NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Tracking the Trucks: Sheldon Creed Emerges as 2020 Champion in Phoenix

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In a Nutshell: Sheldon Creed won the race and the 2020 Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series championship at Phoenix Raceway. The victory denied teammate Brett Moffitt, who had led a race-high 78 laps and was cruising toward victory with a large lead before the yellow flew on lap 148 of the scheduled 150 and set up an overtime finish.

After pitting under that caution, Creed restarted eighth when the green flag flew but was in front of the field by the time the white flag came out. He beat teammate Zane Smith, who also pitted under that yellow, to the checkered flag by just 0.617 seconds.

“The caution came out and me and (crew chief Jeff Stankiewicz) were taking and I’m like ‘we got nothing to lose and the worse we were going to run was fourth,'” Creed said. “We put tires on it. I pride myself on restarts week in and week out and we just nailed it.”

Chandler Smith, Christian Eckes and Raphael Lessard rounded out the top five.

Race Rundown:

Kyle Busch Motorsports Puts 3 Drivers in the Top 5

While the focus throughout the entire Lucas Oil 150, all eyes were on the championship battle and rightfully so. But when the checkered flag flew, lost in the chaos of Sheldon Creed’s race and title wins was Kyle Busch Motorsports putting all three of its trucks inside the top five for the first time this season.

Chandler Smith, Christian Eckes and Raphael Lessard took the checkered flag third, fourth and fifth, respectively. Virtually unseen all night, the trio took advantage of a chaotic overtime restart to put themselves inside the top five and shake up the finishing order.

Smith, who made 12 starts this season, started 21st and struggled to work his way through a field where it was hard to pass for much of the night. But a late-race caution allowed him to take advantage of track position when he opted not to pit.

“Overall, we had a really good finish in our No. 51 JBL Toyota Tundra,” Smith explained. “We just missed it on our splitter heights this weekend and ultimately it killed us, especially with how deep we started in the pack.”

Meanwhile, Eckes, whose crew chief Rudy Fugle will make the move to the NASCAR Cup Series next season to sit atop the pit box for William Byron, started seventh in finished inside the top 10 in both stages before moving to the top five at the finish.

“I chose the bottom. On those last restarts, I saw that you can make moves, go low and go really wherever you need to,” Eckes said. That played in our favor, pretty well overall. I wish we would have been a little bit lower, maybe, we would have been in front of the 2 (Sheldon Creed). Not sure if we had the speed to beat him, but the track position definitely could have helped.

“Overall, pretty proud of my team. We were able to get Chandler (Smith) up there to get a top-five too, and I think all three of our Tundras were in the top-five too. It was a good day for KBM (Kyle Busch Motorsports).”

Lessard was the only one of the three with zero prior Truck Series experience at Phoenix and started 13th. He moved up to seventh by the end of stage two. He was one of the drivers to take advantage of fresh tires under the final caution before posting his fourth top five this season.

“We were pretty good and couldn’t really make moves because it was so hard to pass, and I was still learning the racetrack.,” Lessard said after the race. “Then we got to the last stage, we got way too free. We were super loose, but we kept fighting and trying to pass people.

“I feel like that is pretty good for my first time here. I’m just glad we got to run this year with everybody at Kyle Busch Motorsports, Toyota,TRD. It’s been an awesome year and CANAC, they’ve been a huge help for me this year. I’m just proud to have driven a full season and have a win in the Truck Series.”

Sure, it hasn’t been the kind of winning season the organization has been accustomed to over the last several years. In fact, the two full-time drivers in Eckes and Lessard share a single win between them (Lessard at Talladega), but since the four title contenders were nearly impossible to pass through the first two stages, that final restart shuffled the field and allow the KBM trio to make their mark on the final race of the season.

Heartbreak for Brett Moffitt as Championship Slips Away

With just two laps remaining, Brett Moffitt cruised out in front of the field with about a three-second lead, and though Grant Enfinger was cutting into that lead, there just wasn’t enough time for him to chip away that deficit and challenge for the win. It looked like Moffitt was on his way to a second championship in three years with two different organizations.

But it wasn’t meant to be when the caution flew for a single truck spin by Dawson Cram, which erased Moffitt’s lead and sent the race into overtime.

A wild restart combined with old tires shuffled Moffitt backward to his eventual 10th-place finish.

