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Despite all the vast accolades Todd Gilliland has achieved over the past two seasons, he’s yet to compete in the Snowball Derby.

The defending NASCAR K&N West champion intended to make his first start in 2014 but ultimately chose not to enter after a series of poor showings in the Five Flags Speedway Blizzard Series. He made the trip last December but wasn’t even able to make the show.

For a 16-year-old that’s won in NASCAR, ARCA and Late Models, that was a hard pill to swallow. Now he’s back and led the opening round of practice for the 49th annual Super Bowl of Short Track Racing.

“I definitely want redemption at this place,” Gilliland said. “It’s been one of my first worst tracks but everyone is working hard at David Gilliland Racing and they’ve given me an amazing CSX Camry for this weekend. We’ve been testing a lot and feel like we’re in a much better position than we were last year.”

Gilliland was the fastest of the 52 Super Late Model drivers that tool place in the 10 a.m. session that opened track activity for the week. His 16.602 set the tone for the week but is far from the fastest times that will be set leading up to Friday qualifying.

Spencer Gallagher, Harrison Burton, Preston Peltier, Noah Gragson, Corey LaJoie, Stephen Nasse, William Byron, Ty Majeski and John Hunter Nemechek completed the top-10.

But Gilliland’s best time was special for another reason, even if it doesn’t matter in the big picture. Five Flags Speedway has challenged him like no other track in America, and this is a guy that’s proven to be a fast learner. Don’t forget that Gilliland won his first-ever starts in the CARS Tour, ARCA and both NASCAR K&N divisions.

“I think we’re getting there,” Gilliland said. “It takes awhile to learn this place. Look at the guys that are good here like Bubba Pollard, Augie Grill and John Hunter — they have a lot of track time here. They’ve learned how to be patient and fast. You just have to do a lot of little smart things with the tires to be fast here.

“There’s no track like this anywhere and so you can’t draw from anything you’ve done. That’s what makes this place so hard to learn.”

Gilliland says simply making the Snowball Derby would be alongside his ARCA and NASCAR wins as the biggest achievement of his career. Of course, winning would exceed them.

“It really blows my mind to think about it,” Gilliland said. “That’s our goal. We have some really good cars this week. I feel like I’ve gotten better here and the team is giving us everything we need. This would be really special.”

The complete results from first Snowball Derby practice can be found below.

1    Todd Gilliland    16.602
2    Spencer Gallagher    16.633
3    Harrison Burton    16.635
4    Preston Peltier    16.643
5    Noah Gragson    16.655
6    Corey LaJoie    16.671
7    Stephen Nasse    16.675
8    William Byron    16.677
9    Ty Majeski    16.686
10    John Hunter Nemechek    16.718
11    Donnie Wilson    16.727
12    Kyle Plott    16.734
13    Dalton Sargeant    16.744
14    Bubba Pollard    16.766
15    Chandler Smith    16.781
16    Cole Anderson    16.782
17    Zane Smith    16.789
18    Raphael Lessard    16.800
19    Brandon McReynolds    16.826
20    Grant Enfinger    16.826
21    Jeff Choquette    16.832
22    Christian Eckes    16.866
23    Kaz Grala    16.890
24    Derek Thorn    16.893
25    Chad Finley    16.898
26    Christopher Bell    16.919
27    Daniel Hemric     16.922
28    Casey Roderick    16.943
29    Kyle Bryant    16.944
30    Clay Jones    16.949
31    Cassius Clark    16.977
32    Jerry Artuso    17.006
33    Cole Moore    17.016
34    Michael Atwell    17.021
35    Connor Okrzesik    17.025
36    Casey Smith    17.049
37    Chris Davidson    17.050
38    Tyler Ankrum    17.068
39    Scotty Ellis    17.075
40    David Rogers    17.077
41    Logan Boyett    17.081
42    Jacob Gomes    17.088
43    Augie Grill    17.098
44    Boris Jurkovic    17.105
45    Garrett Jones    17.109
46    Derek Kraus    17.165
47    Bret Holmes    17.166
48    Dalton Armstrong    17.211
49    Steve Dorer    17.250
50    Cole Rouse    17.405
51    Logan Bearden    17.408
52    Tim Martin    17.418

Matt Weaver is the owner and founder of Short Track Scene. Weaver grew up in the sport, having raced himself before becoming a reporter in college at the University of South Alabama. He also has extensive experience covering NASCAR, IndyCar and Dirt Sprint Cars.

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