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RICHMOND, Va. -- Sitting in his race car under a red flag, with so few laps remaining and all that time to think about potentially winning the race, there would have been a time where the doubts would have crept into Ryan Gifford's head. But not Thursday night.
"In the past it would have," Gifford admitted. "I really try to calm myself down and keep my head on straight at the end of these races. It finally worked out. I knew we had a good car, and I was confident we could win. Just went out there and did what I had to do. It was awesome."
A 24-year-old member of NASCAR's Drive for Diversity program, Gifford claimed Thursday's 100-lap K&N Pro Series East event at Richmond International Raceway, his first victory in 44 career starts on the circuit. The native of Winchester, Tenn., became the fourth different driver to win for the Rev Racing organization, which fields entries for D4D competitors.
But Thursday, the significance was on a much more personal level.
"This is something I'm going to remember for the rest of my life," Gifford said. "Four years in the series, coming up short so many times, so doing this is just awesome. ? I feel like there's been a thousand pounds lifted off my shoulders. Now hopefully we can go out there and click them off."
Brandon Gdovic finished second, with Cole Custer third. Custer was second behind Gifford on a restart with four laps remaining, which followed a red flag to clean up debris from a multi-car wreck. Gifford let an opportunity to win at Richmond get away last year, when he spun his tires on a late restart. This time, he spurted ahead of the pack at the green flag and ran away.
"I should have saved my tires a little more," said Custer, who earned his first top-five finish in just his third career start. "That's probably why Ryan beat us. But he drove a great race, and he deserved it."
The car to beat in the event seemed to belong to 15-year-old Gray Gaulding, who earlier Thursday became the youngest pole winner in the history of the series. Gaulding dominated the first half of the race, leading the opening 53 laps. But he and second-place driver Corey LaJoie drifted into one another in Turn 2 following a restart, and both cars were knocked out of contention with damage.
Gdovic believed the field would have run down Gaulding eventually.
"I think yes, only due to the fact that he was running too quick of a pace at the beginning there," he said. "He was driving pretty hard. That was a fast pace to run too early, I think, constantly. It seemed like on the first run the cars were already starting to fall back to me a little bit. ? I was just saving my stuff. He definitely had a fast car for sure, but I feel like here he would have burned it up a little too much."
It all set the stage for Gifford, who led the event's final 23 laps, and notched the 11th race victory for his Rev Racing team. But it was a career first for a driver who went back to his dirt racing roots to rebuild the confidence that paid off Thursday night.
"Last year I got in my dirt car a bunch, and won a few races. I was like, 'I'm still a fairly decent race car driver. I can still go out here and win,'" he said. "Just that gave me the confidence to go out and win again. I know this is a lot bigger level and a lot harder, but having that just little bit of confidence just builds, and you can build on it. ? I've really learned a lot, just that that little bit of confidence I got last year has done huge things for me."
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