New tires win championships.
Or at least that was the case both Friday and Saturday at Phoenix Raceway.
Sheldon Creed beat out the Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series field on an overtime restart Friday in their season finale to win the 2020 title. Austin Cindric then did the exact same thing Saturday in the Xfinity Series.
“I watched Sheldon Creed do it last night,” Cindric said. “So why couldn’t we?”
They could, and they did. And maybe the Cup Series should, too.
NASCAR’s premier league races on the same 1-mile Arizona track Sunday (3 p.m. ET on NBC/NBC Sports App, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin, Brad Keselowski and Chase Elliott make up the Championship 4. Hamlin and Elliott are going for their first title – much like Creed and Cindric (another foreshadow?) – while Logano and Keselowski are aiming for their second.
If they’re smart, they watched the other two series’ finale and took notes.
“I laughed about it when the caution came out at the end there because I couldn’t believe how similar it was to the truck race,” Justin Allgaier said. “… When we took our set of tires with 30 to go, I really thought we had done the right thing. I really thought we made the right choice. So did Grant last night, and it didn’t work for him.”
He’s talking about Gander Trucks driver Grant Enfinger, who – like Allgaier – stayed out with old tires when the final yellow flew. Enfinger and Allgaier both restarted on the front row in their respective races. Come checkered flag two laps later, Enfinger was 13th and Allgaier was fifth.
Creed made his run to first from ninth. Cindric fired off third on his race-determining restart.
“Those are some tough calls,” said Cindric’s crew chief, Brian Wilson. “I based that on what I saw in the truck race last night. I’m good friends with Jeff Stankiewicz (Creed’s crew chief), and I watched him make that call, talked to him about it this morning. Just between watching that and what I saw in the Cup race in the spring, it seemed like tires really mattered.”
Creed and Cindric weren’t the only ones to pit under caution. A bunch of trucks and cars did, which really helped their odds. It made the buffer between them and the leaders thinner. They didn’t have to make up all that much ground to fight for the lead.
Phoenix’s track also allows for some unpredictable, fanned-out restarts. Heck, Cindric was behind Allgaier when the green flag waved. He then sandwiched himself between Allgaier and Allgaier’s teammate, Noah Gragson, who was not title eligible. Cindric pulled forward, and the race was his to win.
All that’s left now is the Cup Series. Another championship could very well come down to tire strategy.
“I hope not for their sake,” Allgaier said. “From a fan standpoint, it obviously adds a lot of action. The folks that were here tonight got a great show at the end. The folks at home watching on TV, they obviously got a great show.
“Anything can and will happen in these things.”