By Seth Eggert, NASCAR Correspondent
Despite a top-five finish at Eldora Speedway, Todd Gilliland is now in a ‘must-win’ situation to fight for the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series Championship.
Throughout the final stage, the Kyle Busch Motorsports driver battled inside the top-10. Gilliland slung dirt with dirt specialists Mike Marlar and Justin Shipley, as well as NASCAR regulars Chase Briscoe and Christian Eckes.
On the final restart of the Eldora Dirt Derby, Gilliland slipped backwards. Marlar slid by the No. 4 JBL / SiriusXM Toyota Tundra. Gilliland held off his KBM teammate Eckes and NASCAR Xfinity Series driver Briscoe to earn a fifth-place finish.
While Gilliland finished fifth, Stewart Friesen earned his first career victory and secured a playoff berth. The 19-year-old driver is now 97-points behind the cutoff, held by Matt Crafton. Only a victory at Michigan International Speedway next weekend can earn Gilliland his first playoff berth.
“Definitely a solid day, but solid days don’t cut it at this point,” Gilliland admitted. “We’ve put ourselves in a bad points position and we’ve got to deal with it. Today, I felt like we had a truck that could compete for the win; it was just about getting in the right lane.
“All the little details that I should have been a little better at. It’s all a learning curve. I’m really happy with the race we ran. I just wish we could have finished it off better because we ran better than fifth.”
Gilliland run on the 0.500-mile dirt track was anything but quiet. After he bounced off the wall on the opening lap, he narrowly avoided ‘the big one’ in stage two when Eckes spun in front of the field. Gilliland again had to take evasive action to avoid Briscoe’s spin with nine laps to go.
The fifth-place finish is Gilliland’s ninth top-five finish and came in his 40th career Truck Series start.
Although Gilliland is seventh in the championship points standings, wins by four drivers behind him in points actually have the Sherrills Ford, N.C. native on the outside looking in. As stated earlier, he is 97-points behind the cutoff. Gilliland is also 149-points behind Grant Enfinger, the points leader.