In the immediate emotional aftermath of crossing the finish line as a NASCAR Truck Series winner on Saturday at Martinsville Speedway, Todd Gilliland took a surprising verbal jab at critical team owner Kyle Busch.
“You guys are the best,” Gilliand said over his team’s radio communications. “Kyle Busch, you can stay in your F***ing motorhome.”
Busch, the 2015 Cup Series champion and principal owner of Kyle Busch Motorsports, has taken a critical tone towards Gilliland and fellow full-time teammate Harrison Burton all season. Behind closed doors, Busch is said to have taken a terse tone with his drivers throughout the summer. Publicly, he has told the media that he rated their performance as a “2 out of 10,” while adding that they “ain’t done shit.”
Burton has yet to win in his rookie season but will graduate to the Xfinity Series with Joe Gibbs Racing next season. Gilliland was previously winless before breaking through in Saturday’s NASCAR Hall of Fame 200.
During his winning press conference Gilliland didn’t immediately offer an apology.
“It was just kind of heat of the moment, really,” Gilliland said. “Everyone has heard what he said. It’s true, we should have been running better. I probably wish I didn’t say it now. It is what it is. He said some stuff about me.”
Gilliland had come close to winning prior to this weekend with high-profile misses in 2018 at Mosport and Texas Motor Speedway. Beyond that, Gilliland failed to produce top-fives with regularity and has yet to qualify for the playoffs in his two seasons.
Meanwhile, Busch had won all five of his allowed appearances in the Truck Series this spring in the flagship No. 51 entry crew chiefed by Rudy Fugle. Greg Biffle also came out of retirement in June to win at Texas Motor Speedway in that same truck.
Even Christian Eckes, Chandler Smith and Brandon Jones earned some degree of success in the No. 51, all while Burton and Gilliland teetered around the playoff cutline during the summer.
That left Busch all the more critical, resulting in Gilliland’s outburst upon taking the checkered flag on Saturday.
Gilliland’s crew chief, Wes Ward, has worked with the youngster for several years before becoming his full-time crew chief in June.
“I’ve only been his crew chief for half a dozen races or whatever, but I’ve been at KBM and watched him since day one at the very first race he ran,” Ward said. “He’s come a long way. Just a couple races that would’ve probably made a huge difference by now if things would’ve happened different. He ran out of gas on the last lap at Texas. A lot of the stuff that happened, probably might not have happened, but it’s part of the business.
“It’s part of when you come to KBM, you are looked upon to be able to win and if it doesn’t happen, then it really starts crawling on you and that’s what’s happened to Todd. As far as a person, he’s amazing. He’s grown up a lot. I think he’s really going to do some special things in the future. That’s what we try to do at KBM, is growing these drivers to go out and perform at that next level, and I think he’s ready for that.”
Despite Gilliland’s outburst, Busch did not remain in his motor home outside the track, congratulating his 19-year-old driver in victory lane before qualifying his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series entry shortly after the Truck Series race.
Gilliland’s future remains unknown, and an extension does not seem likely from KBM.
“Winning always helps,” Gilliland said. “Winning helps everything. I think it just helps my self-confidence a lot. Being younger, I know I think I can do it at a high level, but just week after week, like I said it becomes more of a daunting task every time you go to the race track. I think even just for the drivers I’m racing with, everyone in the garage, this is a big weekend for us all and hopefully it can open some new doors.”
I would not look for Todd Gilliland to be retained by Kyle Busch and Kyle Busch Motorsports for 2020. Gilliand’s after race comment over the race radio may have sealed his 2020 fate with KBM! Gilliand’s comment may have been very warranted, but everyone knows what kind of personality that Kyle Busch is noted to possess!
It may be that Gilliland will be seen in a DGR-Crosley Racing truck next season. Todd’s father, David Gilliland, is the DGR of that race team. As of this writing KBM has not tendered Gilliland a contract for 2020.
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!