Both Sheldon Creed and Zane Smith earned the first NASCAR Truck Series victories of their respective careers this season and hope to put them to good use.
Creed, 22, and Smith, 21, are teammates at GMS Racing, and along with Brett Moffitt, the organization fills three spots in the 10-driver, seven-race playoff which opens Thursday night at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway.
Creed’s inaugural win came in a rain-shortened race at Kentucky in July and he added wins on the Daytona Road Course and at Gateway to become the No. 1 seed entering the playoffs.
Smith picked up his first career victory in August at Michigan and another a couple weeks later at Dover, Del. He enters the playoffs as the No. 3 seed.
“This is certainly pretty cool, for sure, but we still have a long way to go,” Creed said Monday. “Going into Bristol this weekend we just need to keep doing our job, though we did struggle some last weekend at Richmond.
“I’m confident we’re going to have speed this weekend and we’re just going to try to score as many points as we can the next couple weeks.”
First-time winner to first-time champion in the same year?
Asked about the journey from earning his first career to win to becoming the No. 1 seed in the playoffs in the same season, Creed said: “I put a lot of pressure on myself. I feel like I expect that out of me.
“It will probably set in later how much work it took to get here. But right now, I don’t know, I feel like I kind of expected it out of us, so it feels good.”
This is Creed’s second full-time season in the Truck Series and with GMS. He just missed the playoffs last season, ending the year with four top-five and 11 top-10 finishes in 23 races but came up short on collecting his first win.
He finished second in back-to-back races at Eldora Speedway and Michigan last season ended up 10th in the series standings.
Creed said he made a lot of improvements over his rookie season in patience, which he believes paid off in being able to capitalize on race-winning opportunities.
“I was just tired of wrecking race trucks,” he said. “It’s cool to be fast but then when you wreck them every week, it’s not. I’ve put a lot more effort into it this year.
“I want to be here to stay.”
Unlike his teammate, Smith has had very little experience to fall back on this season. He made just one series start in 2019 – finishing fifth at Gateway.
The COVID-19 pandemic shut down the season for two months and since it restarted in May, no NASCAR series has had practice or qualifying sessions. For a rookie, that’s a significant loss.
“When we went to Daytona, I was so stoked to start off the year and have a full opportunity ahead of me and up for grabs,” Smith said. “Then when the pandemic happened, I kind of joke about it and say we got a ‘$5 discount deal’ – that’s what the year feels like.
“I finally get a fulltime ride, it’s awesome, a great team and bringing fast trucks that can win and now I don’t get to practice or qualify and a lot of these places I have never been. That’s what makes it tough.
“A lot of people say, ‘Well, everyone is on the same playing field.’ But that’s not the case at all if you compare my experience to that of a Johnny Sauter or my teammates – they’ve both had at least a year already.”
Even though Smith admits many in the playoff field “have the upper hand on him,” he believes he has as good a chance as anyone to complete a rookie season that already features his first wins and cap it with his first NASCAR championship.
“I want to maximize my opportunity,” Smith said. “GMS Racing has been on it this year. We just need to keep running good and bringing speed to the race track.
“If we do, we can make our way through (the first two rounds) and get to Phoenix with a shot at (the championship).”
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