As the NASCAR Xfinity and Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series gear up for their championship races at Phoenix Raceway on Friday and Saturday, various drivers vying for the title enter with experience on another type of surface. Of the eight remaining championship-eligible drivers (four in each division), half have spent time in a Stadium Super Truck or another off-road vehicle. Two in particular—Sheldon Creed and Austin Cindric—have medaled at the X Games in the off-road category.
On the other hand, the Cup Series‘ four Championship Round drivers have never raced in SST or the X Games, thereby making the top flight of stock car racing not extreme.
2020 has been an outstanding season for GMS Racing. The Chevrolet-powered team has won nine of the twenty-two races run so far as all four full-time drivers made the playoffs. While Tyler Ankrum, currently in his first season with GMS, was eliminated after the Round of 8, his team-mates Creed, Brett Moffitt, and Zane Smith all made it to Phoenix.
The Creed/Moffitt/Smith triumvirate shares a number of characteristics beyond their mutual team, such as comprising three of the five drivers to have won multiple races in 2020 and having made at least two Xfinity starts. The trio also has seat time in a Stadium Super Truck, though what they have done in one greatly varies.
The 23-year-old Creed is a two-time SST champion with triumphs in 2014 and 2015. Having raced in SST since its inaugural season in 2013, he is the winningest driver in history with thirty-six victories, eleven more than second-placed and series founder Robby Gordon; he also won the silver medal at X Games Austin 2014 behind Apdaly Lopez, followed by taking gold in 2015. Creed has been a protégé of Gordon, himself a former NASCAR driver, as his career transitioned from off-road to stock cars.
While it took time for the former Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series champ and Dakar Rally competitor to finally adjust, things have since looked bright for the California native as he won the 2018 ARCA Menards Series title and is enjoying a breakout year in 2020. His sophomore season in the Truck Series has seen him score four wins, including the first (and, assuming it does not return in 2021 as it was a temporary event created to make up for lost dates to COVID-19, likely only) race on the Daytona road course, and he enters Phoenix on a streak of strong runs with the top seed and twelve top-ten finishes.
If Creed is the most successful driver in SST history, Smith is the young gun, quite literally at the ripe age of 21. Smith lost the 2018 ARCA title to Creed but scored Rookie of the Year honours, which he eventually parlayed into a ten-race Xfinity slate in 2019 with GMS ally JR Motorsports before joining GMS for the full 2020 Truck campaign. As the lone rookie in the Championship Four, he has obviously locked up 2020 Truck ROTY, and he also secured two victories in the summer.
A day after his maiden Truck win at Michigan in August, Smith and Creed went to Road America to run SST’s first races since Adelaide in February. While Creed scored two podium finishes in his return to familiar territory, the newcomer Smith finished fifth and sixth in the weekend’s two races. Prior to his début, Smith had also turned laps in a stadium truck during the series’ trip to Texas Motor Speedway in April 2019; incidentally, Creed swept that weekend’s pair of events. Smith has twelve top tens and the wins at Michigan and Dover.
While Moffitt has never raced in SST, he has tested a truck at series headquarters in North Carolina. Moffitt, the 2018 Truck Series champion and in his second season with GMS, has gone through a tumultuous 2020 campaign in which he broke his legs in a motocross accident during the season pause in the spring due to the pandemic, but recovered in time to return to action without missing a race. Although he went winless for much of the year, he finally scored a win in the Round of 8 opener at Kansas after holding off Creed in overtime. He goes into Phoenix with a win and fifteen top tens, the latter of which is most among the Championship Four.
Topically, Moffitt’s #23 truck for Phoenix will sport a special paint scheme paying tribute to retiring seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson. Johnson began his career in off-road, which included racing in the Mickey Thompson Entertainment Group, the predecessor to SST. Creed had honoured Johnson with his throwback paint scheme at Darlington, sporting a livery modelled after Johnson’s trophy truck.
