TOLEDO, Ohio – Todd Gilliland briefly doubted himself Sunday afternoon during the closing laps of the Menards 200 presented by Federated Car Care at Toledo Speedway.
Any doubts he had were quickly erased, however, when the 15-year-old sailed to the win in the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards race. In doing so, he became the youngest winner in ARCA Racing Series history – the win coming just two days after his 15th birthday.
“Wow, I can’t believe this is happening,” Gilliland said following the race. “Just, wow.”
Gilliland – the son of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver David Gilliland – was making his ARCA debut. He took the lead for the first time on lap 197 of the 200 lap race and beat Tom Hessert and Josh Williams to the finish line. A.J. Fike finished fourth and Kyle Weatherman finished fifth.
Gilliland was fastest in Saturday’s practice session and qualified fifth. He stayed near the front all day Sunday, surviving two red flags, one for a brief rain shower and the other for a late-race accident involving the leaders.
The race came down to a 20-lap shootout after several of the cars at the front of the field were involved in a crash in turn three – including race leader Grant Enfinger. Austin Wayne Self got into the back of Enfinger after he slowed drastically with transmission issues. Frank Kimmel, Weatherman and Bubba Pollard were also involved. Gilliland drove his car into the grassy area underneath turns three and four to avoid the accident. He pitted to clear the grill of grass and mud and to pull out one of the fenders, which had damage.
“Our car was really good after we took four tires,” Gilliland said. “When everyone else got torn up, we had to come pit, but everyone stayed calm and gave me a great car and restart.
“I knew the car was good. I kind of doubted myself a little bit. I didn’t know if I could get back up there, but I guess I could,” Gilliland said. “The car drove perfect.”
He eclipsed the youngest race winner mark previously held by Kyle Benjamin.
“This means a lot,” he said after climbing out of the Venturini Motorsports Toyota. “I’m 15 and two days and you have to be 15 to race, so it’s going to be hard to beat.”
Self finished sixth, Brian Finney a career-best seventh, Bobby Hamilton Jr. eighth, David Levine ninth and Matt Wallace 10th in his ARCA debut. Kimmel nursed his damaged car home in 11th. Ken Schrader was involved in a crash earlier in the race and finished 13th, six laps down. Hamilton was the last car on the lead lap.
Self said he couldn’t avoid hitting Enfinger when the No. 23 Allegiant Travel Chevrolet slowed on the backstretch.
“We got a really good restart, and got a good run off the corner and the next thing I know, he broke. I tried the best I could to avoid him. Next thing I know I had someone get into the back of me. Fortunately the car could still run and we were able got get a good finish.”
Self’s No. 98 AM Technical Solutions Ford took four tires earlier than most of the cars up front, then had great track position for the closing laps. He said the strategy nearly paid off.
“We just rode around and rode around and saved our tires, then we had a really good car for the end,” he said. “It’s unfortunate.”
Weatherman leaves Toledo Speedway with the Calypso Lemonades Short Track Challenge lead after his fifth-place finish in the Cunningham Motorsports Ford.
“It was an eventful day,” Weatherman said.
His Cunningham teammate, Hessert, said his car was strong at various points of the race.
“We were really good early on, but then I pounded the fence,” Hessert said. “We were tight all day. The 55 (Gilliland) was much better than us. I just didn’t have anything for him.”
Fike grabbed a top five in his No. 27 Liberty Village-McGladrey Ford. It was one of the new Five Star Composite Body’s in the race.
“The car was a lot better in long runs,” Fike said. “It was a great finish. The car is in one piece. I think every wreck was right in front of me, but we missed everyone.”
Enfinger remains in the series point lead heading into the next event at New Jersey Motorsports Park (NJMP), however four other drivers are within 65 points. He entered the race with a 105-point lead.
“If Talladega was a little bit different, we would be leading it,” Hessert said.