With a victory on Monday night in the K&N Pro Series East race at Langley Speedway in Virginia, Todd Gilliland is one step closer to accomplishing something that hasn’t been achieved in nearly 20 years: winning two NASCAR championships in the same season.
His victory pulled him six points ahead of Harrison Burton in the East standings with just two races remaining at New Jersey and Dover. Meanwhile, Gilliland leads Chris Eggleston in the K&N Pro Series West by five points with three events left at Meridian, All-American and Kern County.
He is the first driver in the history of the K&N Pro Series era to lead both divisions at the same time, and he’s doing it on both coasts for Bill McAnally Racing.
“Bill told me a couple of times now that it’s been awhile since someone has won two championships,” Gilliland said. “I know Noah Gragson contended in both series last year but couldn’t close out because he had to pick one series for the race at Iowa.
“I’m just happy that NASCAR changed that rule and that we’re with a team like BMR that gives me fast cars no matter how far we have to go to race.”
Mike Stefanik is the most recent driver to post twin championships in NASCAR, winning both the old Busch North (predecessor to the Pro East Series) and NASCAR Modified Tour championships in both 1997 and 1998 — an amazing four NASCAR championships in two years.
Stefanik, a legend of the New England racing scene, says winning twin championships would be a much tougher task in 2017 due to the logistics. When he won his championships, a majority of the Busch North and Modified Tour races were centered on the Northeast.
“I think it would be neat to see,” Stefanik said. “I’m not a guy that’s overly concerned with being the last to do something or whatever. Records were made to be broken, and I think it would be neat to see just for their crew.
“Racing is such a team sport, and to be able to win two different NASCAR championships in one year says a lot about the people that Todd has surrounded himself with. That’s the best part of this deal.”
Gilliland is also a part-timer in the Camping World Truck Series with Kyle Busch Motorsports but is primarily known for being a third-generation driver, son of David Gilliland and grandson of Butch Gilliland — both NASCAR veterans. But the younger Gilliland doesn’t view his heritage as pressure.
He just wants to be the best version of himself possible.
“I was proud to see my dad make it to where he did,” Gilliland said. “I think it helps me to lean on his experience to make me understand where you mentally need to be. But I don’t think that leads to more pressure. We just have to go out there and do our best.”
For Gilliland, that means more than being just a driver. When not behind the wheel of his K&N car or Camping World truck, Gilliland can often be found at short tracks across America, working on Late Models owned by his dad or Kyle Busch.
He loves to race and doesn’t want to spend a weekend away from the sport he loves.
“I just love racing, man,” Gilliland said. “I know what our goals are. We need to win races and championships and hopefully make it to the Cup Series. But I love short track racing. I love being at the track. And I know that if we make it to the top that I won’t be able to go to these places like I do now, so I want to enjoy it.
“But I want to be more than just a driver too. I just want to be a part of the team.”
A humble third-generation blue-collar driver is set to win two NASCAR championships in one season.
How is this not one the biggest stories in NASCAR today?