Creed held off playoff favorite John Hunter Nemechek by .531 seconds to win Sunday’s race at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway.
With the win, Creed completed a sweep of both race wins at Darlington this season and has now won the first two races of the 2021 playoffs. The final race of the first round is in two weeks at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway.
Creed dominated most of the race, winning Stage 2 and leading 104 of the 147 laps. Nemechek (39) and Chandler Smith (4) were the only other drivers to win.
“What a way to open the playoffs,” said Creed, who earned the eighth win of his career. “We started off the race really loose and I was like, ‘Oh no, we’re in trouble here’ but the guys worked on it and the pit crew killed it all day.
“This one’s for the family members of the 13 service members we lost (in Afghanistan). I just want to thank everyone for our freedom and being able to race like this.
“We’ve had a tough season but we’re climbing at the right time. It feels so good to get back-to-back wins and this should put us on the front row at Bristol.”
Stewart Friesen finished third – his best finish of the season; Todd Gilliland was fourth and Parker Kligerman rounded out the top-five.
Completing the top-10 were Grant Enfinger, Chandler Smith, Johnny Sauter, Zane Smith and Matt Crafton.
Following the break between Stages 2 and 3, the lead-lap trucks all pit with Creed again the first off pit road.
On the restart on Lap 98, Creed was followed by Chandler Smith, Nemechek, Sauter and Kligerman.
On Lap 106, Derek Kraus got into Lawless Alan and spun him around through Turns 3 and 4 in an incident that also collected Hailie Deegan.
Some lead-lap trucks pit but Creed remained on the track and in the lead when the race returned to green on Lap 111.
Josh Reaume spun off Turn 2 on the restart, which immediately put the race back under caution. The race returned to green on Lap 116 with Creed still in the lead followed by Chandler Smith and Nemechek.
On Lap 121, Nemechek got around Chandler Smith and moved into the runner-up position behind leader Creed.
With 20 laps remaining, Nemechek had cut Creed’s advantage to under a half-second as Enfinger moved into third.
With 10 laps to go, Creed had pushed his lead over Nemechek to more than 1.3 seconds as Friesen moved into third.
Creed held off a fast-approaching Chandler Smith to take the Stage 2 win.
Nemechek ended up third, Crafton was fourth and Carson Hocevar rounded out the top-five.
Following the break between Stages 1 and 2, the lead-lap trucks all pit with Creed the first off pit road.
The returned to green on Lap 53 with Creed out front followed by Nemechek, Friesen and Chandler Smith.
On Lap 64, Chandler Smith got around Creed to take the lead for the first time in the race.
Ben Rhodes drifted up the track and ended up three-wide in Turn 3 with Jack Wood and Kris Wright on Lap 67 and all three ended up wrecking to bring out a caution.
A handful of trucks elected to pit including Chandler Smith and Crafton under the caution which allowed Creed to move into the lead.
On the restart on Lap 72, Creed was followed by Nemechek, Hocevar and Friesen.
With 10 laps remaining in the stage, Creed held a small lead over Nemechek as Hocevar remained in third.
Nemechek cruised to the Stage 1 win over Crafton by 1.5 seconds.
Zane Smith was third, Creed fourth and Friesen rounded out the top-five.
Creed started on the pole and led the first nine laps until Nemechek got around him in Turn 1 to take the lead on Lap 10.
NASCAR displayed a competition caution on Lap 16 to allow teams to check tire wear. A handful of lead-lap trucks elected to pit but Nemechek stayed on the track and remained in the lead.
Austin Hill was penalized for speeding on pit road and had to restart from the rear of the field. On the restart on Lap 10, Nemechek was followed by Crafton and Hocevar.
Caution again came out on Lap 22 when the No. 12 of Tate Fogleman dropped a driveshaft on the frontstretch.
The race returned to green on Lap 27 with Nemechek out front followed by Hocevar, Crafton, Gilliland and Friesen.
Colby Howard spun off Turn 2 while trying to race three-wide on Lap 27 to bring out another caution.
The race resumed on Lap 31 with Nemechek still out front.
With five laps remaining in the first stage, Nemechek had opened a 1.1-second lead over Crafton while Friesen ran third and Zane Smith fourth.