Todd Gilliiland, driver of the No. 38 Ford Mustang Dark Horse for Front Row Motorsports, ranks first in the number of laps led after two NASCAR Cup Series races. GIlliland led a race-high 58 circuits in Sunday’s event at Atlanta Motor Speedway and has 73 overall going into this weekend’s race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Gilliland spoke about the start to his season during a Ford Performance media call this morning.

TODD GILLILAND, No. 38 Front Row Motorsports Ford Mustang Dark Horse – HOW DO YOU FEEL GOING INTO VEGAS? “I think it’s definitely bittersweet. We definitely could have come out of here with absolutely no positives, so it’s still really nice to be leading laps led. Obviously, we need to start adding up the points, but this is speed like I’ve never had before in the Cup Series, regardless of the racetrack even though they’ve both been superspeedway type races. That’s still exciting for me and it’s definitely gonna be interesting to see where we stack up this weekend.”

HOW DO YOU MENTALLY AND STRATEGICALLY HANDLE THE FACT YOU’VE LED ALL THESE LAPS BUT ARE IN A POINTS HOLE? “There’s definitely no hiding it. We are in a hole in points, but at the same time I think Joey Logano is right behind me. I think Keselowski is right there and those are guys that you know are gonna be up there and probably most likely in the playoffs by the end of the season. Obviously, it’s bigger for us as maybe a smaller team to rack up the points as quickly as you can because you never know when the opportunities are gonna stop coming up. Overall, I’m just trying to take the positives out of it. I think this is definitely the most I’ve ever raced around the sport’s best drivers for the last couple of weeks, and hopefully I have a long career ahead of us. Obviously, we need to get points right now, but any of these high spots are obviously gonna help me moving forward also.”

POINTS WON’T MATTER IF YOU WIN. HOW MUCH CLOSER DO YOU FEEL YOU ARE TO CHALLENGING FOR A WIN COMPARED TO A FEW MONTHS AGO? “To me, this year has been miles closer to having the speed and the execution of a full race to potentially get the win. I think it’s still a very long road ahead. I think, truthfully, at Atlanta if everything went right, we could have had a really good chance at the win. To me, that’s definitely gonna be looked at as a missed opportunity. I think if we could have been up there, we could have at least gotten a good finish but, honestly, could have been battling for that win. That’s what we have to change our expectations to. I think we’re miles closer to potentially winning a race, but there’s also so much that goes into a full 400 or 500-mile race that we probably still need to get quite a bit better at.”

IS THIS A DAYTONA/ATLANTA/SUPERSPEEDWAY THING WITH THE SPEED YOU’VE SHOWN OR IS THIS A SIGN OF THINGS TO COME FOR THIS TEAM THE REST OF THE YEAR? “I think it’s probably a little bit of both. I think we have a lot of new exciting partnerships, whether it’s the Tier 1 program with Ford or our new alliance with Team Penske, I think all of that stuff has been helping us, pointing our team in the right direction to make these decisions, but at the same time I think it’s even past the speed of it. It’s the speed plus how good my car drove, even at Daytona. Taking pushes, I could lead a line and all of that stuff, whereas before I’ve been up in the mix but the cars I’ve had the last couple of weeks have just had a different feeling of having the potential speedwise, but also handling-wise, whereas before we would have had to pick one or the other. Let’s say we wanted to go qualify really well at Atlanta, we would probably have had to give up quite a bit of handling, so, to me, there’s more layers to it. I’m hopeful that we’re gonna show more speed here at Vegas, but on the same foot I think we finished 28th and 31st there last year, so we have tons to improve on, but I’m really excited and very hopeful that this weekend will at least be a couple of steps in the right direction.”

WHERE IS YOUR CONFIDENCE NOW WITH BEING ABLE TO RUN AT THE FRONT WITH A LOT OF THESE OTHER TOP DRIVERS? “It’s super exciting for me. As still a youngerish guy that is still trying to find my way and make a name for myself, racing against the best of the best is just a huge confidence booster for myself. I think I can do it and expect myself to be able to run well in those positions, but you never know what the other guys or the industry is gonna think of yourself when you’re up there, so, for me, it’s been really awesome and just have to put those experiences in the memory bank. This is a huge confidence sport. Like when we unload at Vegas, I’m gonna need to be very confident in my car to go almost wide-open around that place from lap one, so it definitely carries over and even if it’s not so much as the on-track results, I think even if it’s our race team we have mostly new mechanics, new car chief. I really think the expectation of our team this year, even if it’s through the first two races, we’ve seen the potential of what we can do at these type of racetracks and that needs to be the expectation going forward. It’s confidence inducing for me as well as my whole team.”

WHAT ARE YOU DOING DIFFERENTLY NOW THAN MAYBE A COUPLE OF YEARS AGO? IS YOUR PREPARATION THE SAME? “My preparation, for the most part, is very similar, but you definitely learn stuff along the way and, honestly, from the past three years there was the first year of the Next Gen car. You didn’t even know what to prepare on and then me being a rookie and then now three years in I definitely as a whole that our race team and myself know what is important, maybe what’s not so important and all that stuff. But from a race team side of it, you prepare the same and my race cars have just been much faster the last couple weeks, and it’s been really nice to prepare and be able to take semi-advantage of the situations. We’ve been up front, so that’s the biggest thing, and just confidence. It’s my crew chief’s second year as a crew chief. This year, all of those things help of just showing up to the racetrack where we need to, in a spot where we can go race and race confidently. I think that’s the biggest thing.”

