DARLINGTON, S.C. – Sheldon Creed climbed out of his car and shook hands with the man that had just thwarted his first NASCAR Xfinity Series victory after the series’ race at Darlington Raceway on Saturday (Sept. 3).
The offender, Kyle Larson, had also lost his opportunity at victory. The two had collided on the final lap after Larson broke loose underneath Creed’s Chevrolet while attempting to pass him for the lead. The move resulted in Creed losing what was the closest opportunity he has had at winning a Xfinity race. What’s more, it was a loss at what could’ve been his playoff berth, as the Richard Childress Racing driver is still on the outside of the top 12 looking in with only two races left in the regular season.
However, rather than throw fists, pieces of racing equipment or insults involving slanderous words that should not be repeated at each other, the two smiled and laughed.
They had fun.
“We were kind of laughing about it,” Creed said after finishing second. “I have a lot of respect for Kyle [Larson]. I knew he wasn’t going to wreck me for the win, but we were going to race really hard for it.”
Larson felt mutual respect for his Xfinity counterpart.
“I’ve had a lot of respect for Sheldon [Creed],” Larson said after finishing fifth. “He’s a really hard racer and it was cool to battle him for the win there. He was racing hard for his first win. I was racing hard to get Rick [Hendrick] his first win with the No. 17.”
Creed, who took the lead in the final stage and had led 47 laps in the segment, had the top spot on the final restart with only 14 laps to go. Behind him was stage one winner Noah Gragson. The No. 2 was able to split away slightly from the No. 9 with only a few green-flag laps. As the dusk grew darker, Creed’s car had come to life, becoming almost the fastest car on the track.
Larson, who had restarted eighth, led a heroic charge to the front and was third after only five laps. The reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion ran down the dueling Creed and Gragson with less than 10 laps to go and the battle became among three drivers.
“I could tell Sheldon [Creed] was really loose out in front of me,” said Larson about the closing laps. “I could run up in [turns] 1 and 2 really well, and that’s where I would make up my time. I felt like that’s where I was going to be able to pass. I stuck with that.”
The No. 17 Hendrick Motorsports entry made its way around Gragson with a slick move to the bottom and was up to second with four laps to go. Creed put up a valiant effort to keep Larson behind him.
“I really was hoping [Larson and Gragson] were going to get to racing behind me,” chuckled Creed. “I was hoping that was going to happen and they would let me go, but that didn’t happen. I needed something to slow them down more.”
However, by the time they had taken the white flag, the two were side-by-side and Larson packed it into the first corner deep.
He slipped up and hit Creed, shredding the RCR Chevrolet’s tire. The No. 2 retook the top spot with a flat tire and with no other option left, the Californian full throttled his way into turn 3 while Gragson slipped underneath to take the lead. Creed would limp his way to second place.
— NASCAR on NBC (@NASCARonNBC) September 3, 2022
Despite the second-place result, Creed is still 16 points below the playoff cut line. With two races left, however, and now a runner-up finish in the bag, the RCR driver isn’t letting the playoff pressure get to him. In fact, he sees today as a positive.
“I’m just happy to have a fast racecar for once, honestly,” said Creed with a smile. “I feel like we’ve been an eighth to 15th-place car all year.
“I think we’ll be good. I like Kansas [Speedway] a lot. I like Bristol [Motor Speedway] a lot. I think we’re starting to get better.”
For the two racers on Saturday night, the last lap wasn’t about points or sponsors. It was about something more.
“It was a lot of fun,” said Larson on pit road smiling. “Obviously, I’d like to be the winner, but when you’re a part of an exciting finish like that it’s always a good time. I had a blast.”
It’s not often you hear something like that from a NASCAR driver that just crashed.
About the author
Dalton Hopkins began writing for Frontstretch in April 2021. Currently, he is the lead writer for the weekly Thinkin' Out Loud column and one of our lead reporters. Beforehand, he wrote for IMSA shortly after graduating from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in 2019. Simultaneously, he also serves as a First Lieutenant in the US Army.
Follow Dalton on Twitter @PitLaneLT
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