NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Tracking the Trucks: Chandler Smith Snags 2nd Career Win, Ben Rhodes Wins Championship in Phoenix

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In a Nutshell: Chandler Smith scored his second career NASCAR Camping World Truck Series win in Friday night’s (Nov. 5) Lucas Oil 150 at Phoenix Raceway. The rookie led five times for 39 laps, including the final 18 for his second victory in five races, just one week after being eliminated from the championship battle. Stewart Friesen finished second, followed by Ben Rhodes, who was the highest Championship 4 driver and won his first title. Sheldon Creed and Zane Smith rounded out the top five.

The Win That Could’ve Been

After starting on the front row alongside pole sitter and eventual winner Chandler Smith, Creed almost immediately took the lead and paced the field for 33 of the first 34 laps before giving up the top spot to Smith, who led until everyone pitted under the stage break. Once again, Creed snuck up front for 40-plus laps before he once again fell into Smith’s clutches.

Although Friesen led the field off pit road under the stage two break, Creed took the lead almost immediately after the restart and held onto it until Smith took over for the fifth and final time with just 18 laps remaining.

All told, Creed led six times for a race-high 106 of 150 laps and had plenty of speed to maintain the top spot on shorter runs. However, he couldn’t close the deal on one final victory with GMS Racing before he moves on to the NASCAR Xfinity Series and Richard Childress Racing in 2022.

In 75 career Truck Series starts, the 2020 Truck Series champion has scored eight wins, 23 top fives and 37 top 10s.

Race Notes

Ben Rhodes Crowned 2021 Truck Series Champion

When the checkered flag flew and the dust settled over the season finale at Phoenix Raceway, Ben Rhodes emerged with his first career Truck Series championship. It was the fourth driver’s championship for ThorSport Racing and the first owner’s title for the organization, beating out GMS Racing and Kyle Busch Motorsports.

ThorSport teammates Rhodes and Matt Crafton were the only two of the Championship 4 to start inside the top 10 in fourth and fifth, respectively, while Zane Smith and John Hunter Nemechek started 13th and 16th. Smith and Crafton struggled with the handling of their trucks for much of the race while Nemechek ran into misfortune early on, suffering contact on lap 1 that ultimately led to a flat tire and a green flag pit stop that put him two laps down.

See also
Matt Crafton, Junior Joiner Fall Short Of 4th Championship as Decade Long Partnership Ends

A yellow shortly after that stop allowed Nemechek to get one of those laps back through the free pass. However, Nemechek remained one lap down for the remainder of stage one and all of stage two before a stall by Tate Fogleman with 48 laps remaining put him back on the lead lap, giving the No. 4 team hope to make a run through the field and at the title. Track position wasn’t in Nemechek’s favor, though, and while he raced up to an eventual seventh-place finish, the impressive recovery wasn’t enough to win the championship.

Meanwhile, Smith tried to make the championship battle a little more interesting with 41 laps remaining. All of a sudden, it appeared his truck started handling better and he was able to chase down Rhodes and pass him, giving Smith the edge.

It took until inside 10 laps remaining before Rhodes was once again able to catch Smith, give him a little tap in the back bumper and take the top spot in the title race away.

Rhodes held on and never looked back. Smith ended up second in the standings, followed by Nemechek and Crafton.

See also
Zane Smith & John Hunter Nemechek Fall Just Short in Championship Chase

If you didn’t get to catch it live on Twitter, do yourself a favor and go watch Rhodes’ press conference. You won’t be disappointed.

Grant Enfinger’s Patchwork Season Ends With 13th-Place Finish

When Grant Enfinger began the 2021 season, he didn’t have enough funding to run full-time behind the wheel of the No. 98 ThorSport Racing Toyota, despite having made the Championship 4 in 2020. Instead, he was forced to share the ride with sophomore driver Christian Eckes. But after driving the truck in the season opener at Daytona International Speedway before sitting on the sidelines for the Daytona road course, the Truck Series veteran knew he couldn’t spend a large chunk of this season sitting on the sidelines.

Enter Camping World CEO Marcus Lemonis and Rohrbaugh Racing. A partnership between the two earlier this season put Enfinger behind the wheel for what turned out to be nine races this season. It all started at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in a race where a total of 10 trucks carried Camping World colors. The financial backing came with an extra bonus incentive to go along with it for finishes inside the top five, 10 or 15.

