NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Tracking the Trucks: Sheldon Creed Dominates Gateway in 1st Round of Playoffs

Frontstretch’s Truck Series content is presented by American Trucks

In a Nutshell: Sheldon Creed put on a clinic en route his second 2021 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series victory in the Toyota 200 at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway. The 2020 champion led 142 of 160 laps and locked himself into the Round of 8 with a 0.292-second win over Matt Crafton. Ben Rhodes, Stewart Friesen and Johnny Sauter rounded out the top five.

The Win That Could’ve Been

Creed dominated most of the night from the drop of the green flag, but the battle was on for second behind him between ThorSport Racing teammates Crafton and Rhodes. At the end of stage two and for most of stage three, Rhodes rode in second place, holding his three-time Truck champion teammate behind him in third. Crafton never let the No. 99 Toyota stray too far from him but appeared unable to show how much speed he truly had.

Race Notes:

Playoff Round 1 Chaos

For all 10 drivers in this year’s Truck playoffs, it was either triumph or tragedy — and very little in between.

Defending series champion Creed earned his second win of 2021 and automatically advances himself into the next round of the Truck playoffs in his hunt to become a back-to-back champion.

Crafton and Rhodes avoided the race chaos and ended their nights with a strong second- and third-place finish respectively, starting their playoff runs with great stride.

Friesen finished fourth, which is his fourth top five this season. A great result like that advances him up the playoff standings and into a comfortable position heading into Darlington Raceway in a couple weeks.

Rookie Carson Hocevar also had a solid finishing position in eighth.

On the other hand, Kyle Busch Motorsports had a rough night. The organization’s playoff woes began when series Rookie of the Year contender Chandler Smith experienced a hub failure in stage one. The issue caused the No. 18 Toyota to go 40 laps down, finishing 28th.

His teammate John Hunter Nemechek didn’t have an easy night either. After starting second, the 2021 regular-season champion hovered around the back of the top 10 before suffering a brake rotor failure. The resulting damage left him 22nd, five laps down.

While Creed ended the night with another win, his GMS Racing teammate Zane Smith struggled. After showing speed early on in the night and finishing fourth in stage one, Smith brought his No. 21 Chevrolet to pit road for a terminal issue on lap 99. A rear gear failure ended his first 2021 playoff race early with a 35th-place result.

For remaining playoff drivers Todd Gilliland and Austin Hill, their nights were ruined in a single crash. After Nemechek slowed suddenly on the frontstretch shortly after the beginning of the final stage, the evading drivers collected each other in a pileup, sending Gilliland slamming into the inside wall, collecting Hill. Gilliland finished 29th, while Hill finished 23rd.

Hey, who turned out the lights?

Just when things couldn’t get weirder.

On lap 61, the field had recently gotten back up to speed after beginning stage two. Creed was attempting to pull away from the field again after winning stage one.

Then the lights went out. All of them.

Some of the lights came back on to illuminate the 1.25-mile race track after the yellow flag was flown, but only parts of it. Most of the backstretch was still in darkness. The red flag was displayed after a nearby fire had reportedly damaged a transformer, causing the sudden outage that affected not only the track’s lighting, but timing and scoring as well.

After having race leader Creed test the track and even bringing out temporary lighting just in case, the track operators restored the backstretch to full illumination after a 40-plus-minute red flag.

A Career Day for Deegan and Truck Rookies

Much of the unanticipated events of the 160-lap race gave plenty of opportunities for drivers to have some impressive results. One of those drivers was Hailie Deegan, who earned her first career Truck top 10 with a seventh-place finish. With that, she became the first woman to finish in the top 10 in the Truck Series at a track outside of Daytona International Speedway.

Another rookie with an impressive result was Chase Purdy, who ended his day in sixth despite not being in the top 10 for most of the night. It was a career best for the 21-year-old, who was coming off of missing the race at Watkins Glen International after testing positive for COVID-19.

Hocevar also showed strength with an eighth-place finish after struggling for most of the night, even after being involved in an incident with Tanner Gray with five laps to go. After not earning any stage points, a top-10 result is exactly what the playoff contender needed.

2021 Rookie Report

No. 1 – Hailie Deegan
No. 02 – Kris Wright
No. 18 – Chandler Smith
No. 23 – Chase Purdy
No. 42 – Carson Hocevar

No. of rookies in the race: 5

No. of rookies in the top 10: 3; Purdy, (6th), Deegan (7th), Hocevar (8th)

Rookie of the race: Purdy

Point Report: With his win, Creed continues his quest to defend his title as he is now locked into the next round of the Truck playoffs.

While Nemechek had a rough night at Gateway, he still sits second with a comfortable 55-point lead above the cut line with Rhodes sitting only three points behind him in third. Fourth and fifth are Crafton and Friesen, respectively, each over 30 points above the cut line.

Hill and Hocevar are 21 and 13 points above the line, respectively. Gilliland is the gatekeeper when it comes to the Round of 8 with a mere 10-point cushion separating him and elimination.

Below the cut line are the Smiths. After a rough night, Zane Smith is 10 points under the elimination mark with Chandler Smith only eight points behind him.

Outside of the playoffs, Grant Enfinger still reigns supreme over 12th-place Derek Kraus by 69 points.

Series regular winners: Rhodes (Daytona, Daytona road course); Nemechek (Las Vegas, Richmond, Charlotte, Pocono); Creed (Darlington, Gateway); Gilliland (COTA); Hill (Knoxville, Watkins Glen)

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Up Next: The Truck Series takes a weekend off before heading to Darlington Raceway for the second playoff race in the Round of 10. Coverage for the In It To Win It 200 will begin Saturday, Sept. 5 at 1:30 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1.

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