NASCAR: Todd Gilliland draws high praise from former Daytona 500 winner

Todd Gilliland has led more laps than anybody to start the 2024 NASCAR Cup Series season, and teammate Michael McDowell had nothing but positive things to say.
Todd Gilliland, Front Row Motorsports, NASCAR
Todd Gilliland, Front Row Motorsports, NASCAR / Todd Kirkland/GettyImages

Not many people predicted that Front Row Motorsports' Todd Gilliland would be leading all NASCAR Cup Series drivers in laps led through the 2024 season's first two races at Daytona International Speedway and Atlanta Motor Speedway.

While involvement in late incidents has prevented the Sherrills Ford, North Carolina native from locking down good results, it's clear that he has taken a big step forward in his third year behind the wheel of the No. 38 Ford.

After leading just 11 laps in his first two Cup Series seasons combined, he led 16 laps in the season-opening Daytona 500. He then led a race-high 58 circuits after qualifying in fourth place at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Todd Gilliland turning heads. Surprise?

Anybody in the Cup Series will tell you that it's tough to get a good gauge on the true strength of most drivers and teams to open up the season with the Daytona 500, and that concept has been magnified in 2024 with two drafting races opening up the season instead of just one.

But Michael McDowell, Gilliland's teammate and a former Daytona 500 win, is not surprised by the progression of the 23-year-old, and he is thrilled that his talent is finally starting to be put on full display.

"He's done a great job," McDowell told Beyond the Flag. "He's an awesome teammate, and Cup racing is hard. It's hard, and you have to have all the right pieces and all the right people around you, and his group on the No. 38 has been a building process."

Gilliland didn't run a full schedule behind the wheel of the No. 38 Ford last year after spending his entire rookie year in the car, and there was speculation that he might not return in 2024. Now in year number three with the team, his return marks a rare stint for Bob Jenkins' team in which they are competing with the same two full-time drivers over the course of multiple seasons.

"There are a lot of changes, and there have been some really good changes, and I think that now you're starting to see what Todd's capable of," McDowell continued. "I don't feel like we've been able to really see that yet, and that's not on him, that's just how it is when you're trying to build a team and you're trying to build it around a particular driver."

McDowell, whose own fast start to the 2024 season has seen him record back-to-back from row starts, including his first career pole in 467 races, has been competing in the Cup Series since 2008. He has been competing full-time since 2017, and he has been doing so with Front Row Motorsports since 2018. Gilliland is just the second full-time teammate he has had for more than one season.

"That No. 38 car, in particular, has seen a new driver every year for so long, until Todd got there, that it was hard to really build any momentum, and so now we're building momentum, and he's doing a great job," he said.

"He works hard, and we always knew that he had the ability and the talent to do it. We just had to get all the right pieces around him and had to build up his confidence too. And I think we're at a good spot and he's leading a lot of laps and being aggressive and making moves, and he's got a good team and a good crew chief behind him with Ryan Bergenty."

While the "real season", per se, is scheduled to get underway this weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, McDowell is optimistic that the organization can continue to improve as a whole, not just at the superspeedways where they have become regular contenders.

"All things are looking really well for him and their No. 38 program, and that just helps the No. 34. It is important that both cars run well and we can build off of each other and feed off of each other."

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