AVONDALE, AZ — Grant Enfinger opened the path, Sheldon Creed and Zane Smith perfected it. Creed and Smith gave up the third and sixth spots respectively on the race track during the final caution period of Friday night’s NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series season finale. While it looked like they were throwing a hail mary in the closing stages of the Lucas Oil 150, it was a well calculated one.
Creed, would roll off eighth on that final restart. Smith was ninth. With just a 1-mile short track and only three laps to do anything, it seemed like they had punted away any shot at a championship by pitting. Instead, it a brilliant pit call when all said and done.
Creed, went from eighth to first and won his fifth race of his Truck Series career, all coming in 2020, en route to his first career championship. Creed, who led 27 laps all night, gave GMS Racing their second title in this playoff format, both coming in even years (2016 and 2020).
He was second and third respectively in the two stages and found himself fading as the final stage went on. That’s why they really had no choice but to pit under that final caution for when Dawson Cram crashed in Turn 3 with three laps remaining in regulation.
At that point, Brett Moffitt had set sail on the field. He took over the lead on Lap 75 and held onto it for the rest of the way. Until that caution changed everything.
Where Enfinger opened the path was, he was sixth and going no where before the caution for Carson Hocevar when he crashed in Turn 2 on Lap 103. So, they elected to pit and put new tires on his No. 98 Ford. It was a gamble, but one that if they didn’t make, they weren’t going to win the title anyways.
It immediately paid off too. Enfinger, went from 12th on the restart back up to sixth in a matter of five laps. He was right back to where he was before and had fresher tires. With 20 laps-to-go, he passed Smith for fourth. He moved into third four laps later. Two laps later, he was battling for second.
He was chasing down Moffitt and cut the deficit from four seconds to two. He had fresher tires than Moffit and three laps to catch him. Then, the caution for Cram comes out.
Moffit wasn’t going to pit to give up the lead. Enfinger, had fresher tires and couldn’t pit. So, for Creed who was third and Smith who was sixth, what other choice did they have other than to pit.
With fresher tires and a wild restart, they immediately rose back up the field.
Creed, scored his ninth top five of the season, eight of which being in the top three and four top two finishes over his last five starts on the season. He’s a deserving champion.
Smith, broke the rookie record with the best final finishing order in the final standings as he came home second in his No. 21 Chevrolet. The two who pitted late ended up 1-2.
Smith, bests the previous best result for a rookie in the final standings of third which was set by Austin Cindric (2017) and Christopher Bell (2016). He led the first 48 laps of the race but didn’t lead again the rest of the way. He was beat off pit road following the first stage by Creed and would finish second to Moffitt in Stage 2.
As his truck fell off as the final stage went on, the fresh tires were just what he needed. Smith, had 13 top 10’s on the season and seven top fives overall. He did have three top six finishes over the first four races run in 2020 but only six in the last 19 races. He did close 2020 with finishes of third, third and second respectively. Smith, also finished fifth in his only other Phoenix start of his career last November in the Xfinity Series race.
Moffitt, faded from the lead to 10th on the final restart as he got really loose in Turn 1 as a result of all that action. It was a heartbreaking defeat for him as he led a race-high 78 laps and if not for that final caution, he was likely heading towards his second championship in three years.
Moffitt, finishes third in the championship for the second straight year now too and closes the season with 16 top 10 finishes, 11 of which over the final 13 races, with a 10th place result in the race itself. It was a quiet year for him as he went 19 races without a win to start the year off with. He finally reached victory lane in the Round of 8 opener at Kansas and was on his way to a second victory on Friday night if not for that late race caution.
Enfinger, was 13th in the race and fourth in the championship. He won the season opener in Daytona and had four wins overall in 2020. He only had two top five finishes in the opening eight races to the year, both of which being wins. He also had just four top six finishes over the first 13 races, but six over the last nine.
GMS 1-2-3 in the Championship, KBM 3-4-5 In The Race
GMS Racing went 1-2 in the final finishing order for Friday night’s race. They had the field covered in the end with the leader and track position and two Trucks with new tires restarting in the top 10. It wound up being their third championship in five years by virtue of that move.
They end up 1-2-3 in the final standings as a result of that too. But, one quiet team on Friday was Kyle Busch Motorsports. It was another tough season for them in only advancing one driver into the playoffs. It was the other non playoff driver to have won among the two though with Raphael Lessard being victorious at Talladega last month.
They give KBM some big momentum heading into 2021 though with KBM finishing 3-4-5 in the race itself on Friday.
Chandler Smith wasn’t a factor all race and there he was bringing the No. 51 Toyota home in third. That’s exactly where he finished in this race last year. He closed 2020 with five top five finishes over his final six starts.
Christian Eckes finished fourth in his No. 18 Toyota. Eckes, was eighth and ninth respectively in the two stages and earned his 11th top 10 of the year and third top six in his final four starts of the season himself.
Lessard, was fifth in his No. 4 Toyota for his third top five over the final five races in 2020. This was his first career Phoenix start, so it was an impressive night.
Tame Night Until The End
For a championship race, it went pretty tame for a majority of the way. We only had two cautions in the first 102 laps, both for stage breaks. Then, we had a single car crash on Lap 103, but that was shaping up to be it.
With five laps-to-go, we had three cautions and two passes for the lead on track all night. Brett Moffitt was running away for the championship.
Then, the Dawson Cram crash on Lap 147 changed everything. It bunched up the field and allowed for pit strategy to see as many passes for the lead in overtime as we had the entire race in regulation.
Maybe Pit Strategy Can Work
Three of the four Championship 4 members used pit strategy in the final stage of Friday night’s race. It was the one who didn’t that got caught out in the end. You can’t blame Brett Moffitt for not pitting at the end there. I mean, why would he? Track position on a short track with an overtime restart was coming.
We really didn’t think pit strategy would play a factor this weekend. Maybe, we need to rethink that. Grant Enfinger went from sixth to 12th after pitting under the Lap 103 caution. He had to if he wanted to reverse the course and have a shot at a win. It took him five laps to get back to where he pitted from. A few laps later, he was in the top five again. A few laps after that, he was second, the best spot he was in all night. Fresh tires do pay off here and you can pass in bunches.
Then, Sheldon Creed and Zane Smith pitting during overtime to give up 3rd and 6th respectively to restart 8th and 9th respectively was a gamble. It paid off. They finished 1-2 and only had three laps to get there.
This could set the trend for the weekend. You can pit for fresh tires and still make up ground.