If you look at Sheldon Creed’s racing career, it’s easy to point out the improvement from his rookie season in a series to his sophomore year. This year, Creed’s campaign has been filled with bright spots and stretches that make you wonder what’s happening with the No. 2 team.
In 2018, Creed’s second season of competing in most of the ARCA Menards Series schedule, he won a quartet of races and posted 16 top-five and 18 top-10 finishes in 20 starts while winning the championship. Same song, different verse in 2020, when he scored his first Craftsman Truck Series win in mid-July at Kentucky and went on to win five of the final 17 races of the season on the way to the title.
Creed’s 2022 rookie campaign in the Xfinity Series, meanwhile, was humbling. The No. 2 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet missed the playoffs entirely, and the driver finished 14th in the championship standings.
“If you look at his progression in stock-car racing in general, it took him a year to understand what he needed,” Jeff Stankiewicz, who has been crew chief for Creed since ARCA, said last fall. “When we move up to a series together, it’s not just him – it’s us together figuring out what we can do to make him more comfortable and give him what he wants. It’s a group effort for all of us. If history repeats itself, next year should be lights out for him.”
Creed’s 2023 season hasn’t been lights out, but it’s shown signs of progression. Through the first nine races of 2023, the No. 2 car posted five top-10 finishes. During the next 12 races, however, Creed scored just a seventh-place finish at Portland. Since placing eighth at the Indianapolis road course, he is riding a streak of four straight top 10s into Kansas Speedway this weekend, losing out in a photo finish to Justin Allgaier at Daytona International Speedway and slipping in oil the week before at Watkins Glen International. Both races resulted in runner-up finishes.
“I feel like last year we lacked speed in general and made mistakes,” Creed said. “This year, we’ve been a lot more competitive speed-wise, but we’ve just made mistakes a lot. That’s not only the team, but myself, too.
“I feel like we’ve made gains, but to run how we want to run every week, we need a lot more.”
Creed believes he entered the series when RCR was at a disadvantage, saying that Joe Gibbs Racing had superior cars at the time. The California native is winless in 62 career starts. Meanwhile, his RCR teammate Austin Hill has scored six wins — four in 2023 — and leads the regular-season championship standings by 23 points entering Saturday’s elimination race in the Kansas Lottery 300 (3 p.m. ET, NBC, Peacock, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, NBC Sports App).
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“Myself and our team could do a better job of putting ourselves in better situations, where sometimes it looks right with the strategy we might be on, and the worst possible case happens, and we don’t finish where we ran all day,” Creed said. “That’s happened pretty often.”
Creed doesn’t like to compare himself to Hill because their families hang out away from the track. He’s thrilled with the amount of success the No. 21 team has had, particularly during the 2023 season. But he believes the difference between the two drivers isn’t much.
“I don’t feel like he’s outperformed me driving-wise. I feel like we’ve just had situations that are different,” Creed said. “Austin does a really good job of managing what he has – he does that better than I do. That’s something I’ve worked on and have studied to improve on.”
Kansas is a big weekend for Creed. Not only is it conceivable to think he will lock up his first postseason berth in Xfinity (56 points above the elimination line), but he’s also making his Cup Series debut for Live Fast Motorsports in the No. 78 Chevrolet.
Through Team Dillon Management, which represents Creed, Kansas became a logical spot for Creed to get experience in the Next Gen car. His Xfinity sponsor, Whelen, had additional funding to support its driver. After planning to run a few truck races fell through, moving the capital to a Cup ride became feasible.
“Out of all the tracks to go to, I think Kansas is a pretty safe one,” Creed said. “It’s not super-rough; just to get used to the car because it does funky things that these guys have had time to adjust to. For me, it’s going to be a full learning experience.”
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Creed doesn’t believe he’s ready to make the jump full-time to the Cup Series, but he wants to get a feel for what that series is like should an opportunity present itself in the future.
“I haven’t even thought about Cup racing,” Creed said. “I want to win [in the Xfinity Series] a lot before I go. It’s hard here; it’s really hard there. I want to feel like I earned the Cup ride because I don’t think buying a Cup ride is any fun.”
BJ McLeod, co-owner of Live Fast, does believe there’s potential to work with Creed in the future. He’s watched Creed’s progression since he ran late models at New Smyrna Speedway a decade ago to what he’s become in NASCAR.
“It’s just cool when you can put deals like this together and have drivers of his caliber and accomplish the things that he has in his career,” McLeod said. “It speaks a lot for Live Fast and what we’ve been able to accomplish to get him over here and get him seat time. We’re excited to get him his Cup debut and looking forward to seeing where he ends up in the future.”
The goal for Creed at Kansas is simple: run all 400 miles. He knows Cup drivers race hard throughout the entire field, and he’s got just 20 minutes in practice to get a feel for his race car.
“If I go and set my expectations to go run 10th, I think I’m going to piss myself off all day,” Creed said. “I just want to go have fun, enjoy it and log all the laps – but not get lapped. That’s goal one.”