Last year, Sheldon Creed spoke to roughly six different Xfinity Series teams about making the jump up from the Truck Series before settling on Richard Childress Racing. This year, there were no discussions about departing his new home.
Creed, who finished second in the Rookie of the Year standings in 2022 to RCR teammate Austin Hill, knew he wanted to return to the historic team. And while he knew he and sponsor Whelen would return to the team in 2023 prior to competing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, RCR made it official just two weeks ago.
“With the way our year had gone, [RCR] could have very easily said, ‘Well, we‘re going to bring in a new team and they‘re going to run it better,”” Creed told Jayski.com, earlier this month. “I thought it was cool that they ultimately wanted us back and wanted to keep our team together.”
Both Creed and Jeff Stankiewicz, who‘s been Creed’s primary crew chief dating back to the 2018 ARCA Menards Series season, will return to steer the No. 2 car. The majority of the team will be back as well.
By garnering a plethora of success in the Truck Series, including the 2020 championship, Creed and Stankiewicz thought being competitive in the Xfinity Series would come naturally. It didn’t, and the duo were admittedly overconfident.
After winning eight races in the previous two Truck Series seasons, the duo went winless in 2022. Creed didn’t score his first top-five finish until New Hampshire, more than halfway through the season. He went on to pick up three more top fives, including tying a personal best finish of second at Martinsville in the penultimate race of the campaign.
“The first half of the year was tough,” Creed noted. “We were confident coming from trucks and thinking, ‘This can‘t be that hard, right?‘ And like the sport always does, it humbles you pretty quick.
“We didn‘t like getting our asses kicked like we were getting, and we were getting frustrated with each other. It wasn‘t good there for a minute, but we finally had a good run and started building momentum.”
A big portion of Creed’s learning curve was going to the track, primarily, for the first time in an Xfinity car. He needed to get accustomed to having low downforce and high horsepower.
And though slipping and sliding around favors a driving style like Creed’s, he stumbled. It was also Stankiewicz’s first stab at being a full-time crew chief in the series. Undoubtedly, mistakes were to be made.
“I think he started the year off wanting to feel like he had in the truck and this car is so different downforce wise,” Stankiewicz said. “It took him a while to realize where he needed to be, and it took us a while to realize what we needed to give him. We have a grasp on it now with a notebook going into next year.”
When looking at highlights from the season, Creed’s battle with Kyle Larson and Noah Gragson for the win at Darlington Raceway in September comes to mind. The No. 2 Chevrolet paced the field for 47 laps late in the race, before slipping on the final lap. He finished second.
That wasn’t good enough, though, as Creed was nearly in a must-win scenario to make the playoffs.
“I was just happy that we had speed and people knew that I was capable of it,” Creed said.
He finished 14th in the regular season standings, but he was beginning to run up front more frequently.
That continued into the postseason. He was running in the top five late at the Charlotte Roval after leading 18 laps, but got spun out late. The No. 2 car showed good pace at Las Vegas before blowing an engine. At Homestead, he was quickest in practice, only to get into the wall early and run the majority of the race off the lead lap. The positive, he explained, was having top-five pace.
“Nobody knew this, but we were, if not the fastest, the second fastest car on track all race,” Creed stated. “We were off cycle on old tires, still running with the leaders. That was a confidence builder for the whole team — we‘re getting better, the cars are faster.”
With Gragson, AJ Allmendinger and 2022 Xfinity champion Ty Gibbs all moving to the Cup Series in 2023, that opens up 20 wins on the schedule. Creed has been notoriously known for having average rookie campaigns and turning up the wick in year two.
“If you look at his progression in stock car racing in general, it took him a year to understand what he needed,” Stankiewicz said. “And us too. 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. It really should.”
In Creed’s second full Truck Series season, he stood tall as the series champion in 2020. The same thing happened in ARCA during the 2018 season.
Together, Creed and Stankiewicz have had oodles of success. Together, they don’t lose sight of what they’ve built as a group.
Ending the season with consecutive top 10s gives the No. 2 team momentum entering the new year.
“We went into this year with such high confidence, probably too much confidence with what we did in the Truck Series,” Stankiewicz said. “It‘s been almost a slap in the face for us, like, ‘Whoa, now you‘re at a whole other level.‘ Our confidence is up as a group and the company has stood behind us the whole year.
“I feel like our last third of the season, we had opportunities to finish in the top five in about every race.”
Next year, Creed will be high on many people’s lists for potential breakout drivers in the series.