Four years ago, when you heard Todd Gilliland’s name, you immediately thought about a future cup series star with championship potential. Gilliland was dominating the K&N series, completely mopping the floor with his competition. In 2016 and 2017 he won the K&N series championship twice where his primary rival was newly named Wood Brothers #21 driver Harrison Burton.
Since then, Gilliland has been in career limbo, virtually stuck in the truck series; his career reached a complete standstill. His run in the truck series with Kyle Busch Motorsports did not produce the immediate success that young phenom drivers like him were expected to have. To be fair though, Gilliland was not the only KBM driver struggling in this time frame.
Gilliland was brought up into the truck series under Toyota development with KBM along with K&N competitor Harrison Burton. Why Burton is significant to this, is because they were both running the same equipment in the same year and are at the same development range. It’s easy to compare the two.
The 2019 season was the first season where both these drivers competed head-to-head in trucks and here are their stats:
Top Five: 6
Top Ten: 14
Average Finish: 10.6
Standings Finish: 11th
Top Fives: 7
Top Tens: 11
Average Finish: 12th
Standings Finish: 12th
Both were disappointed in their 2019 season and did not perform up to the level of KBM equipment. The key issue here is that Gilliland was let go from KBM and Toyota’s development. Harrison Burton was promoted to Xfinity. When you look at the stats overall, Gilliland should have been promoted along with Burton at the least. Burton did nothing to stand out as a clear favorite over Gilliland.
KBM was having a down year in 2019, and it was only Kyle Busch who seemed to be capable of producing wins for the team. I think Burton’s stats when he made the jump up to Xfinity paints the picture that it possibly wasn’t a driver issue. This is why it sucks to see Gilliland get such a bad rap over his time at the company.
To be fair though, a big reason why Gilliland was let go from Toyota development might’ve been from him calling out Kyle Busch’s recent criticisms of his drivers over the radio after his first win at Martinsville. The worst thing you can ever do is piss your boss off, and I think this is why Gilliland was effectively shoved off the Toyota development track. This is where his father David Gilliland and Front Row Motorsports came together to form a new truck team to help keep Todd’s NASCAR career afloat.
It’s been a rough road at times, as it seems that even at the truck level, FRM is running middle-pack equipment. This season he is starting to show his true potential, being the only Ford in the current playoff picture, sitting third in the truck standings. While John Hunter Nemechek will be a tough guy to beat at the end of the year, Gilliland has a real shot at winning the truck series championship.
Spearheading Ford in the trucks, I think it should open the door for the next step in his career. With Austin Cindric leaving Penske’s #22 in Xfinity, it presents an opportunity at the next level. Currently, Penske has no development drivers coming through the pipeline, so Gilliland makes the most sense outside of someone with sponsorship making themselves known out of nowhere.
Harrison Burton was able to adapt and compete in the Xfinity series right away after what was a poor truck series start. I fully believe that Todd Gilliland is just as talented if not more talented than Burton, just doesn’t have the same financial backing. If Penske is willing to give him a shot in the #22, I honestly don’t think we’ll see much falloff in performance from Cindric to Gilliland.