AVONDALE, AZ. — The storybook ending for GMS Racing was not meant to be as Grant Enfinger came up one spot shy of winning his maiden NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series championship during Friday’s caution-plagued Craftsman 150 at Phoenix Raceway.
On a night when it appeared things were going Enfinger’s way, well ahead of Ben Rhodes by over a second, until madness transpired behind them. All in large part of vengeance against the other half of the Championship Four.
Following an earlier incident involving Corey Heim and Carson Hocevar, whom took Stewart Friesen with them. Payback ensued on Lap 147 as Heim retaliated and eliminated Hocevar from the fight.
Therefore, Enfinger was in the catbird seat and had to give it another go which slowly became taxing.
Wrecks after wrecks, contact after contact, the race finally concluded after four overtime attempts. A wild night boiled down to the two clean and well minded veteran racers in Enfinger and Rhodes battling it out for series supremacy.
Even then, both contenders had to play a game of survival as neither escaped Phoenix with a clean truck. Rhodes had to bring home a damaged right front truck that held on while Enfinger’s right front was going down after contact with Zane Smith during one of the overtime restarts.
“Ben gassed it up there on the bottom, drove us (into Christian Eckes) and tore up our truck,” Enfinger explained. “Then we had to restart from 22nd there. That’s kind of what ended our run.”
Enfinger came down to pit road for fresh tires that was only half a lap old, but he had a lot of work to do if he was going to get back into the fight. Fortunately, the No. 23 team caught some breaks and slowly worked his way back into position for the championship.
Only two laps and no incidents left them fighting hard and when the final restart commenced on Lap 177, the race truly began. Enfinger gave it his all and at one point was ahead of Rhodes. A race win became an afterthought, it was title or bust for everyone.
Rhodes got by Enfinger for the final time and crossed the line in fifth. Good enough for him to win his second title in three years.
All Enfinger could do is just face the music and hope to finish a spot better in points in his new venture that’s yet to be announced.
“We got close there at the end,” said Enfinger. “I don’t know, maybe if (Rhodes) didn’t have such a run down the back straightaway, but I needed to get under him to make that pass. It’s a shame that the championship came down to a race like that with 15 green-white-checkereds or whatever it was right there, 30 laps extra.”
With the GMS Racing chapter coming to a close, Enfinger felt he gave it his all but ultimately got used up in the final overtime. But when the dust settles and the agony of defeat wanes, Enfinger knew it’s just a byproduct of the Championship Four.
“It’s just incredibly unfortunate to end GMS Racing like this,” said Enfinger. “I really felt like we had that championship in grasp, and to be honest with you, I don’t know if I’d have done anything different. Just wasn’t meant to be.”
Controversy loomed on the finale due to the chicanery the drivers caused. Leading to Enfinger saying that Friday’s Craftsman 150 certainly gave the Truck Series a bad reputation.
All of this came out after chatting with co-owner Mike Beam where they discussed about what went down. Specifically, how racing etiquette becoming a hot subject.
“We had it drawn up to where it was there until that caution came out, and even with that caution I was very comfortable racing those guys straight up,” said Enfinger. “Then the green-white-checkered was just chaos. That was chaos at the front of the field. There was chaos from then on back with the green-white-checkereds.”
“I think you see that with the way this format is. I think you see that with just a bunch of guys going for a win and the way the restart zone is here. We’ve kind of manufactured it in a way, so I don’t know why it’s completely surprising.
“But you also see it because it’s so hard to pass on your own. These are very tough vehicles to pass once you get going. You’ve got to make it happen on the restarts.” Enfinger continued, “Obviously our truckers got a bad rap today. We’re better than that. I don’t know how many green-white-checkereds that was, but it was entirely too many.
“Unfortunate for the championship race to come down to that, what, 30 extra laps almost.”