By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
Todd Gilliland came into Martinsville Speedway with a lot to prove after seeing his No. 4 Mobil 1 Toyota Tundra run by his dad David at Daytona, his boss Kyle Busch at Atlanta, and Spencer Davis at Las Vegas with neither scoring a top-10.
The reason behind Gilliand missing the opening three races was NASCAR’s regulations prohibiting drivers under 18 years old competing on tracks 1.5 miles or larger. Gilliland doesn’t turn 18 until May 15th.
Age aside, Gilliland had another battle in his season debut. Starting at the rear due to an engine change.
The third generation NASCAR driver lived up to the challenge and tried to turn things around for the No. 4 Kyle Busch Motorsports team in his season debut, but late restarts and pitting late dashed his day, finishing 14th in the Alpha Energy Solutions 250 Monday.
“I have to say thank you to everyone at KBM for such a fast Mobil 1 Toyota Tundra today,” said Gilliland.
“Coming from the back was rough, but that’s what we had to do and once we got up there, we were really fast. We came down pit road and we were really tight that last run. Struggled a little bit there, but overall I’m very happy with the speed we had. I think I just need to be smarter on my part and put in the situations with the people I’m around. Just a big learning day for sure and we’ll move on for Dover.”
Stage 1 began Saturday afternoon, where Gilliland slowly worked his way through the field until the race was stopped on Lap 23 due to rain and snow. The race was originally postponed to Sunday evening, but snow plowed the circuit and the remaining 57 laps of the opening stage concluded on Monday.
Gilliand was unable to crack the top-10, finishing a spot behind Myatt Snider. Howeever, his day gradually improved in stage two, but he had to run aggressive.
On the 86th lap, Gilliand bumped into Johnny Sauter, who then ran into Stewart Friesen in Turn 1, causing a multi-truck crash. No drivers sustained terminal damage, as Gilliland had minimal damage.
Once the race resumed, Gilliland battled for the lead with pole sitter Ben Rhodes, taking the lead on Lap 93. Eventually, Rhodes won the battle and Gilliland settled for second to wrap up stage two.
During the final stage, Gilliland had his sights of capturing his maiden Truck Series victory, passing Grant Enfinger for second with 64 laps remaining.
As the laps winded down, he ran faster laps than his father’s truck driven by Kyle Benjamin, but was only able to cut it down to one second as a debris caution with 37 to go changed the complexity of the race.
Several drivers behind Gilliland pitted as track position was critical if his chances of winning were to become a reality. Then the green flag came out with 31 laps remaining, John Hunter Nemechek went three wide on the bottom and took the lead.
Dealing with traffic, Gilliand made contact with both Benjamin and the Turn 4 wall, and when the dust settled in that exchange, he dropped to fourth.
His day went backwards as a couple of restarts gave him no choice than lose his seventh-place spot and pitted for fresh tires with 15 laps to go. Gilliland restarted in 18th, but only gained four spots to end his eventful day.
Nemechek held off Benjamin to win at Martinsville for his sixth career victory.
Gilliland scored 32 points, good enough to put him 27th in points as he’ll look for a better ending May 4th when the series travel to Dover International Speedway.