MADISON, Ill — Friday night’s Toyota 200 was a survival of the fittest among the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series drivers. Not only did they have to endure a near 50 minute red flag period for when the power went out at the World Wide Technology Raceway shortly after the second stage began, but they also had to endure a lot of carnage with over half of the 10 driver playoff field was collected in incidents.
In the end, Sheldon Creed prevailed in dominating fashion, stamping his name into the second round of the Truck Series playoffs. He did so in overtime after a late race caution brought out the yellow when it looked like Creed was going to run away with it.
Luckily for him, due to controlled pit stops this week, it wasn’t a difficult decision mulling to pit or not which avoided risking coming down pit road and having other cars stay out to steal a victory. The only drawback to that was that it closed the gap from his competition back up to his bumper again. Despite that, Creed never left it in doubt in pulling away at the drop of the green flag to score his seventh career victory.
For Creed, he now picks up in the postseason where he left off in 2020 with a title in Phoenix.
The GMS Racing driver dominated on Friday night in sweeping both stages and leading a race-high 142 of 150 laps en route to just his second win of the season and second straight at World Wide Technology Raceway too. This was also the first time that he swept both stages and took home the checkered flag first in the end. He was previously 0-for-3.
Creed, is starting a march to a repeat championship though with his third top three finish in the last four races in his No. 2 Chevrolet. He beat drivers that got some much needed top fives on Friday night.
Matt Crafton finished runner-up in his No. 88 Toyota in what was his best finish of the season. He now has four top six finishes in the last five races and just his second top five in Gateway since 2014 at that. Crafton, said that they reverted to old race setups for here and it paid off.
He picked the top lane behind Creed on the final restart and worked to near perfection.
Ben Rhodes brought his No. 99 Toyota home third for his first top five result since Memorial Day weekend in Charlotte and just his third top 10 in the last six races overall.
Stewart Friesen was fourth in his No. 52 Toyota ending a stretch that saw four of his previous five finishes being 20th or worse. This was just his third top 10 in his last 12 races, all three in the top five though.
That trio was the next best to Creed with Crafton being 7th and 3rd respectively on the two stage. Rhodes was 3rd and 2nd himself with Friesen 2nd and 5th.
We have to give a call out for Johnny Sauter who brought his No. 13 Toyota home in fifth for his first top 10 result since Darlington back in early May. Five of his last seven finishes entering this weekend were 20th or worse. But, Gateway was just what he needed in the sense that other than being 33rd last year, Sauter was fourth or better in his previous seven starts on the 1.25-mile track.
For the playoff drivers bad luck, it all started with Chandler Smith having a right rear wheel hub going out and him having to take his No. 18 Toyota behind the wall for repairs. He’d lose over 30 laps in the process. Then, Zane Smith went behind the wall early after his the transmission of his No. 21 Chevrolet went out on Lap 100. Smith, looked good early in finishing fourth in the opening stage, but he was battling bad breaks all race too.
Carson Hocevar failed to score any stage points as he was battling a Truck that was bottoming out all night. Then, he was collected with crash damage from that Lap 114 big one that saw John Hunter Nemechek lose power on the front stretch and collected playoff drivers Austin Hill, Todd Gilliland, Hocevar and several others behind.
Hocevar would remarkably rebound for a top 10 and now sits +13 in the standings.
On the flip side, it ended up being a bad night for the championship favorite in Nemechek. He started on the front row but quickly dropped due to a bad handling race car. He was down to 10th really quickly before only being ninth in the first stage. He found his way up to fourth by the end of the second stage before being the culprit of that big crash. While he’d continue on and even get back up to fifth after, he had a mechanical failure and have to go behind the wall to fix before coming back out. Nemechek, had four top two finishes in the six races prior to this one but now slides back to normal after St. Louis.
For Zane Smith, his hot streak ends as he entered Friday’s race with seven top 10 results in his last eight tries. Same for Todd Gilliland who had seven straight top seven finishes and 10 in the last 11 entering the playoff opener. Hill’s two race win streak and four top fives in his last five tries come to an abrupt end as well.
The worst night goes to KBM with Smith and Nemechek’s troubles only to be joined by Derek Griffith’s incident on Lap 40. Two of the first three cautions were for KBM drivers.
You can’t leave out Hailie Deegan who scored her first career Truck Series top 10 finish in her No. 1 Ford. Deegan, was solid all night and evaded carnage to finally get a top 10 with a seventh place run. Her previous five races saw her finish 19th or worse with her best result all year being 13th at Kansas and Charlotte.
She’s just the fourth woman to score a top 10 in the Truck Series but the other three came on a superspeedway in Daytona. Deegan is the first to come on a regular track that it takes skill and not drafting help.
Sheldon Creed is the defending series champion, won the opening playoff race and looks like a legitimate contender to repeat the title but he hinted in his post race interview that he doesn’t have any plans yet for next year and has been stressing about that. He feels like so long as he keeps winning, maybe it will all work itself out.