By: Ashley McCubbin
Another year of NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoor Truck Series competition is in the books, with a new series champion as Sheldon Creed hoisted the crown for the first time. Along the way, though, there were some highlights and low lights to consider from the action on-track all year.
Although I was unable to watch all of the races, let’s take a look back at the good and the bad.
GOOD: A night of NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoor Truck Series competition brings forth another round of the applause from the fans. After all, they continually prove why they are the most fun series to watch.
GOOD: No matter how much times goes by, everybody will remember the restart put together by Sheldon Creed at Phoenix Raceway to win the championship.
Knowing that he did not have a chance at winning with his truck fading due to a loose condition, Sheldon Creed came down pit road putting on four fresh tires, while Brett Moffitt and Grant Enfinger led the field to the green flag. The result was a dramatic charge, and probably one of the best restarts of the entire season, as the youngster went from ninth to third in a lap in a five-wide move, taking the lead and eventually the win – more importantly, the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoor Truck Series title.
Creed’s aggressiveness has been credited against him on a lot of occasions, and got him in trouble when he moved to asphalt originally when his fair share of incidents in both ARCA and truck competition. While he has found a way to tone it down with consistency and smarts, it was that nature to credit back to his victory tonight. As his crew chief Jeff Stankiewicz said, “He’s a maniac on restarts.”
BAD: GMS Racing put together the strongest campaign of any team in the garage, but not everybody was totally pleased as Brett Moffitt wished he could have gone to victory lane more often.
The finale at Phoenix Raceway was one example as he dominated prior to the final yellow flag and led the most laps. It was understandable that disappointment and frustration was set to come in his post-race interview, but it went beyond that in a couple ways. Ultimately, he threw his crew chief and team under the bus for their strategy all year long.
It is no secret this year was frustrating at times for the past series champion, with it taking till Race 20 of 23 for him to score his lone victory of 2020 as he watched his teammates celebrate multiple wins. There was plenty of chances he should have accomplished the feat before then, but it seemed a late-race caution or incident on-track took away the chance of that happening.
GOOD: Phoenix Raceway got applause overall with side-by-side action through the field as drivers tried to end their year on a high note. You weren’t left bored with something always to watch, but that’s typical Truck Series as they’ve done all year in putting on the best racing of all three series.
BAD: Grant Enfinger said it correctly after winning at Martinsville Speedway – a chance to be part of the Championship 4 equation will make a driver push their limits beyond their normal bounds. But where is the limit? Some may not have been happy after the 2020 edition.
Enfinger followed that rule of thumb, ultimately playing the role in a couple different instances that saw other drivers chances at winning fooled. Sheldon Creed went around courtesy of contact from Enfinger as Brett Moffitt took them three-wide, Johnny Sauter had a flat tire courtesy of contact from Enfinger to Carson Hocevar, and a front bumper to the back of Raphael Lessard to send him around.
If Enfinger can sleep at night in knowing what it took to get there, then more power to him as that is something that would not sit on the conscious of everybody out there. Though secondly, and possibly more importantly, he may want to think about what he has done as an incident here could come back to bite him at Phoenix. What if Lessard dishes his own dish in response, or what if Creed determines that is how the battle lines are drawn for the championship and wants to race him the same way?
GOOD: From the drop of the green flag, there was action all the way around Kansas Speedway, keeping your eyes peeled to the screen. The restarts were wild as ever, with drivers making it three, sometimes four-wide in an effort to gain as much ground as quickly as possible.
Though if unable to do so, the unique grooves and aero package of the trucks allotted them an opportunity to make passes over the course of the run. Being able to witness Austin Hill and Brett Moffitt flip lines back and forth, getting runs on each other for the lead more than five laps was a testament to this. There was also the late side-by-side battle for fifth courtesy of Zane Smith and Derek Kraus.
The excitement wasn’t there in the last 20 laps though, as Hill drove away from the field, ultimately crossing the finish line by almost three seconds ahead of Moffitt.
BAD: The fans did not get to see as much as they should have hoped, thanks in part to the coverage. It seemed NASCAR on FOX was commercial happy throughout some events, taking several breaks, including three just during the first stage one weekend. A poorly executed broadcast on top of the races being hard to find to begin with is not the best situation.
