Saturday at Michigan is one last shot for Todd Gilliland to make the NASCAR Trucks playoff

Todd Gilliland and crew chief Wes Ward face a must-win scenario on Saturday at Michigan.

Saturday is a day of reckoning for second-year Kyle Busch Motorsports driver Todd Gilliland.

Following a partial season in which he failed to win a race and qualify for the playoffs, Gilliland again finds himself outside of the playoff cutoff in which he’s had a full season to either win or make the tournament on points.

Saturday’s Corrigan Oil 200 at Michigan International Speedway is the one last race to make the chase.

Gilliland faces a must-win scenario, something any driver who races for KBM is not expected to have accomplished by now. He has been scrutinized by the media and publicly criticized by boss Kyle Busch.

He’s not alone — rookie teammate Harrison Burton is in the same scenario. But this is Gilliland’s second season, meaning the pressure is greater for the third-generation driver out of Sherrills Ford, North Carolina.

So how does Gilliland intend to deal with the resulting pressure of Saturday afternoon?

“Pretty much the same pressure as I have had all year,” Gilliland said. “We show up to the racetrack every week to win. Along those lines, nothing has really changed. I feel like there is other people that maybe will be driving a little farther over their heads, probably me included at some points.

“It’s the last chance. That part is a little bit tough, but I feel like my team has brought better and faster equipment every week to the racetrack, and this is no different. I’m really excited to get out there.”

It’s been dissected ad nauseam why Gilliland is in this situation in the first place. He is often negatively compared to KBM success stories Erik Jones, William Byron and Christopher Bell, but he is the first of the four to have not been paired with elite crew chief Rudy Fugle.

The 19-year-old started the year with Marcus Richmond but has also seen his shots called by Michael Shelton and Wes Ward — the latter of which will be on the pit box this weekend.

“Why does it come down to this one race? It shouldn’t,” Gilliland conceded. “We’ve had a lot of opportunities. I think just a lot of up and downs. Communication problems. I feel like we’ve run a lot better after we’ve made some changes with the crew chief. It’s made me think about it.

“Marcus is still working at KBM. I still talk to him, probably now more than we did before. We communicate better now. I feel like after that switch, it made everyone a little better. We just pushed ourselves to the next level. I think since then, we’ve been more competitive. To get to that next level that we are competing week in and week.”

Gilliland started last year’s race at the 2-mile track west of Detroit and finished fifth.

“I think I could have done a better job of that last year instead of getting on the bottom and just losing a ton of spots,” Gilliland recalled. “Overall, just a lot of experience coming back here to Michigan. We ran really good, led some laps, and I think we can contend this weekend.”

The remainder of his career may depend on it.

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