Saturday's motors: Gilliland scores 1st victory in trucks with Martinsville win

Associated Press
Todd Gilliland (4) celebrates winning the NASCAR Truck Series race Saturday at Martinsville Speedway in Martinsville, Va.

Martinsville, Va. — Todd Gilliland won his first career Truck Series race by holding off championship contender Ross Chastain in overtime at Martinsville Speedway.

Gilliland passed Chastain for the lead in regulation on Saturday and had a decent cushion until an accident between Natalie Decker and Jordan Anderson brought out the caution with six laps remaining. He bested Chastain on the restart in overtime and sealed the victory when Chastain and Harrison Burton tangled on the final lap.

Gilliland’s win came in a Toyota owned by Kyle Busch Motorsports and prevented a title contender from locking in a spot in the championship-deciding finale. The final field of four still has all four slots remaining with just one race to go to set the championship field because non-playoff drivers have won both events in this round of the playoffs.

For Gilliland, it was a bit of redemption during a second season driving for Busch, who is considered to have the best trucks in NASCAR. The victory was the first in 46 career starts dating to 2017 and Gilliland is eighth in the standings.

He referenced a strain between himself and Busch on his team radio after crossing the finish line when he used an expletive to shout that Busch should stay in his motorhome rather than visit him in victory lane. Busch, who has been critical of the lack of results from his two drivers this season, congratulated Gilliland after the win.

Gilliland said his remarks about Busch on his radio were “just kind of heat of the moment really,” he said. “Just a lot of emotions. Everyone has heard what (Busch) said and obviously it’s true, we should’ve been running better. I’ve wanted to win for the last year and a half as well.

“I’m doing all I can and the guys at the shop are. It was pretty much just heat of the moment. Probably wish I didn’t say it now, but it is what it is. He said some stuff about me and it is what it is.”

He added that he doesn’t know what he’s doing in 2020.

“I honestly have no idea what’s going on next year,” Gilliland said. “Results equal opportunity, so we haven’t had either and like I said, it’s tough. Racing is a results-driven sport and when you don’t have ‘em, stuff doesn’t happen. We’ll keep going.”

Chastain finished second, followed by Johnny Sauter, Grant Enfinger and Timmy Hill, who was a career-best fifth. Burton, teammates with Gilliland, dropped from third to 18th on the final lap.

It was a rough day for the title contenders. Stewart Friesen was spun in the final stage, reigning series champion and points leader Brett Moffitt was in several incidents and finished 29th, and Matt Crafton had to change his battery mid-race and finished 23rd.

Austin Hill and Tyler Ankrum were among those involved in a nine-truck accident.

With only the Nov. 8 race at ISM Raceway outside of Phoenix remaining to trim the championship field from six to four, the drivers currently in position to advance to the championship are Moffitt, Friesen and Chastain, with Hill and Crafton tied for fourth in the standings.

Hamlin wins pole

Denny Hamlin has won the pole at Martinsville Speedway, where the five-time winner will attempt to lock himself into NASCAR’s championship race.

Hamlin turned a lap at 97.840 mph in his Toyota from Joe Gibbs Racing to earn the top starting spot in Sunday’s playoff race. It is the opening event of the round of eight and the field will be whittled over the next three races to the four drivers who will compete for the championship.

Hamlin is making a strong push for his first career title with five wins this season, including the Daytona 500 and last week at Kansas. The Virginia driver once dominated the paper-clip shaped short track but last won at Martinsville in 2015. Hamlin was second in this race a year ago, fifth in the spring.

Chase Elliott qualified second but will forfeit that position at the start of the race as punishment for an engine change. He will drop to the back of the field, but his strong qualifying effort still gave him a very good pit stall that should ease his Chevrolet’s battle from the back.

Martin Truex Jr., Hamlin’s teammate at Joe Gibbs Racing, qualified third and was followed by four Ford drivers, with Ryan Blaney at sixth the highest of the title contenders.

Kyle Larson qualified 14th, a spot behind points leader Kyle Busch, and confirmed he’s been racing with a fractured rib suffered in a crash at Talladega Superspeedway two weeks ago.

Kevin Harvick was the lowest qualifying playoff driver at 22nd.

Verstappen top qualifier

Two-time defending race champion Max Verstappen of Red Bull ended Ferrari’s run of five consecutive pole positions  by capturing the No. 1 qualifying spot at the Mexican Grand Prix.

His fastest time came just as a big crash by Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas brought qualifying to an early finish. The wreck ended the pole bid by Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel, who will start second and third.

“To come out on top was incredible,” Verstappen said. “We showed we are very quick.”

Verstappen was later summoned to the race stewards for an investigation into whether he violated safety rules under a yellow flag after the crash. Verstappen said in the post-qualifying news conference that he didn’t slow down, and stewards can check that against race car speed data. A penalty could knock him out of the No. 1 spot Sunday.

If the original result holds up, Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton will start fourth as he goes for a sixth season championship. He can win the Formula One title if he finishes 14 points ahead of Bottas, the only driver still mathematically alive in the championship.

A sixth title would put the British driver just one behind the record seven by Michael Schumacher.