Race Weekend Central

Truckin’ Thursdays: Kaz Grala, Sheldon Creed Highlight Drivers to Watch at Watkins Glen

Following a three-week hiatus, the Camping World Truck Series returns to action this weekend at Watkins Glen International. It’s the first time the series has visited the seven-turn, 2.45-mile road course since 2000 when Greg Biffle led 36 of 62 laps en route to the fourth of five wins in his championship-winning campaign that season.

Fast forward to 2021 and John Hunter Nemechek heads into the final race of the 2021 regular season having clinched the regular season championship with five wins and 49 playoff points. He could earn as many as seven additional playoff points this weekend.

But Nemechek isn’t the only one who’d like to make it to victory lane this weekend and the entire field is in a unique position: no one entered has prior Truck Series experience at the Glen.

Sheldon Creed

The 2020 champion hasn’t had near the season he last year when he notched five wins, including the season finale at Phoenix Raceway. By comparison, he has a single win and six top 10s so far this season. Additionally, he heads into Watkins Glen coming off of his third DNF in the last six races, which is certainly the opposite momentum any team wants this close to the playoffs.

But this weekend, as the 2021 season continues to head toward its conclusion, Creed is not only racing to finish out the regular season strong while gathering positive momentum heading into the championship battle. He’s also fighting to work his way out of the Truck Series for 2022.

See also
Austin Hill Holds Truck Pole at Watkins Glen

“I definitely don’t want to do another year of Trucks,” Creed said on the Frontstretch podcast a few weeks ago. “I feel like there’s a few guys have done four, five years in Trucks and they just become lifers. I don’t want to be that person. Definitely, Xfinity is reachable with finding sponsorship dollars and going and do that in a competitive car. That is probably the main goal right now.”

Obviously, nothing is set in stone for the 2022 season, but every opportunity he gets is a chance for Creed to make a statement about why he should move forward up the NASCAR ladder.

Kaz Grala

Racing part-time and 100% outside the playoff conversation, Kaz Grala is set to make his third Truck Series start of 2021 behind the wheel of the No. 02 Youngs Motorsports Chevrolet. Piloting the truck at the Daytona International Speedway road course and the series debut at Circuit of the Americas, the 22-year-old posted results of eighth and second, respectively.

This time around, he’ll start 23rd and will have his work cut out racing through the field. But Grala has previously proven his road course prowess, along with his ability to make the most of a handful of part-time opportunities over the last few seasons, and another strong run at Watkins Glen could translate into longer term sponsorship and a more stable ride next season.

Chad Chastain

Just a day after his brother Ross Chastain announced he’ll join Trackhouse Racing in the NASCAR Cup Series starting in 2022, Chad Chastain and Niece Motorsports revealed he’ll pilot the No. 45 Chevrolet this weekend at Watkins Glen. Ross was initially supposed to run the truck but isn’t eligible since he’s racing for Cup points.

While a quick glance at his Twitter timeline shows it full of watermelon farming in Florida, Chad does have late model and FASCAR Pro-Truck experience along with road course wins at Homestead-Miami Speedway and Sebring International Raceway.

See also
Ross Chastain Moving to Trackhouse for 2022

“I was excited to get the call to come race with Niece Motorsports in this great ‘Protect Your Melon’ Chevrolet,” Chastain said. “I’m thankful to everyone at Niece Motorsports for their hard work and our great partners with Buckle Up New York and the Governor’s Traffic Safety Committee. This will definitely be a new challenge, but I’m so excited for the opportunity and will do my best to make the most of it.”

The reality is that Chastain making his debut isn’t all that likely to be up front unless it’s a strategy move, and that’s not saying anything about his ability but rather his experience. We’ve seen time and time again that a truck is a completely different beast than most other series, and there’s a very clear adjustment period in understanding how the aerodynamics work with the truck compared to late models where Chastain holds his experience.

Any Driver Outside the Top 10

With just one shot remaining to win their way into the playoffs, the level of desperation for those outside the top 10 in the standings right now will likely sit front and center this weekend. Regardless of how the rest of their season has gone thus far, a spot in the playoffs means extra exposure during the final seven races where much of the rest of the field fades into the background unless they play spoiler for the championship contenders.

Barring a winner outside the top 10, those who are already above the playoff cut line will add their names to the postseason. But you can bet drivers like Derek Kraus, Tyler Ankrum or Johnny Sauter, to name a few, would jump at the chance to take the lead and the win if the opportunity were to present itself.

Truckin’ Tidbits:

  • The field for this weekend’s United Rentals 176 at Watkins Glen was set using the metrics NASCAR has used for the majority of the last two seasons. Austin Hill and Todd Gilliland will lead the field to the green flag ahead of Chandler Smith and Matt Crafton, who make up row two. Ben Rhodes and Nemechek start fifth and sixth, respectively, followed by Derek Kraus, Zane Smith, Carson Hocevar and Ankrum round out the top 10 starters.
  • In response to the growing COVID-19 resurgence, NASCAR will now require anyone attending a race to wear masks while indoors, regardless of vaccination status. That includes enclosed areas of the garage, haulers, suites, etc.
  • Hill and his wife Ashlyn announced they’re expecting their third child in January.

  • During the Olympic break, another NASCAR couple revealed their baby news. Brett Moffitt and wife Stephanie are expecting their first child in February.

  • Taylor Gray will make his Truck Series debut this weekend at Watkins Glen. He was originally scheduled to pilot the No. 17 David Gilliland Racing Ford at Richmond Raceway in April, but a car crash derailed that opportunity. After months of rehab and hard work, Gray made his return to racing in early July and has four ARCA starts under his belt. He’ll be running both ARCA and Trucks this weekend.

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