Sheldon Creed dominates Truck playoff opener, wins Toyota 200
The 2021 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series playoffs kicked off Friday night with the Toyota 200, but even the brighter lights couldn’t provide enough illumination for World Wide Technology Raceway as a power outage resulted in a lengthy delay early into the second stage. By the end, Sheldon Creed shone the brightest as he led 142 of 160 laps and swept the stages to win for the second straight year at Gateway.
Austin Hill and regular season champion John Hunter Nemechek started on the front row, but the latter quickly fell off the pace while Creed took the lead after three laps. Creed led until Chandler Smith‘s truck suffered a rear hub failure on lap 30 to warrant a caution, and continued to hold the spot as the race resumed. Cory Roper and Derek Griffith also brought out yellow flags with their wrecks during the stage. Creed and GMS Racing team-mate Zane Smith battled for the lead throughout the opening segment, with the former winning out. Stewart Friesen, Ben Rhodes, Smith, Ty Majeski, Todd Gilliland, Matt Crafton, Hill, Nemechek, and Derek Kraus rounded out the top ten. All but Kraus was a playoff driver, with Smith and Carson Hocevar being the lone such persons to not receive stage points.
Stage #2 lasted just two laps before the lights were knocked out by a fire in nearby Fairmont City that damaged a transformer. The ensuing red flag marked the first delay for a power outage in the series since the 2014 Phoenix event, while Daytona 500 qualifying in February was also briefly delayed for the same reason. After nearly an hour of waiting, the backup generators were prepared and re-lit the circuit; track manager Chris Blair added one of the backups was also blown out by a power surge, though “there was a backup to the backup that has been hooked up.”
The race finally resumed with Creed and Smith leading the field to the restart on lap 67. As Creed pulled away, brake gremlins plagued his GMS ally until they forced Smith to the garage with six laps remaining in the stage. Creed took the stage win ahead of Rhodes, Crafton, Nemechek, Friesen, Majeski, Kraus, Tyler Ankrum, Christian Eckes, and Hill. Majeski, Ankrum, and Eckes were non-playoff drivers.
The final stage commenced with Creed and Rhodes leading. In a case of major playoff implications on lap 112, Nemechek’s truck stopped on the frontstretch and triggered a ten-person wreck as drivers attempted to avoid him, collecting Ankrum, Enfinger, Hill, Hocevar, Gilliland, Majeski, Rhodes, and Grant Enfinger; Gilliland attempted to return but cut a tyre and could not meet minimum speed, ending his night after 120 laps. Enfinger’s hood popped up on the ensuing restart, causing him to slow on the backstretch but he was able to pit without producing a caution. Nemechek’s woes continued when his left-front tyre went down on lap 129 and forced a trip behind the pit wall to address the broken brake rotor before returning five laps down.
When it appeared Creed was going to storm off to the win, Tanner Gray spun into the wall while racing Hocevar with five laps remaining to force overtime. A pair of series champions in Creed and Crafton occupied the front row as the session began. Creed had the run on the outside to clear Crafton exiting turn two. With a contingent of Toyotas stalking him, Creed held them off to win his second race of 2021 and seventh of his career, locking the reigning champion into the next round and prolonging his hopes of a title defence.
While it is Creed’s first time winning at a track in back-to-back years in NASCAR, he accomplished the feat seven times in the Stadium Super Trucks (including a three-peat at the Adelaide 500 from 2015 to 2017). Fittingly, current SST points leader Matt Brabham waved the green flag to begin the race.
“Sheldon Creed is supposed to win at Gateway when @mattybrabs is in the house,” posted SST on Twitter. “Strong SST representation tonight. These young drivers in NASCAR trucks need to come run some SST races to up their on track game”.
Further back, another driver of off-road truck background in Hailie Deegan enjoyed her first career Truck Series top ten in seventh, as did Creed’s team-mate Jack Wood in tenth. Armani Williams, Griffith, and Chris Hacker respectively placed twenty-first, twenty-sixth, and twenty-seventh in their series débuts.