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Todd Gilliland reflects on historic championship season

NASCAR K&N Pro Series East PittLite 125 - Practice

BRISTOL, TN - APRIL 15: Todd Gilliland speaks to the media during practice for the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East PittLite 125 at Bristol Motor Speedway on April 14, 2016 in Bristol, Tennessee. (Photo by Blaine Ohigashi/Getty Images)

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Todd Gilliland captured the K&N Pro Series West championship in his first full season driving for Bill McAnally Racing, becoming NASCAR’s youngest champion in the process.

At 16 years, 5 months, Gilliland’s season wrapped up with six wins (as well as one win in the K&N East Series), six poles, 13 top-10 finishes, and led 564 laps.

Gilliland will officially be crowned Saturday night at the NASCAR Night of Champions Touring Awards. Before doing so, Gilliland spoke with NBC Sports Thursday at GoPro Motorplex during a champions outing.

NBC Sports: Let’s get business out of the way first, do you know what you’ll be doing in 2017?

Gilliland: Not really, we’re working on some stuff. But we’re working on running as many K&N races as we can.

NBC Sports: Dad (David Gilliland) was able to spend a lot of time with you this year, how has he helped your progression?

Gilliland: I feel like he’s definitely helped my progression. If the learning curve is supposed to take five races he made it take two. So I feel like just that and on the radio just different situations that I’ve never been in that he can really help out; different adjustments you can make inside the car.

NBC Sports: Coming into the year when you sat down and gave yourself realistic expectations what were they?

Gilliland: We wanted to win two K&N West races and one East race, and we won seven (races) this year (between the two series). It’s crazy, but everyone at Bill McAnally Racing definitely gave me the cars to do it every week.

NBC Sports: How did the checklist on the shop wall come about?

Gilliland: I’m not sure. We went over to the open house at Bill McAnally Racing, and Bill had it up on the wall, and I’d say that was one of my favorite things in the whole shop, just being able to go in there and check the boxes off every week and thinking about it at the racetrack, that just one more spot and we can check another box.

NBC Sports: So you were constantly aware of the list?

Gilliland: Very aware. Even at Bristol, it was our fourth race, and we’d won the first three and then all I wanted to do was finish top 10. I knew we did have a car to win, but to just finish top 10 so I could check another box. Definitely kept us all moving forward.

NBC Sports: What has been the coolest thing that has happened since winning the championship?

Gilliland: It’s been a whirlwind. I feel like the coolest part was (Wednesday) night at the Whelen Hall of Champions when I got to take the paper off my name and my name was just a couple above my grandpa’s, one row over. It’s cool that we’re both champions on the West.”

NBC Sports: Some of your peers are nervous about the banquet, are you looking forward to it?

Gilliland: I’m looking forward to the whole night. We actually came last year just to check it out, I didn’t run any K&N races but … I am very nervous about the speech. But we’ll get it done and be fine I guess. It’s already written, and I’ve read through it a couple times, and luckily we have a couple of rehearsal nights.

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