Late pass makes Todd Gilliland youngest winner in 52-year history of Phoenix International Raceway
PHOENIX – The NASCAR K&N Pro Series is known as a series for young drivers to prove themselves. Todd Gilliland managed to do that in his first start, taking home the win in the Casino Arizona 100 at Phoenix International Raceway on Thursday.
With the win, the 15-year-old Gilliland became the youngest winner of a professional race in the track’s 52-year history – even though he doesn’t have a driver’s license and was unable to drive back to his hotel.
“It’s really special to have my dad (David Gilliland) here, and I couldn’t thank my crew, Frontline Enterprises, Toyota, and (car owner) Bill McAnally Racing enough,” Gilliland said.
Although he never really challenged for the lead, Chris Eggleston earned what is probably his favorite 10th place finish. By finishing ahead of Noah Gragson and Ryan Partridge, the 26-year-old from Colorado earned his first NASCAR K&N Pro Series West championship.
“I don’t usually get nervous before races, but this one definitely had me nervous,” Eggleston said. “There was a lot on the line. It got pretty exciting there on that last lap going through [Turns] 3 and 4. I thought the No. 7 (Noah Gragson) was going to retaliate and get us. I apologize to whoever I ran into. I was just trying to save it from getting run into.
“Man, what a night. I’ll tell you what, here at Phoenix International Raceway, these boys deserve it, every guy on this team. Man, there’s so many people to thank. I’m just the lucky guy who gets to drive this thing.”
Eggleston and Gragson tangled with some last-lap fender bending, also involving Ronnie Bassett Jr. Both championship contenders were able to drive away, and Gragson finished 13th.
Todd Gilliland, the son of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver David Gilliland, took the lead after a blown right front tire ended J.J. Haley’s dominating run with six laps to go. Haley, the pole sitter, led every lap of the race up until his wreck.
Gilliland started the race in ninth and broke into the top five by lap 28. By the halftime break, Gilliland had made his way up to second and battled for lead position the rest of the race.
“Good golly, can you believe it?” said Gilliland’s father, David. “He’s good. I’ll tell you what, he’s good. I’m so proud of him and everybody. It’s a brand new car for us, and man we just gotta thank God. God gave us the power to work and get this car done, and God has given Todd an amazing ability to drive the race car and do things that guys like Kyle Busch can do, and so I’m just really proud of him. Man, I love that boy.”
The Pro Series East champion, 17-year-old William Byron finished second. There were five teenagers in the top 10: Gilliland, Byron, Dalton Sargeant, who finished fourth, Harrison Burton, who finished sixth, and James Bickford, who finished eighth. Rounding out the top five were Brandon McReynolds in third and Landon Cassill in fifth.
There were five cautions, including one for both of the cars owned by Ben Kennedy. Kaz Grala lost a tire going into Turn 3 and hit the wall on lap 9. Kennedy himself had a similar accident on lap 67.