Grant Enfinger, the fourth and final driver vying for the Truck title and lone non-GMS driver in the Championship Round, has not raced in SST, let alone driven one. Like Creed, however, he is an ARCA champion as he won the 2015 title. Currently in his fourth year with ThorSport Racing, he is tied with Creed for the most wins in 2020 with four and has thirteen top tens. While Enfinger has primarily spent his career on asphalt, his team-mate and defending champion Matt Crafton occasionally dabbled in another off-road truck racing series with TORC: The Off-Road Championship.
The Truck Seires’ Lucas Oil 150 will take place on Friday.
Before going to NASCAR, Cindric raced in nearly everything one could imagine, from open-wheel cars in the Road to Indy ladder to sports cars. In 2014, he began competing in the now-defunct Global Rallycross Championship Lites. As Creed scored the SST silver at X Games Austin, Cindric took bronze in the Lites behind Mitchell DeJong and Kevin Eriksson. He ran the full 2015 GRC Lites campaign with Olsbergs MSE in addition to making his first starts in NASCAR, and finished runner-up in the standings to Kevin’s brother Oliver Eriksson with four wins. While it is not surprising for off-road drivers to cross over into other related series, it might be worth sharing—especially considering his lack of experience there—that Cindric’s Lites campaign also saw him compete against 2018 SST runner-up Gavin Harlien (Augie Lerch, who has five SST starts to his name, ran the 2015 Lites finale). In September 2017, Cindric made his début in the parent Red Bull Global Rallycross for Bryan Herta Autosport at Evergreen Speedway, where he finished eighth and fourth.
Since then, Cindric has blossomed into one of the Xfinity Series’ top two championship contenders. The Team Penske driver, who entered 2020 with his lone NASCAR victories coming at road courses, enjoyed a dominant summer stretch with five wins and nine consecutive top fives, including a seven-race run in which he never finished below second. Coincidentally, his success crossed paths with Creed once again in August when he won the Xfinity event on the Daytona road course. Although he has not returned to Victory Lane since, he has twenty-five top tens (second most behind the eliminated Ross Chastain) and eighteen top fives (leads all drivers) as he went into the postseason with the regular season championship. Cindric will return to the series in 2021, though he will also begin sporadically competing at the Cup level before officially moving up full time in 2021 with Penske ally Wood Brothers Racing.
While it is not necessarily the definition of off-road racing, Cindric’s main rival and fellow Ford driver Chase Briscoe cut his teeth in non-asphalt environments, enjoying success in dirt track racing like sprint cars growing up. Set to move up to the Cup Series in 2021 with Stewart-Haas Racing, he has nearly double Cindric’s wins at nine, including wins in the season resumption in May and the Indianapolis road course, and has sat in the top two in the standings for nearly the entire season. Should Briscoe win Phoenix for his tenth victory, he will tie Sam Ard‘s 1983 campaign for the most wins by an Xfinity champion.
Briscoe is also a massive supporter of SST, having long expressed interest in running a race someday. Gordon offered him a ride for Road America in August while SST was supporting the Xfinity Series, though scheduling conflicts ultimately ended that possibility. Rather ironically, Cindric won that Xfinity race.
The other two Championship Round drivers are a pair of Justins in Chevrolets with JRM’s Justin Allgaier and Kaulig Racing‘s Justin Haley. Like Briscoe, both drivers began their careers on dirt, and have won three races apiece in 2020. It will be Allgaier’s fourth apperance in the final round as he enters with eight top tens. Haley, who finished twelfth in the standings as a rookie in 2019 and will return to Kaulig in 2021, has had a burgeoning-but-fairly-unusual career as he won his first Cup race in a lightning-shortened event at Daytona in 2019 before he even won at the Xfinity level; the latter at Talladega also made him the thirty-second driver in history to win a race in all three NASCAR national series. All three of Haley’s Xfinity wins came at superspeedways, and he had lost the 2018 Daytona Xfinity race in controversial fashion.
The Xfinity Series’ Desert Diamond Casino West Valley 200 is planned for Saturday. Allgaier won the 2019 edition when it was still the penultimate race of the season.