By Reid Spencer
NASCAR Wire Service
In a stunning upset on Thursday night at Bristol Motor Speedway, rookie Chandler Smith stole a victory from reigning NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion Sheldon Creed, clinched a spot in the Round of 8 of the Playoffs and eliminated Todd Gilliland from the postseason.
The entire tenor of the UNOH 200 presented by Ohio Logistics changed in the final five laps. On a restart on Lap 196 of 200, Smith powered his No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota to the inside of Creed’s No. 2 GMS Racing Chevrolet and refused to cede the top spot.
After contact between the trucks, Creed slowed with a cut left rear tire, spun and finished 19th as Smith parried charges from Kyle Busch Motorsports teammate John Hunter Nemechek and race runner-up Grant Enfinger, who finished .422 seconds behind the winner, with Nemechek taking third.
The victory was Smith’s first in the series, and it came at the most opportune time. As he approached the final restart, the 19-year-old driver knew his only remaining path to the Round of 8 was a victory.
“I’m speechless right now,” Smith said after climbing from his truck. “I’ve really been tested this last year or two and tested my faith. I have to thank everyone behind me… This is just incredible. It finally paid off. I’m just so happy right now.”
Creed led 189 laps and appeared headed for a sweep of all three races in the Round of 10, until he and Smith made side-to-side contact after the final restart.
“I was kind of at their mercy,” said Creed, who already had clinched a spot in the Round of 8 with wins at World Wide Technology Raceway and at Darlington. “I knew I was going to get hit—I just didn’t know where.
“They did what they had to do to win… I don’t know if they’re going to get away with that in the next round.”
Smith was not apologetic for the way he raced Creed after the final restart.
“I think any other driver that was in my situation would have done the exact same thing,” he asserted. “If you wouldn’t have done that, I think you’re in the sport for the wrong reasons.”
Austin Hill was eliminated from the Playoff after crashing out on Lap 189 and causing the 11th caution of the action-filled race. Gilliland fell from seventh to 10th after the final restart and missed advancing to the Round of 8 by two points.
“I really don’t know what happened,” Gilliland said. “They both slipped by me—the 21 (Zane Smith) and the 99 (Ben Rhodes). I’m just heartbroken. To miss by two points there—it really, really stings. Just heartbroken.”
Zane Smith and Rhodes were the last two drivers to advance to the Round of 8, both finishing two points ahead of Gilliland. They join Creed, Nemechek, Chandler Smith, Matt Crafton, Stewart Friesen and Sunoco rookie Carson Hocevar as the series heads for Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Sept. 24.
Friesen ran fourth on Thursday, followed by non-Playoff driver Johnny Sauter, Hocevar, Crafton, Zane Smith and Rhodes.