Ben Rhodes’ consistency paid off during Friday evening’s Lucas Oil 150 at Phoenix Raceway.
Although it was just a third-place finish, that’s all he needed to lock up his maiden NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship.
In the closing laps of the 150-lap contest, Rhodes was hauling around the one-mile circuit, hunting his prey, Zane Smith for the championship lead. Rhodes was able to get the job done with nine to go as he made the inside move on Smith, swooshing his way to the third spot.
Once the madness ended, the Kentuckian burned it down in front of the passionate Arizona crowd knowing the tremendous accomplishment that unfolded.
“That was the hardest last 40 laps I think I have ever driven in my life. I was doing things to the race car I probably shouldn’t have been doing, it was dumb, but I had everything to lose. And we brought it home and won it,” said Rhodes.
“I don’t even know what to say. This is crazy. Bookends for the season, I am so proud of my ThorSport Racing group. This wasn’t like a vision we had, right? Everyone wants to win it. But, you just don’t know. It’s so hard. I just can’t thank Duke and Rhonda (Thorson) enough. They are the reason I’m here tonight, Bombardier, Toyota, Menards, WileyX, we have so many people that help us, I can’t even talk right now I’m so excited.”
While Rhodes brought home the hardware, there was some disappointment among the other three Championship 4 contenders. None too frustrated than John Hunter Nemechek, who finished seventh Friday. That was only good enough for third in the final standings after rallying back from a two-lap deficit.
In stage 1, Nemechek was door slammed by Kris Wright in turn 2. It cut down Nemechek’s left front tire and had to bring it to pit road.
Nemechek wouldn’t come back on the lead lap until the final stage and gave it his all to gain several track positions. However, Nemechek ran out of laps and the man who scored five wins in 2021 will leave Phoenix empty handed.
“We had the best truck tonight Playoff wise, for sure,” said Nemechek. “Drove from pretty much last to seventh there and running down Ben and Zane for the championship, just not enough. That’s what’s frustrating.”
The Championship 4 may have been all the rage, but the race itself came down to non-Championship 4 competitors. Both Sheldon Creed and Chandler Smith put on a masterful performance, duking it out to see who’ll be best of the rest in Arizona.
Towards the end, Smith one-upped the competition and cruised his way towards victory lane for the second time this season.
Not only he ended 2021 with a victory over Stewart Friesen, he locked up Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors over Carson Hocevar.
The highly touted 19-year-old explained that having practice and qualifying did many wonders as this season lacked multiple chances to hone their craft on the track.
“It’s been really good. I’m a driver that likes to work on their stuff in practice. Being a rookie, I don’t have much experience in these trucks,” said Smith. “Being able to have 30 minutes is big for guys like myself. Danny Stockman (crew chief) and I are still green with each other. We don’t have testing but the simulator. Some things don’t always translate on the race track. That being said, practice was very valuable and hopefully looking forward having more next season.”
Top 10 Results: C. Smith, Friesen, Rhodes (Champion), Creed, Z. Smith (runner-up), Eckes, JH Nemechek (third), Gilliland, Eckes, and A. Hill (Crafton finished 12th – fourth in points)