WHAT IS DIFFERENT IN TERMS OF RACING UP AT THE FRONT WITH THAT GROUP VERSUS THE MIDDLE OF THE PACK? “You hear everyone say it. I think at the front of the pack the guys just get single-filed out really quickly and everyone’s cars are driving fairly good for the most part. And then you get back in the pack and everyone is putting each other four-wide and everyone is out of control. It’s definitely more fun up front. For me, that was Atlanta. As soon as I got back in the pack it was fairly out of control. It’s just nice to be up front. You have way more confidence in your car when you’re obviously running up front. You have more grip and more speed. Those guys, for the most part, you just have more room to get single-filed out and more so running your own race.”

CAN YOU DISCUSS THE LAP TWO SITUATION WHERE IT LOOKED LIKE YOU WERE MAYBE TRYING TO LET MICHAEL IN? THAT SEEMED TO BOTTLENECK THINGS BEHIND YOU. “It’s been a couple days since then and I’ve seen all of the replays of it. It’s lap one or two and we were working together with Michael and I was definitely trying to let him back in line, trying to make a little bit of a hole for him. There’s kind of one already there. I don’t think I really slowed down as much as it looks like as the 2 is kind of hitting the 12 and then everyone is kind of getting a run back to each other, and then obviously it just gets jammed up like 15 rows back and everybody is jammed together. Obviously, I hate that maybe we caused that in some sort of way, but, at the same time, we qualified well. We were trying to work together up at the front and just let a teammate in. People do it all the time, so I don’t know. I hate that it didn’t work out for a lot of guys, but I don’t think it was as bad as it looked just as everyone was kind of tightening up naturally at that point also.”

DO YOU HAVE TO SAY SOMETHING TO SOME OF THE OTHER DRIVERS WHEN SOMETHING LIKE THAT HAPPENS? “I think all of that stuff is still stuff that I’m trying to go through and learn through, but from this one in particular I haven’t heard anything from anyone. As a younger guy, in general in this sport, you need to get ahead of any situation. I feel like this one is a little bit different. I think there’s a little bit more shared blame everywhere. If it was something where I just wrecked a veteran guy, that’s definitely a situation where I would want to get ahead of it and reach out as a younger guy, for sure.”

HOW HAVE YOU BUILT RELATIONSHIPS WITH SOME OF THE VETERAN DRIVERS AND DOES THAT HELP YOU ON THE RACETRACK? “It is really nice. My first year I came in and I was just really trying to get to know everybody on the highest level of just knowing their names. Obviously, I know everybody, but being confident enough to walk up and just start a conversation. All of that stuff has gotten much easier. I think everyone has learned me on the racetrack, probably a little bit off the racetrack just here and there seeing stuff on social media. I think all of that stuff just gets easier with time. It’s just like any co-worker. The more you’re around them for years and years you guys eventually talk here and there, whether it’s just crossing paths randomly. All of that stuff has gotten a lot easier, but it definitely helps once you’re on the racetrack, whether that gives you something to talk about the next week and it just leads to a little bit deeper relationship over time as you guys race together.”

WHAT ARE YOU CURIOUS ABOUT THIS WEEKEND AT LAS VEGAS WITH THE NEW CAR? “I am very curious about everything. I think there’s tons of stuff that is very unknown, whether it’s the other manufacturer’s body. Obviously, the Dark Horse Mustang has been super fast the first couple of weeks, so I feel confident about where we’re at, but it’s just about where we stack up with everybody else. I think that goes for everyone in the field, honestly. Everyone feels good about where they’re at, so we’ll see. From our side, the team side, I’m excited to see where our preparation is at, where we unload and our potential speed is at. There’s lots of unknowns. Even our pit crew. It’s been kind of easy the first couple weeks as far as a lot of fuel only, a lot of two tires, where this is really gonna be something that separates the field also is pit crews going from here on out, so there’s tons of different layers that are gonna be exposed, so I’m just excited to see where it all kind of stacks up.”

HOW DO YOU DEBRIEF OR KEEP NOTES AFTER EACH RACE? “I do a debrief. I usually do it on the plane back home and usually try to knock it out, and also I have a bad memory, so I just need to get it out of the way in general. That stuff is super important. I think our team takes really good notes during the race. In the Cup Series, I think that’s one thing that’s different than other series in NASCAR is how much information you have to look at after the race, too. We have our post race meetings on Tuesday mornings, which kind of gives us a day on Monday and take it all in, take in the weekend of general what it was. Also, even going back to practice and qualifying day there’s gonna be a ton of stuff to look at from that night – seeing where everyone stacks up, seeing what we need to do quite a bit better, whether it’s stuff that we can implant for Las Vegas weekend or going forward for the rest of the season. There’s definitely a lot of data and a lot of stuff to look at, but as far as my debrief we fill it out after the race and then talk about it all with the team on Tuesday.”

Ford Performance PR