By Reid Spencer | NASCAR Wire Service
After a 17-truck wreck effectively ended Kyle Busch Motorsports’ stranglehold on the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, Sheldon Creed outdueled Ben Rhodes on the final two restarts to win Friday night’s LiftKits4Less.com 200 at Darlington Raceway.
Driving a No. 2 GMS Racing Chevrolet whose paint scheme was an homage to the late Jason Leffler, Creed took the lead from runner-up Rhodes in a side-by-side battle after a restart on Lap 140.
RELATED: Official race results
After Danny Bohn’s spin brought out the 11th caution of the race on Lap 142, Creed prevailed once again on a Lap 146 restart when Rhodes got loose, slipped and lost ground. Fittingly, the race ended under yellow for Hailie Deegan’s final-lap spin on the frontstretch. That caution was the 12th of the race, for a total of 66 of the 147 laps.
Creed, the defending series champion, collected a $50,000 bonus for winning the first Triple Truck Challenge Presented by Womply event of the season.
“It feels great,” Creed said after a celebratory burnout on the frontstretch. “Didn’t have the best truck there, for sure. … Firing off, I was really tight. Then I was wrecking loose there, just doing everything I could.
“I was really aggressive on restarts — that’s what it takes. We’ve been struggling, but we keep chipping away at it. We’re getting better trucks the last couple weeks. All I ask for are trucks I can race with.
“Won an extra $50K tonight — whoo!”
The victory was Creed’s first of the season, first at Darlington and the sixth of his career. Not only did it stop a record-tying streak of five-straight victories for KBM, but it also broke Toyota’s seven-race monopoly to start the season.
Before a game-changing restart on Lap 117, however, KBM drivers seemingly had firm control of the race. Series leader and Stage 2 winner John Hunter Nemechek held the point with teammate Corey Heim — making his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series debut on one of NASCAR’s most challenging tracks — beside him.
But wide disparities in tire strategy created an accordion effect on the restart, with trucks on newer tires pushing trucks that were having trouble putting power down. Nemechek and Heim both turned sideways due to contact from behind, and chaos reigned in their wake.
All told, 17 of the 33 trucks still running sustained damage in the wreck, including all three of the KBM entries.
That set the stage for Creed and Rhodes to battle for the victory. Rhodes had recovered from two flat tires and a penalty for pitting early to work his way back to the front.
“I saw going into the corner we were going to push low, so I tried to work our way back up to give us some line so we could be side by side coming off of (Turn) 2, but got really loose,” Rhodes said of the final restart. “Luckily, we saved it, but it was an up-and-down night. I had a lot of fun.
“We set ourselves up for the end there with our Bombardier Tundra to go for a long run — with like low pressures, and then lo and behold, red flags and caution after caution after caution. So what do you do, right? He had seven-lap newer tires, some help on the restarts, and I guess conditions were perfect for him, but I’m not going to pout about it. I’m driving a race car. I’m happy.”
Sunoco rookie Carson Hocevar ran third, followed by Matt Crafton, Grant Enfinger and Johnny Sauter, as ThorSport Racing placed four trucks in the top six. Timmy Hill was seventh, and Nemechek recovered to finish eighth. Austin Wayne Self and Jordan Anderson completed the top 10.
Note: The race-winning No. 2 GMS Racing Chevrolet of Sheldon Creed passed NASCAR’s post-race inspection. There were no other issues.