AVONDALE, AZ — For the second straight championship race at the Phoenix Raceway, an overtime and a late race pit call decided a title. On Friday night, Sheldon Creed pit for new tires prior to the overtime restart in the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series season finale. He would restart eighth but charge up to the lead on the last lap en route to the victory as well as the 2020 championship as a result.
On Saturday, Austin Cindric gave up the lead heading to overtime to put on fresh Goodyear’s for his No. 22 Ford. It was a gutsy call, but they admitted that they saw what Creed did on Friday night and felt like they could do so a day later.
They handed the lead over to championship rival Justin Allgaier on Lap 199 while under caution for another championship driver in Chase Briscoe spinning in Turn 4 on Lap 197. Briscoe, had been struggling with the handling on his No. 98 Ford all race long. The Stewart-Haas Racing driver led 41 laps on the day, all coming early in the race as he won his 13th stage of the season (series high), eight of which coming in the playoffs (series high too) for Stage 1. Unfortunately for him, his car was just loose all race and he couldn’t stay out front for long in Stage 2. He’d finish third in that stage.
Briscoe, was barely hanging on over the final 100 laps and while running fifth with three laps-to-go in regulation, he spun.
Cindric, held a commanding lead at that point and was well on his way to the win. The caution changed everything. But, he knew that Allgaier had no tires left since he pit under the Lap 169 caution for new tires and would have to stay out. So, Cindric hit pit lane knowing that Allgaier would have between 25-30 laps on his Goodyear’s for the final overtime fight.
Plus, there was only 10 cars on the lead lap at that point, so he knew that he’d still be inside of the top 10 too. Eight of the 10 cars ended up pitting, which put Cindric third on the final restart.
On a wild three lap shootout, Cindric passed Noah Gragson who took the lead on the ensuing restart en route to his eighth career NXS win, six of which coming in 2020. It was his first career championship in just his second year at the helm.
Cindric, was a deserving champion as he was solid all year. He had 17 top five finishes in the regular season, but until Saturday, he only had one top five all playoffs. His last win came 12 races ago on the Daytona road course. At that time, Cindric had won five races in a six race span. Over a seven race span, he’d finish no worse then second. He’d not finish there again until Saturday afternoon in the Arizona desert.
This was his fifth straight top eight finish at Phoenix including three of which in the top five.
Allgaier, faded to fifth in the end in his No. 7 Chevrolet and will come home second in the championship standings. The JR Motorsports driver had three top five finishes in the playoffs but three finishes of 23rd or worse in his last five starts entering the weekend.
But, Phoenix was his spot to shine as he had so much past experience on the 1-mile race track. He had eight top 10 finishes in his last 11 starts including a win in this race last year. Seven of those eight top 10’s in his last 11 tries were in the top four in fact.
Allgaier, just didn’t have great long run speed despite having a good overall car. Cindric, had a great long run car though and despite the overtime caution, it played out how it was before.
Justin Haley struggled with handling all day and finished eighth in his No. 11 Chevrolet. It puts him third in the final standings. Haley, had five top 10’s in the seven race postseason and will be back in this Kaulig Racing ride next year. He was the only championship member not to lead at least one lap on Saturday afternoon.
Briscoe, wound up ninth. He won nine times in 2020 but failed to win the title. SHR’s Kevin Harvick did the same in Cup and won’t win the championship either.
Gragson, finished second in his No. 9 Chevrolet in the race itself to close 2020 with six top three finishes over the seven playoff races. It was that crash in Vegas (36th place finish) that kept him from competing for a championship.
Gragson, started off 2020 with a win at Daytona and had 25 top 10’s in 33 starts. He’s certainly going to be a championship factor next season. This was his first top five finish of his NXS career at Phoenix. He finished runner-up in a Truck Series race here in 2018.
Brandon Jones finished third in his No. 19 Toyota. The spring winner at Phoenix has four top seven finishes in his last five Phoenix starts.
Michael Annett rounds out the top five in his No. 1 Chevrolet with a fourth place result. That put three JRM cars in the top five of the final finishing order.
The future of this series looks bright for next year. The top three in the final standings will all be back in their respective rides next year. In fact, the entire top six of the final finishing order of Saturday’s race should be back in those same cars for 2021.