliland in seven NASCAR Camping World Truck Series starts at the half-mile track. He recorded two top fives, including his first career win in 2019. Outside of that, his best finish was 12th.

In what has been an underrated rookie year for the 22-year-old, stability has aided him. It did once again in Martinsville.

After qualifying inside the top 20 in 19th, Gilliland improved to 16th in a caution-free stage one. Despite entering the top 15 in stage two, the No. 38 driver fell victim to attrition and went a lap down to 15th by the end of the stage.

Gilliland was stuck one lap down for most of the final stage but held strong inside the top 20 in an otherwise impressive run. When a caution flew for Austin Dillon, the No. 38 opted to take the wavearound.

The Sherrills Ford, N.C. native fell a lap down once again but received the free pass during a caution with just over 100 laps to go.

That’s when Martinsville finally showed the character fans have grown accustomed to in the closing laps with drivers trading paint and using the chrome horn to move people. That allowed Gilliland to drive from 17th to 14th and close the 500-lap event with a top 15.

The finish is only Gilliland’s second such top-15 result in the past 13 races following a career-best fourth at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course in July. However, that overshadows strong runs from the rookie that have been derailed due to incidents not of his own making. With only one race to go, Gilliland will look to end his inaugural Cup season on a high note at Phoenix Raceway, where he finished 19th back in the spring.

Underdog Highlights

Gilliland was followed across the line by his Front Row Motorsports teammate Michael McDowell, who finished 18th. Even on the quiet days for McDowell’s No. 34 team, they have been able to put solid results together. He had a largely uneventful day, falling a lap down early on.

However, McDowell was able to receive the free pass with 34 laps to go, allowing him to finish the race on the lead lap. That was significant because it gave the veteran the most lead-lap finishes he has had in his career (24), eclipsing his previous mark of 23 in 2020. While he missed the playoffs, McDowell has only finished outside the top 20 once in nine postseason races.

Due to most of the focused action either happening up front or in the rear, the meat of the field at Martinsville featured several quiet days. That could sum up Erik Jones’ race following a disappointing run at Homestead-Miami Speedway a week ago. The paperclip-shaped oval has not been a hot spot for Jones, who only has one top 10 in 12 career starts.

Jones struggled to crack the top 20 early on, but he finally found a rhythm and was able to finish the race in 19th. He also had a reaction that most of us had to Ross Chastain’s Hail Mary attempt on the final lap to put him into the Championship 4.

Outside of the top 20, you will find drivers who had great stories outside of Sunday’s race and drivers who are ready to put Martinsville in the rear-view mirror.

After a strong qualifying run and opening portion of the event, Corey LaJoie faded back to 22nd by the finish, which involved a bump to JJ Yeley in the final stage. However, LaJoie is leaving Martinsville with a Grandfather Clock trophy. You read that right. On Oct. 27, LaJoie won a dramatic NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour race to earn his first series win. He has another way to tell time now.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. also had a quiet race, which saw him finish 23rd. He also had a special week, too, as the 35-year-old finally tied the knot this week.

Now, how about the guys who are ready to move on? Yeley finished 31st after he had a fire in his car from rubber build-up, as well as a spin.

Ty Dillon experienced his second mechanical failure in three weeks with brake issues that relegated him to 32nd. Landon Cassill took a hard hit in the turn 4 wall with 34 laps to go that ended his race, leaving him 33rd.

Yeley was not the only driver with a rubber build-up fire. The same issue plagued BJ McLeod and the No. 78 car, forcing him out of the race and back to 35th.

Top 10 Underdog Moments Since 2000 – No. 2

Just like there is only one more race in 2022 (how is that possible?), we are closing in on the top underdog moment since the turn of the century. Now, for the runner-up performance.

The spring Talladega Superspeedway race in 2013 was marred by wet weather and clouds most of the weekend. Qualifying was rained out and the race even featured a three-hour delay for rain, threatening to cut the race short since Talladega doesn’t have lights. However, the downpour lifted, clearing the way for an upset ending.

The anticipated Big One struck on lap 43 when Kyle Busch turned Kasey Kahne, triggering a 14-car crash. Rain hit on lap 124, pushing the race into the evening.

Matt Kenseth carried the speed he had shown in the Daytona 500 to Talladega, leading 142 of 192 laps. Daytona 500 winner Jimmie Johnson was also a factor, leading 16 laps and running up front, but he could only muster a fifth-place finish.

Another pileup started on lap 183 when Yeley spun across Marcos Ambrose’s nose, causing a 13-car crash that saw Kurt Busch flip and land on top of Ryan Newman’s hood.

On the lone green-white-checkered finish, sprinkles and darkness began to fall as the field took the green. Despite restarting mid-pack, David Ragan had the best sight in his mirror: his Front Row Motorsports teammate David Gilliland. The two held the middle line, emerging through the gap on the backstretch during the final lap. A push from Gilliland sent Ragan past Carl Edwards, where he would hold on to earn his second career victory. Gilliland finished in second, giving FRM their first 1-2 finish.

Small Team Scheme of the Week

Jones’ Air Force-sponsored No. 43 was not the only United States military car at Martinsville. Ty Dillon featured the U.S. Space Force on his car, a branch that was created in 2019. The No. 42 fit the theme, featuring a chrome number and blue streak across the side. Unfortunately, the race was not out of this world for Dillon, who suffered brake failure as mentioned above.


About the author

Luken Glover joined the Frontstretch team in 2020 as a contributor, furthering a love for racing that traces back to his earliest memories. Glover inherited his passion for racing from his grandfather, who used to help former NASCAR team owner Junie Donlavey in his Richmond, Va. garage. A 2023 graduate from the University of the Cumberlands, Glover is the author of "The Underdog House," contributes to commentary pieces, and does occasional at-track reporting. Additionally, Glover enjoys working in ministry, coaching basketball, playing sports, and karting.

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