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Truckin' Thursdays: Grant Enfinger Making Most of Part-Time Schedule

In 21 races this season, Enfinger didn’t end up making it to victory lane, though he did score six top fives and 11 top 10s, including a second-place finish at Bristol Motor Speedway a few weeks ago. And staying on the track, as much as possible, paid off over the long-term. Next season, he’ll join GMS Racing to run one of its trucks full-time.

Quick Hits

  • For the first time in a while, the Truck Series got a 50-minute practice session Friday morning ahead of qualifying Friday afternoon. But that also meant trimming the field from the 40 it’s been running when the lineup is set using the qualifying metrics to just 36. With 41 on the entry list, five drivers were set to go home, but Spencer Davis and Todd Peck withdrew. Dawson Cram, Jennifer Jo Cobb and Norm Benning failed to make the field.
  • ThorSport’s four titles (Crafton – 2013, 2014, 2019; Rhodes – 2021) are the most all-time for any organization in the Truck Series. The team is the 15th different one to win the owner’s championship.
  • Rhodes led the Truck Series’ full-time drivers with an average finish of 9.3 this season. His next closest competitor? Todd Gilliland, whose average finish was 9.5. Meanwhile, championship favorite John Hunter Nemechek was actually third on that list with a 9.8 average finish. Those three drivers were the only ones to have an average finish this season inside the top 10.
  • Rhodes completed 2,958 of 2,972 (99.5%) laps run this season, the most of any driver. Additionally, he was the only person running at the finish for every single race. In fact, you have to go all the way back to the season opener at Daytona in 2020 to find his last DNF. Rhodes also tied John Hunter Nemechek and Gilliland for the most top 10s at 16. Meanwhile, Creed led the most laps this year at 708, compared to Nemechek’s 572 circuits spent pacing the field.
  • When the checkered flag dropped over Phoenix, Austin Hill’s tenure in the Truck Series ended. Next season, he’ll move to the XFINITY Series to race for RCR alongside Creed, who’s also making the jump. This season, he scored two wins, eight top fives and 15 top-10 finishes. In 119 career starts, Hill walks away with eight total victories, including four in his first season with Hattori Racing Enterprises, 27 top fives and 53 top 10s. He made the playoffs this year for the third consecutive season but didn’t make it out of the Round of 10.
  • The championship race marked the final one for Carl “Junior” Joiner as crew chief for Crafton’s No. 88 team. After the race, he confirmed to Frontstretch that “it’s time to be a dad,” scaling back his involvement in the sport going forward.

2021 Rookie Report

No. 1 – Hailie Deegan
No. 02 – Kris Wright
No. 18 – Chandler Smith
No. 23 – Chase Purdy
No. 42 – Carson Hocevar

No. of rookies in the race: 5
No. of rookies in the top 10: 2; Chandler Smith, finished first; Carson Hocevar, finished ninth

Rookie of the Race: Chandler Smith

Rookie of the Year: Chandler Smith

Points Report: Rhodes won the championship, followed by Zane Smith. John Hunter Nemechek was third and Crafton finished fourth out of the Championship 4 drivers. Creed led the remainder of the playoff drivers with a 50-point cushion over Friesen, who ended up sixth. Todd Gilliland was seventh, followed by Chandler Smith. Austin Hill and Carson Hocevar rounded out the top 10.

Series regular winners: Ben Rhodes (Daytona, Daytona road course); John Hunter Nemechek (Las Vegas, Richmond, Charlotte, Pocono); Sheldon Creed (Darlington, Gateway, Darlington 2); Todd Gilliland (COTA); Austin Hill (Knoxville, Watkins Glen), Chandler Smith (Bristol, Phoenix); Christian Eckes (Las Vegas 2); Tate Fogleman (Talladega); Zane Smith (Martinsville)

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Up Next: We can start the countdown to the 2022 Truck Series season opener at Daytona International Speedway. After all, it’s only a little over 100 days away. The NextEra Energy 250 will run Friday, February 18, 2022, at 7:30 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1.

RACE WEEKEND CENTRAL: PHOENIX

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