With a chance to save his season Thursday night at Bristol Motor Speedway, Chandler Smith was not going to play it safe.
Off a restart with five laps to go, Chandler Smith traded paint with reigning series champion Sheldon Creed, which ended with Creed suffering a flat tire. Then he had to contend with Kyle Busch Motorsports teammate John Hunter Nemechek behind him.
But the 19-year-old from Georgia kept it together to claim his first NASCAR Camping World Truck Series victory and advance on in the playoffs.
MORE: Bristol Truck race results, driver points
It’s a milestone for Chandler Smith, who’s been part of KBM for the past three years but is in the midst of his first full-season run.
“I feel like Truck races are definitely the hardest out of all three (national) series right now,” he told FS1. “2019, I felt like I was really, really good. Nothing’s changed about me, the competition’s got a lot harder. I had to go to work and do a lot more studying.
“Finally, it paid off.”
Grant Enfinger managed to pass Nemechek for second in the final laps. Stewart Friesen finished fourth. Johnny Sauter completed the top five.
Following the first elimination race of the Truck playoffs, Chandler Smith, Matt Crafton, Friesen, Carson Hocevar, Ben Rhodes and Zane Smith all advanced to the Round of 8. They join Creed and Nemechek, who had advanced prior to Bristol.
Creed, who finished 19th after his flat tire, felt he was at the mercy of teammates Chandler Smith and Nemechek on the final restart.
“I had two teammates behind me; (Nemechek) was gonna whatever he had to do to let (Chandler Smith) be up front,” Creed told FS1.
“Kinda knew I was gonna get hit at some point. Didn’t know where. (Chandler Smith) got into me off of (Turn) 2 and slowed me down a little bit. I think that’s what maybe started to cut it down … He did what he had to do to win.”
Todd Gilliland and Austin Hill were the two drivers eliminated from the playoffs. Gilliland was bumped out of advancing by Chandler Smith’s win; he missed the final spot to advance by two points.
STAGE 1 WINNER: Sheldon Creed
STAGE 2 WINNER: Sheldon Creed
WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Hocevar did not pit during the Stage 2 break, but finished sixth to make that call stand up and move on in the post-season. … Six-time NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champion Doug Coby finished 12th in his Truck debut for GMS Racing.
WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Hill’s title hopes ended when contact with Josh Berry sent him hard into the inside front stretch wall with 12 laps to go. The impact sent Hill up Turn 1 and into the truck of Hailie Deegan, with the ensuing melee collecting several others. Hill was above the cutline to advance prior to a restart with 14 laps to go.
NEXT RACE: The Round of 8 opens at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Friday, Sept. 24 (9 p.m. ET, FS1).