“I don’t have much good to say,” Moffitt said in his post-race interview. “We finally hit the setup right and can’t call a race to save our lives. It’s cost us multiple times this year, and now it cost us a championship. Unfortunate, but thankful to all my partners that have been with us all season long, everyone on this team for working hard. Just frustrating to lose one like that.

“I wanted some information on what [the pit situation] was looking like, and all they tell me is there’s chatter, and then everybody comes down pit road and there’s not enough cars to block the new tires. Race strategy has been a downfall of us all year, for sure. We’ve thrown away multiple wins because of it, and it’s frustrating to lose a championship because of it.”

For Moffitt, it’s a loss that stings more than it may have in recent seasons. Scoring his first win just a few weeks ago at Kansas Speedway, the 2018 champion broke both legs in a motocross accident just days before the sport faced the COVID-19 stoppage. That break actually allowed him to heal and recover without missing a race, though he struggled for race-winning speed for much of the year.

“This year has been hell, on and off the racetrack,” he added. “It’s been a tough year in my personal life with everything that happened, and having a bad year on track certainly doesn’t help that at all. Honestly, I’m just glad it’s over at this point. … I don’t even know what I’m doing next year.”

Moffitt is the only full-time GMS Racing driver who isn’t guaranteed to return to the organization next year. Zane Smith, Tyler Ankrum and Sheldon Creed all received contract extensions leading up to the season final.

This year wasn’t a bad one by any means for Moffitt with the lone win, 10 top fives and 16 top 10s in 23 races. But in a sport that places almost exclusive emphasis on winning the championship, it’s definitely a tough pill to swallow, especially with his 2021 plans still unclear.

Quick Hits:

  • Despite being locked out of the Championship 4, Ben Rhodes had his best season to date with one with, nine top fives and 14 top 10s. Seventh in the championship standings wasn’t his best showing, though. He finished fifth in points in 2017.
  • Austin Hill led the series in top fives and top 10s in 23 races with 11 and 17, respectively. Brett Moffitt wasn’t far behind with 10 top fives and 16 top 10s. Meanwhile, Sheldon Creed scored the most wins at five and the most stage victories with 11; he also led a series-high 587 laps this season.
  • It was too little, too late to affect any chance he had at the championship, but Stewart Friesen closed out the season with eight top 10s in the last 11 races, including a sixth-place run at Phoenix. By comparison, he had just four top-10 finishes in the first 11 events.

Rookie Report
2020 Rookie of the Year Candidates

Tate Fogleman – No. 02 Young’s Motorsports Chevrolet
Raphael Lessard – No. 4 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota
Spencer Davis – No. 11 Spencer Davis Motorsports Toyota
Zane Smith – No. 21 GMS Racing Chevrolet
Tanner Gray – No. 15 DGR-Crosley Ford
Christian Eckes – No. 18 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota
Derek Kraus – No. 19 McAnally-Hilgemann Racing Toyota
Ty Majeski – No. 45 Niece Motorsports Chevrolet

Number of Rookies in Race: 7

Number of Rookies finishing in the Top 10: 3; Zane Smith, finished second; Christian Eckes, finished fourth; Raphael Lessard, finished fifth

Rookie of the Race: Smith

Points Update: Sheldon Creed won the championship followed by teammate Zane Smith. Brett Moffitt, who finished the race 10th, was third, followed by Grant Enfinger, who took the checkered flag 13th.

Matt Crafton ended up fifth, followed by Austin Hill and Ben Rhodes. Christian Eckes, Tyler Ankrum and Todd Gilliland rounded out the top 10.

Derek Kraus was the first of the non-playoff drivers in 11th, followed by fellow rookie Raphael Lessard. Johnny Sauter ended the season 13th in his worst season in 11 full-time campaigns, followed by rookie Tanner Gray. Stewart Friesen rounded out the top 15.

Series-regular winners this season: Grant Enfinger (Daytona, Atlanta, Richmond, Martinsville), Sheldon Creed (Kentucky, Daytona road course, Gateway, Texas 2, Phoenix), Austin Hill (Kansas 1, Las Vegas 2), Matt Crafton (Kansas 2), Zane Smith (Michigan, Dover), Ben Rhodes (Darlington), Raphael Lessard (Talladega), Brett Moffitt (Kansas 3)

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