It’s hard to believe that it’s been nearly two months since the Camping World Truck Series raced one of the most memorable seasons it will likely ever run.
After running two races to open the season, the Truck Series (and basically the entire sports world) ground to a halt while questions surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic were faced. But three months sitting dormant came to an end when the Truck Series was once again on track, this time at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
And despite the smaller timeframe, NASCAR managed to squeeze in the remaining 21 races, though they were a bit different than what were originally scheduled, a move made to accommodate varying restrictions throughout the country.
Even though we haven’t quite made it to the end of 2020, the new season is fast approaching and will be here in just a little over a month and a half. But first, a few awards to close out the 2020 season that was.
It’s no secret that GMS Racing has asserted itself as a front-runner in the Truck Series, and for good reason. Prior to the playoffs, GMS and ThorSport Racing entered the championship battle in a dead heat for best team.
Though it seemed like GMS had the edge, likely in part because the organization hosted two first-time winners (full-time drivers only) who combined for five wins in the first 16 races, ThorSport also had five wins. Both organizations boasted 43 top 10s, though ThorSport actually took the edge with 25 top fives compared to 16 for GMS.
But GMS put four drivers inside the playoffs compared to ThorSport’s three, and if that’s not enough, the organization’s full-time drivers also won three of the seven playoff races and managed to put three drivers in the Championship 4, compared to ThorSport’s single shot with Grant Enfinger.
When it all came down to a since trip to Phoenix Raceway to crown a champion, Brett Moffitt cruised toward what looked like would become his second championship until a late-race caution set up a two-lap dash to the finish. The bunched up field allowed Sheldon Creed to take the edge and the championship as GMS put an exclamation point on a strong season that ended with eight wins.
All of that doesn’t even include the part-timer wins by Chase Elliott (Charlotte) and Sam Mayer (Bristol Motor Speedway). It’s become clear that GMS must be in the conversation when it comes to picking a race winner and a championship favorite.
Most Improved Driver
It may seem a little cliché to pick the champion as the most improved driver, but if the shoe fits, why not? After all, Creed did make quite the improvement in 2020 over his rookie campaign.
When he joined GMS as a full-time rookie in 2019, Creed was fresh off of a 2018 ARCA Menards Series championship-winning season that saw him in victory lane four times while amassing 16 top fives and 18 top 10s in 20 starts. His 4.2 average finish brought him into the Truck Series with high hopes, though the learning curve moving from ARCA cars to a truck proved to be a challenge.
Just four top 10s in the first 14 races of his rookie season showed Creed was driving over his head and didn’t have the proper balance of patience and aggression. In fact, he was all aggression for the first half of his rookie season, and that didn’t make him any friends on the track.
But as the second half of the year wound down, Creed posted seven top 10s in the final nine races including six straight from Eldora Speedway to Talladega Superspeedway, though it was too little, too late for any championship hopes.
Fast forward to this season and suddenly Creed looked like a different driver. Poised, level-headed and showing more patience than he had during his rookie year, he scored his first career victory in a rain-shortened race at Kentucky Speedway. And if there were any doubters who felt like that win should have an asterisk, Creed also visited victory lane at the Daytona International Speedway road course and World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway, solidifying his spot as a top seed going into the playoffs.
Finishes of 11th, second and 12th in the Round of 10 were enough to move to the next round, but good finishes wouldn’t guarantee a spot in the Championship 4. No problem for the No. 2 team, though. After a runner-up finish at Kansas Speedway, Creed led a race-high 131 laps and took the victory in an overtime finish at Texas Motor Speedway to solidify his position as one of three GMS drivers eligible to race for the championship at Phoenix.
And just as Phoenix looked like the race win and championship would go to Creed’s teammate Moffitt, a late-race caution set up a restart that saw the sophomore driver cruise through the field to the front, taking the win and the title.
Creed will return to GMS again for the 2021 season, and he’ll be a driver to pay attention to, assuming he continues the momentum that took him through the 2020 championship campaign.
It seems like ages ago, but the photo finish in the season opener at Daytona has to stand out as one of the best moments of the year. After nine cautions and two Big Ones, an incident with just two laps to go set up an overtime finish.
The two-lap shootout saw single truck owner/driver Jordan Anderson peek the nose of the No. 3 Chevrolet out in front of eventual winner Enfinger. The pair bounced off of each other all the way to the checkered flag, with Enfinger edging Anderson by a mere 0.010 seconds, the closet margin of victory in Truck history at Daytona.
— NASCAR Camping World Trucks (@NASCAR_Trucks) February 15, 2020
Sure, the superspeedway races tend to lead to chaos that puts drivers who don’t normally find themselves at the front of the field in a position to finish well or even steal a win. But is a runner-up usually this happy?
I hope you all wake up this morning as happy as @j66anderson.
— Alan Cavanna (@AlanCavanna) February 15, 2020
For Anderson, it might as well have meant a trip to victory lane. A driver who contemplated just giving up on his NASCAR dream less than five years earlier nearly saw the hard work and sacrifice pay off with a win, though he did still notch a career-best finish.
Right next to the words “disappointing 2020 season” you’ll find Johnny Sauter‘s photo. Simply put, the No. 13 team didn’t do itself any favors this year.
The season started off well enough with a seventh-place run at Daytona, despite a mistake in missing his pit box on pit road, a later penalty for an uncontrolled tire and suffering crash damage in the third Big One of the race that ultimately set up an overtime finish. He followed that up with a runner-up finish at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and appeared to be on his way to another strong season.
But once the Truck Series returned to action after the COVID-19 hiatus, things didn’t turn out quite the way Sauter and crew chief Joe Shear Jr. expected. A seventh-place run at Charlotte after leading 30 laps seemed innocent enough before the bottom dropped out. After struggling to a 17th-place finish at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Sauter’s team got hit with a tire violation that resulted in a disqualification.
No further penalties for Sauter, just the DQ. The tire failed the “dunk tank” test that checks for modifications. They chose one team from each manufacturer to take the tires. Took them from last stage.
— Bob Pockrass (@bobpockrass) June 6, 2020
Officially credited with a 40th-place finish at Atlanta, Sauter’s 2020 began its spiral out of playoff contention. In the eight races that followed the DQ, the veteran driver suffered an engine failure at Texas and a crash in the second of a Kansas doubleheader. To add insult to injury, Sauter posted just three top 10s in that timeframe and fell to 14th in the standings.
During the final four races of the regular season when Sauter was essentially in a must-win situation to make the playoffs, he posted finishes of sixth, 33rd, 31st and 27th. After a mediocre seven races to close out 2020, Sauter ended the season 13th in the standings with an average finish of 17.1, both of which are the worst he’s done since joining the series full time in 2009.
As of press time, there has been no indication as to whether Sauter will return to ThorSport Racing for the 2021 season for certain; however, you can bet that if he does, he’ll do everything he can to ensure it doesn’t turn into a repeat of the disappointing 2020.