Fox Sports 1 is a specialty station, so not everybody in the United States is subscribed, on top of not being offered in Canada. TSN is supposed to be the home of NASCAR coverage in Canada, but yet they only carry the NASCAR Cup Series, Xfinity Series, and Pinty’s Series. The result in those north of border unable to watch the series each week, unless through streaming the coverage, even with hosting an event on the calendar each season.
GOOD/BAD: One thing that stayed true, though, was the importance of the sticky stuff. The traction compound laid by officials to start the weekend is still where you wanted to be some weekends. It helps produce action and excitement, but if you just got outside of it a little, whether high or low, you had to be very careful as several drivers saw their trucks snap loose quickly, resulting in trouble and poor results for the day.
As a result, for the second straight week in a row, it was a caution-filled affair with several finding trouble around the oval. The lack of practice could easily be to blame, as here are the least experienced drivers among the top-three series, many seeing the track for the first time, and just guessing at it with their team, fingers-crossed they’ve done it right.
BAD: Kyle Busch Motorsports will certainly be looking for ways to improve for 2021 after how much of this year played out. The usual domination and strength was missing as the youngsters were not collecting checkered flags as they have in the past, except for Lessard at Talladega Superspeedway.
GOOD: Trucks and Xfinity reigned supreme thus far in the four straight days of racing at Charlotte Motor Speedway, as both events easily topped what we witnessed with the NASCAR Cup Series Coca-Cola 600. The explanation as to why that has been the case, though, boils simply down to what Busch had to offer post-race tonight, personally highlighting the Xfinity Series as the most fun out of the three.
“That was the most fun and the cars were really equal and driving all over the place,” he told POPULAR SPEED during the post-race media conference. “Tires were bouncing a little bit so they definitely lacked some downforce, that’s for sure. But you had some recovery if you ran the top and was able to chase down the guy in front of you.
“The Cup car package, you just kind of get boxed into not being able to follow the guy at all. I exited turn two right up behind Ross Chastain last night and didn’t wash out and didn’t have a problem and was able to stay with him versus the Cup cars, you get that close to somebody and you’re going to crash the wall.
“Same with the trucks, the trucks are really, really bad with that aero wake and the frontends of the trucks blowing out from underneath you when you get too close to the car in front of you.”
BAD: It was shaping up to be the Kyle Busch vs. Chase Elliott show at Atlanta Motor Speedway – until both drivers made costly mistakes that took them out of contention. It was a rarity for the NASCAR Cup Series competitors, but opened the door for a couple series regulars to shine.
From the drop of the green flag, the pair both showed speed with Busch leading early, while Elliott found his way to the front near the end of the opening stage. They remained up there through the second stage, with the final run to the checkered coming down to a green flag pit stop sequence.
Elliott was the first of the pair to attempt his way down, only to overshoot the entry and slide by with smoke coming from the tires. It appeared as though he’d rebound for a top-five finish, only to spin out with three laps to go after fighting a loose condition and using up his Goodyear rubber. He finished 21st.
Busch got down pit road cleanly, though found trouble once returning back to the track. Jordan Anderson suffered a flat tire, resulting in him slowing and going up the track. Busch caught the No. 3 Chevrolet Silverado rather quickly, and couldn’t escape to the bottom, trying to shoot the gap between Anderson and the wall instead. The result would be damage to his No. 51 Toyota Tundra on both the right and left side, bringing him back into the pits. He then sped on pit road, seeing him have to return down once again. He finished 22nd.
GOOD/BAD: The aggressive nature in the series seems to be kicked up a notch. Is it attributed to simply the pressure to perform to get a ride for next year, and the fact it’s close quarters? Or is this the product of the racing culture that we’ve created?
As Kyle Busch mentioned after Texas, many kids are coming up through the ranks wrecking cars. There are plenty of late model races across the country each week who end in the same type of controversy. Is the respect known before fading away in lure of excitement and take all attitude?
Either way, while it creates excitement, it may not be the best way to see the culture of racing head. This is where a lot of torn up equipment seems to happen, and at times, that’s not best for a team’s bank account as you can’t always fix that. Besides, do you want to have guys fixing broken trucks every single week?
These are the types of questions that certainly team owners and drivers should be asking themselves and discussing before things get way too sided the wrong way in case this is not the direction to be going. It’s the same thing fans should be asking themselves, while considering how they’d feel for their driver on both sides of the coin.