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CHRISTIE: Todd Gilliland is the Cinderella Story of the 2023 Daytona 500

Todd Gilliland 2023 Daytona 500 Duel Front Row Motorsports Rick Ware Racing
Todd Gilliland 2023 Daytona 500 Duel Front Row Motorsports Rick Ware Racing
Todd Gilliland has to be considered a legitimate threat at winning the 2023 Daytona 500 after an incredible performance in Thursday’s Duel qualifier race. Photo Credit: Craig White / TobyChristie.com

“We’re here to win for sure. I told these guys we’re here to win tonight and Sunday. We have a lot to prove. That’s what we’re going for.”

-Todd Gilliland

Seemingly every year, an unexpected driver and team emerge as a legitimate threat to win the Daytona 500. This year’s Cinderella story is without a doubt 22-year-old Todd Gilliland.

In the closing laps of Thursday’s Bluegreen Vacations Duel No. 2, it was Gilliland who was at the front of the field with a shot of scoring the victory. Ultimately, Gilliland was kicked sideways after a bump draft from Kyle Larson in Turn 2 on the final lap.

The brief scary moment led to Gilliland sliding to a seventh-place finish off of Turn 4.

Here is a video of the finish of Duel 2, where Gilliland made a heroic save at the front of the field:

 

While it wasn’t a win, Gilliland proved he has a fast race car, and more importantly, he was able to save his fast car from becoming a part of Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s race car graveyard. Gilliland says he was just along for the ride with an extremely loose race car near the end of the 60-lap Duel event.

“I was really just hanging on for the last 10-15 laps. I was really loose on the top, and [Larson] could have got me down a little bit,” Gilliland explained. “And then he was off of me, and I felt like we were going to be okay. And then I don’t know if I was a little too low and clipped the apron as he hit me, but for my car, it was not going to take much to get me loose at all.”

Knowing he had an extremely loose Ford Mustang, and knowing it was the last lap of the race, Gilliland knew Larson would be issuing a push. He said knowing the push was coming, while also knowing his car was not equipped handling-wise — at the time — for the push was a tad terrifying.

“I can see [the bump coming]. That’s the scariest thing. In the mirror, you’re like, ‘Oh my god, I’m about to get hit really hard,’ which you have to. That’s the nature of the beast and you have to have a car that can handle it.

While it created an unsettling moment from inside the race car, Gilliland doesn’t fault Larson for the shove. That’s what you expect in the closing laps at Daytona.

“You got to push hard, it’s the end of the race,” Gilliland added.

It’s been a whirlwind couple of weeks for the Front Row Motorsports driver, who found out that Zane Smith would be swooping in and taking five of his starts away in the No. 38 Ford Mustang during the 2023 season.

While it looked like Gilliland would be reduced to a part-time schedule this season, ultimately, he was able to reach an agreement with Rick Ware Racing to fill in the five-race gap in his schedule. While having the 2023 racing schedule up in the air hasn’t been a fun situation for Gilliland, the young racer has found a silver lining in it all.

“The whole racing community has been amazing. Just getting the deal with Rick Ware Racing done so quickly. It’s really a breath of fresh air and it’s just amazing to me, the support from everyone,” Gilliland said.

Now that his 2023 schedule is officially filled out, Gilliland can focus on the task at hand — racing. And Gilliland makes no bones about it, he’s in Daytona for one thing and one thing only — to win.

“We’re here to win for sure. I told these guys we’re here to win tonight and Sunday. We have a lot to prove. That’s what we’re going for,” Gilliland proclaimed. “I think that proved to a lot of people that we can run up there. Hopefully, it doesn’t scare too many people that I almost spun out, but we’ll keep working.”

Keep your eye on Todd Gilliland as we approach Sunday’s 65th-annual Daytona 500. He is fast. He is hungry. And he knows he could be racing for his future. I truly believe he not only has what it takes talent-wise to win Sunday’s race, but he showed on Thursday he has a car capable of winning as well.

The 2023 Daytona 500 is scheduled for Sunday, February 19th. Television coverage of the race will be provided by FOX and the on-ar coverage will begin at 2:30 PM ET. The radio broadcast of the race will be available on the Motor Racing Network and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

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