Gilliland Wins K&N Pro Series East Opener at New Smyrna
NEW SMYRNA, Fla. (Feb. 14, 2016) – Todd Gilliland started his 2016 season in the same fashion he finished last year – with a win in a debut race.
Gilliland drove the No. 16 NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota Camry to Victory Lane at New Smyrna Speedway in Florida on Sunday night as he made his series debut in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East season opener.
The 15-year-old third-generation racer from Sherrils Ford, North Carolina had closed out 2015 with a victory as he made his debut in the K&N Pro Series West season finale in November. He is now two-for-two driving for Bill McAnally Racing in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series.
“I can’t thank everyone at BMR enough for the great preparation,” said Gilliland, the son of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series veteran David Gilliland. “We had a really good NAPA Toyota.”
He paced the field throughout the day, topping the speed chart in practice and then winning the pole award in qualifying. Gilliland slipped to third at the drop of the green flag, however, and had to charge back. He moved into the lead on Lap 24 and built up a margin of more than three seconds by the halfway point in the race.
After losing the lead on a Lap 114 restart, Gilliland had to make another comeback as the laps wound down. Although he had led a majority of the race, it took a fierce door-to-door battle in the end for him to edge out the win.
“We were running the leader back down and were under him when another caution came out,” he said. “Then we did it all again.”
Despite having confidence in a strong car, it was a challenge to mount a comeback late in the race, Gilliland said.
“You’re always concerned when you lead the whole race and lose it on a restart like that,” he said. “It’s really hard to lose the lead and have to race back.”
Gilliland’s BMR teammate, Riley Herbst, also had a successful night in his first race in a NASCAR K&N Pro Series car. Although disappointed after qualifying 17th on the grid, the 16-year-old Las Vegas driver rebounded to break into the top 10 and finish ninth.
“We started mid-pack and had to work our way through all the traffic,” Herbst said. “I wish we would have had a little more saved at the end, but it was a pretty good night for the NOS Energy Drink Toyota team.”
The NASCAR K&N Pro Series East race from New Smyrna Speedway is slated to air on NBCSN at 11:30 p.m. ET on Feb. 25. It was part of the 50th Annual World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing on the half-mile oval at New Smyrna.