Championship finalist Sheldon Creed had already apologized to his race team as his No. 2 GMS Racing Chevrolet Silverado began to fall back in the closing laps of Friday night’s Lucas Oil 150 NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series championship race at Phoenix Raceway.
And then a yellow flag came out – with three laps remaining. Creed gambled on a pit stop for fresh tires even as the race leaders – fellow championship contenders Brett Moffitt and Grant Enfinger stayed on track. Creed restarted eighth but made an amazing four-wide move on the bottom of the track to pull back into the lead with a lap to go and held off rookie teammate Zane Smith by a mere .617-seconds to earn his first NASCAR national series championship trophy in a dramatic season finale at the one-mile track.
“I can’t believe it, thank you so much,” the 23-year old Californian, Creed screamed into his team radio as he crossed the finish line.
“The caution came out and we were like, ‘we’ve got nothing to lose’,” Creed said of the decision to pit for tires. “I pride myself on my restarts week-in and week-out and just nailed the restart right there.
“I was just driving as hard as I can, I wanted this thing so bad.”
It was particularly heart-wrenching for Creed’s teammate Brett Moffitt, who led a race best 78 of the 155 laps and had held the front position for 59 laps when that final caution came out for Dawson Cram’s spinning No. 41 Chevrolet. The 2018 series champion, Moffitt, was essentially left helpless on the restart as all the trucks with fresh tires – plus a pair of title contenders – came at him in a five-wide title-on-the-line run for the checkered.
“It’s frustrating losing like that,” Moffitt said. “It would have been an honor to win with this paint scheme in honor of [NASCAR Cup Series champion] Jimmie Johnson,” said Moffitt, adding, “I guess if broken legs isn’t enough of a handicap, race strategy is.”
Moffitt, driver of the No. 23 GMS Racing Chevrolet, was referring to an accident he had prior to the COVID-19 NASCAR pause in competition, that broke both his legs. He recovered and valiantly made a run for the title despite the physical setback.
Smith, the third GMS Racing team driver, was similarly frustrated on pit road after the race. He earned two wins on the season and the series Sunoco Rookie of the Year Honors, but the disappointment in Friday night’s outcome was obvious post-race.
“Honestly, I’m happy for Sheldon, he had an amazing year along with us,” said the 21-year old Californian. “Man, nothing hurts more than to be the first loser.”
Non-championship contenders Chandler Smith finished third, Christian Eckes and Raphael Lessard rounded out the top five. Last year’s Phoenix winner Stewart Friesen, Ben Rhodes, Tyler Ankrum, Todd Gilliland and Moffitt rounded out the top-10.
The fourth member of the Championship 4, Grant Enfinger certainly turned in an impressive rally on the night. After earning his championship chance last week in a wild finish at Martinsville, Va. Enfinger was chasing Moffitt down in the closing laps before the yellow flag.
Like Moffitt, he stayed out during the caution and was also passed on the frantic ensuing restart by trucks with fresher tires. He finished 13th in the No. 98 ThorSport Racing Ford.
“We just couldn’t go on a short run,” Enfinger said. “We had good speed on a long run, but just couldn’t pass after that. So we got off sequence. That worked. [Crew chief Jeff] Hensley was leaning towards tires at the end. I was leaning against it just to do something different, and we ended up staying out. That cost us.
“It just is what it is. We didn’t have quite the short run speed to legitimately contend tonight, but, man, a great season by these guys. I’m gonna try not to be too sad leaving here because it’s been a great year. It’s just unfortunate the way it turned out tonight.”
By Holly Cain via NASCAR Wire Service