AVONDALE, Ariz. — Sheldon Creed gambled on new tires for a two-lap overtime and snatched the Truck Series championship away from teammate Brett Moffitt.
Moffitt was cruising to his second title in three years when a spin brought out a caution on Friday night at Phoenix Raceway. Creed was one of 14 drivers to pit for fresh tires, restarted eighth and figured he’d watch Moffitt win the title for the team.
But Moffitt was a sitting duck as the leader on four old tires. He was passed immediately on the restart and faded all the way to 10th as the field cruised past.
Creed 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 of Huntington Beach by a mere .617 seconds to earn his first NASCAR national series championship in a dramatic season finale at the one-mile track.
“I pride myself on my restarts. We just needed a good restart right there,” Creed said. “I just went as hard as I could. I knew if I did, I’d have a shot.”
Smith, the third GMS Racing team driver, was similarly frustrated on pit road after the race. The 21-year-old earned two wins on the season and the series Rookie of the Year honor, 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 Smith, who led the first 48 laps. “Man, nothing hurts more than to be the first loser.”
Wow that hurts. Luckily I get to go do it all again next year appreciate my @GMSRacingLLC team. Truly a life changing year. 2 wins, rookie of the year, and 1 spot short of the championship.
— Zane Smith (@zanesmith77) November 7, 2020
Non-championship contenders Chandler Smith, Christian Eckes and Raphael Lessard rounded out the top five in that order.
GMS Racing had Creed, Moffitt and Zane Smith all in the four-driver finale and Creed helped Chevrolet open championship weekend with its first trophy. After being locked out of the Cup Series championship round since 2016, Chevy has strong contenders this year in all three of NASCAR’s national series. Chase Elliott races Sunday for the Cup.
Friday’s race was atypically clean for the rowdy Truck Series, which has been a demolition derby during the playoffs. But the finale was trouble-free until Dawson Cram was spun to bring out the late caution and force extra laps.
Creed, an X Games gold medalist and two-time Stadium Super Trucks Series champion, won for a Truck Series-best fifth time.
It was particularly heart-wrenching for 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. 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,” Moffitt said.
Moffitt at least twice in his post-race comments was critical of race strategy and not pitting before overtime, a pointed shot at crew chief Chad Norris.
“I don’t have much good to say. We finally hit the setup right and can’t call a race to save our lives,” Moffitt fumed. “It’s cost us multiple times this year and now it’s cost us a championship.”
Moffitt broke both his legs in a moto bike crash the first weekend of NASCAR’s shutdown during the pandemic and used the 10-week layoff to recover. He didn’t miss a race and nearly won a second title in three years, but is likely losing his ride at GMS next week because of sponsorship.
Moffitt does not bring his own funding and his seat can be bought by another driver. Earlier this week he lamented the promise of landing a competitive ride in any series next season and thought winning the title would help.
He was admittedly in a foul mood after the race, one in which Moffitt honored seven-time NASCAR champion Johnson with a tribute paint scheme.
“I don’t even know what I’m doing next year, so that’s that,” he said. “This year’s been hell on and off the racetrack. It’s been a tough year in my personal life with everything that happened. Having a bad year on track certainly doesn’t help that at all.
“Honestly, I’m just glad it’s over at this point.”
Grant Enfinger finished 13th in a Ford for ThorSport Racing. He was the only driver in the final four not representing GMS. ThorSport and GMS field a combined nine trucks in the series where young drivers are trying to launch a national-level NASCAR career.
Zane Smith said it is clear top jobs are opening in the Cup level with a spate of retirements – Johnson and Clint Bowyer run their final races races on Sunday – and the push is on for Smith and his peers to fill those seats.
“I feel like there’s a big movement in the sport right now, on the Cup side, people are going to be retiring soon and those seats have got to be filled,” Smith said.