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August 26, 2023

Sheldon Creed misses Daytona win by a hair, but makes gains in Xfinity playoff pursuit

Sheldon Creed exits his No. 2 Chevrolet post-race at Daytona International Speedway
Brittney Wilbur
NASCAR Studios

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — In his bid for what would have been a playoff-clinching victory in Friday night’s NASCAR Xfinity Series race, Sheldon Creed came up just 0.005 seconds shy — a margin that had the Daytona International Speedway crowd oohing and aahing at the slo-mo replays and that had race winner Justin Allgaier questioning if he was actually on the plus side of the ever-so-slim gap.

The result could have been a draining heartbreak for the runner-up in Friday’s Wawa 250, but Creed did nearly everything else right as he fights for the postseason. He led 21 laps, finished second and first at the stage breaks and collected a race-best 54 points to pad his stature in the standings with two regular-season races remaining.

RELATED: Race results | At-track photos: Daytona

“No, actually happy tonight,” Creed said as he held his young son, Axel, on pit road post-race. “I felt like I checked all the boxes. I was not a good speedway racer two years ago, and just tried to get better and better at it, so to run like we did tonight — second in Stage 1, win Stage 2 and finish second in the race — I can’t be mad at that.”

Creed and his fellow playoff hopefuls also had to navigate complex drafting tactics in the pair of overtimes that extended the race 10 laps past its scheduled 100-lap distance. The top five for each restart also included two of the Richard Childress Racing driver’s closest competitors in the Xfinity Series Playoffs hunt — Parker Kligerman and Daniel Hemric.

Further complicating matters, both drive for Childress affiliates — Kligerman in Big Machine Racing’s No. 48 Chevrolet and Hemric in the No. 11 Chevy from Kaulig Racing. And eventual fifth-place finisher Cole Custer was also among that group, perhaps not inclined to lend a hand that might hurt the playoff chances of Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Riley Herbst, who placed 24th in a damaged No. 98 Ford.

Those thoughts all factored in when the contenders chose drafting partners down the stretch.

“I would’ve done the same thing he did. I would have lifted,” Creed said of Kligerman’s position in the draft. “I wouldn’t have pushed him to win because I can’t … we have a good points buffer now, but you never know what’s gonna happen the next two weeks, so I can’t afford to give up that playoff spot.”

In the end, Creed, Hemric and Kligerman all made gains on Herbst. Creed’s Daytona windfall moved him from plus-22 to plus-60 over the provisional elimination line. Hemric wound up third and left Daytona with a 56-point cushion — a 29-point boost. Kligerman went from minus-3 relative to the playoff cut to a plus-20 margin. He also emerged with a newfound appreciation for the inner workings of playoff pursuits in this, his first full Xfinity Series season since 2013.

“So I’ve personally never been in this position because I never got to race in a playoff format,” said Kligerman, who also works as a broadcaster for NBC Sports. “And I got a lot of respect now for the Cup guys who I talk about on TV all the time. I did have a lot of respect. I’ve got a lot of respect for them having to make these decisions because it is awkward as heck. It’s really weird trying to think about all these ramifications and what everyone’s thinking about. You know, I’m used to just showing up at superspeedways and being like, ‘I’m gonna push whoever the hell’s in front of me and try to win.’ This is a little different, and you’ve got to be smarter.

“But yeah, that’s part of it. I think it’s cool, though. It just adds a whole ‘nother element to the season and to what you gotta do out there. It’s not just hold it flat-out and try to hope for the best. There’s a lot of strategy.”