MARTINSVILLE, Va. – Todd Gilliland may have found the key he needs to unlock victory lane at Martinsville Speedway and end a two-year NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series winless drought.
Gilliland tipped on Friday after practice that he and his Kyle Busch Motorsports No. 4 team brought a new tool to the .526-mile paper clip, and at least early on, it seems to be paying off.
The third-generation driver turned a best single lap of ___ ( mph), but was solid in both sessions Friday afternoon when it came to long-run speed as well – a category he’s been sorely missing at Martinsville in the past.
“I think we’ve learned a lot,” Gilliland said. “I think this race is going to be a big step in the right direction. We’ve had a lot of short run speed. Every time I’ve been here, I’ve qualified up front almost every time. But just making it last throughout the run was almost impossible. We’ve got a little bit different front end package this time that will not take as much load and will hopefully stay turning throughout the whole race.
“I told everyone today, this is the best I’ve felt past five laps on my truck here in a long time,” Gilliland added. “We’ll see how it goes. You know, I can still be wrong. The track just rubbers up so much that you get so tight as you go. It changes a lot, and even changed a lot in that last practice, so we’re just going to keep working towards that goal of making it run longer, better.
“Hopefully we’ll be there at the end when they’re ready to wave the checkered flag on Saturday.”
Gilliland’s best finish in four starts at the Virginia bullring is fifth, achieved in the fall of 2017, his debut race at the track with Kyle Busch Motorsports.
– Tyler Ankrum has called Martinsville his “worst track on the schedule” for much of the season, and despite two solid practice sessions on Friday, that description hasn’t changed for the teenager.
However, he does have a plan to stay cool under pressure as he attempts to tame the “Half Mile of Mayhem”.
“Man, I don’t know; there’s still something in this place that just weakens me. This place is like my kryptonite,” said Ankrum. “There’s just something about this track where I can’t really necessarily wrap my head around it. Usually the easiest way for me to kind of calm myself down and kind of wrap my head around the track is just to think of it mechanically, not driving-wise. It’s easier for me to sit there and think about shocks and springs and cambers and track-bar heights and wedges and all that than thinking about what I’m going to do different on the race track.
“Just for me to calm myself down that way, it’s been helping a lot today.”
– Meanwhile, Ross Chastain’s plan is already well defined for what he hopes to accomplish on Saturday at Martinsville.
The Florida watermelon farmer intends to win, and win big.
“I just want to win anything and everything,” Chastain said. “I want to win the wheelbarrow races they have at Daytona — it doesn’t matter. I also know this opportunity with Niece Motorsports and what (owner) Al Niece has provided … (general manager) Cody Efaw and the whole group. What he’s given us to work with could be ‘once-in-a-lifetime’. This might be my last shot with this kind of opportunity.
“So I want to do right by him and all the boys and girls — and I’m going to say the same thing next year. I want to take advantage of the opportunities, because I do know how good it is. I’ve come to Martinsville with a 14th-place truck—practiced 14th, qualified 14th, finished 14th — and I got fired because I ran 14th. So I know how good this opportunity is.”
Chastain will move up to the NASCAR Xfinity Series next year with Kaulig Racing, and he could have a shot to begin building toward NASCAR’s Triple Crown – winning all three national series titles in his career.
That would start with a championship this season, but Chastain isn’t worried about the future yet.
“That’s nowhere on my radar,” Chastain noted. “I’ve got rolling goals that always evolve, and they haven’t evolved to there yet.”