After Saturday’s NASCAR Xfinity Series event at Martinsville Speedway, frustrations were boiling over in the Richard Childress Racing camp, after neither Austin Hill nor Sheldon Creed were able to advance to the Championship 4.
Making matters worse, and certainly more frustrating, was the fact that Hill and Creed were in prime position to score the organization a victory, restarting side-by-side on the front row in NASCAR Overtime.
Yet, after turning the two-lap dash into a shot-for-shot slugfest, it was Justin Allgaier and JR Motorsports who were celebrating the victory, as well as their guaranteed spot in the championship finale at Phoenix Raceway, and not anybody from Richard Childress Racing.
Austin Hill, who entered Saturday’s event three points above the cutline, was pretty miffed about the entire situation, providing a blunt answer when asked about what transpired in the closing laps, saying he was looking forward to Creed’s “next adventure at Gibbs”.
Now, don’t get me wrong, the frustration is justified. Hill has been carrying the weight of being labeled the championship favorite all season, after scoring three wins in the opening five races of the year. Frankly, a berth in the final round of the Playoffs was expected.
That expectation didn’t exist on the shoulders of Sheldon Creed, who after two seasons with Richard Childress Racing is still looking for his first victory despite being brutally close on multiple different occasions – with Saturday marking his sixth runner-up finish.
So, albeit for different reasons, everybody was upset with the way things transpired — especially Richard Childress, who for a moment could see the reality of having two cars fighting for a championship in Phoenix, and now suddenly will have none in contention.
And, by looking solely at the NBC Sports broadcast, it was evident that there was a difference in the demeanor between Creed and Hill in their post-race interviews, which happened one right after another. But, there’s more to the story than meets the eye.
Just moments before his interview with NBC Sports, Creed was confronted on pit road by Andy Petree, the Vice President of Competition for Richard Childress Racing, who expressed his displeasure with the second-year driver.
In a video captured by TobyChristie.com on Saturday, you can hear Petree yelling at Creed in the middle of pit road, saying: “What is wrong with you?”, to which the 26-year-old driver quickly responds back with “If he would have touched me, you guys wouldn’t have said shit.”
When asked about the interaction with Petree, Creed reiterated what can be heard in the video, saying: “He was just mad at how I raced [Austin Hill], but roles reversed they don’t say anything. Part of the reason I’m leaving, obviously they’re going to be mad.”
But, here’s the thing: Why is anybody from Richard Childress Racing even angry at Sheldon Creed? Much less, why is there a team executive screaming at him on pit road, in front of rolling cameras and dozens of media? Surely, there’s a better way to handle that.
What was Creed even meant to do in this situation? He surely wasn’t going to step aside and allow his teammate to cruise to another victory, while he was still searching for his first, and was still eligible to possibly win the championship. There’s no way that could even be the expectation, right?
Plus, as Creed mentioned in his post-race interview, if he wanted to score an easy victory he could have pulled the same move that Ty Gibbs did to win the penultimate event of last season, by flat-out dumping his teammate on the final lap. While there were excessive amounts of contact, Hill was afforded the chance to return to the start-finish line.
Now, both the passive-aggressive interview by Austin Hill and the confrontation on pit road with Andy Petree could both potentially be looked at as heat-of-the-moment outbursts on a season-defining night, but when the team owner joins in on the unreasonable belittling of a driver, that’s when the alarms begin to sound.
Speaking to Dustin Long of NBC Sports, Richard Childress had pretty strong comments about the conclusion of Saturday’s event, comments that were tilted towards Sheldon Creed, while also missing any mention whatsoever of Austin Hill.
“I’ve had drivers drive for me before but nobody as stupid as Sheldon Creed,” Childress told NBC Sports following Saturday’s Xfinity Series race at Martinsville. “You don’t do that as a team player. What else do you want me to tell you?”
Those comments, as unnecessarily harsh as they may be, signal that the already deteriorating relationship between Richard Childress Racing and Sheldon Creed, who will depart the team at season’s end, has reached its bitter ending.
Frankly, for the development of Creed as a racecar driver, and to avoid the poisoning of Richard Childress Racing’s program in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, the split is much-needed, after things have recently soured between the two teammates.
Plus, after tonight, the relationships between Creed, team owner Richard Childress, and even members of the RCR team, are also beginning to come crashing down around him, as his tenure with the team enters its 11th hour.
Now Creed, who according to Hill is headed to Joe Gibbs Racing in 2024, will be free to try and rebuild his confidence with another organization, as he still chases his first career victory in the second-tier series.
However, the Alpine, California native is scheduled to still have one race remaining as a driver for Richard Childress Racing, of course, barring the intervention of Childress, who when asked about the odds of Creed driving at Phoenix, walked away without answering.
With his shot at the championship already destroyed, maybe being replaced by Richard Childress Racing one race early wouldn’t be the worst thing to happen to Creed, who will surely come back in 2024 with a chip on his shoulder, stemming from this very event.