Who wins Friday’s night’s Truck Series race and championship in Phoenix (8 p.m. ET, FS1, MRN)



Race Details

Coverage: 8 p.m. ET

Green Flag: 8:09 p.m. ET

TV: FS1

Radio: MRN (Local Affiliates here)

Computer: NASCAR.com

Phone: NASCAR App

Race Distance: 150 Laps/150 Miles

Stage Lengths: 45-45-60

Playoffs: Championship 4

Track: Phoenix Raceway


Non Playoff Winner?

The 2021 season finale is here. Four drivers going for one trophy. Only one of the drivers has taken a championship before. One of the other three drivers without a title though has won more races than the other going in this round this season combined. One of those other three won the first two races of the year and looking to bookend the season with a win in the opener and finale.

Which bodes the key question, will one of the four Championship 4 drivers have to win Friday night’s race? 2 on the 3 last round were won by a non playoff driver. It doesn’t take a win to win the title so long as the top finisher among the four crosses the line in front of the other three. They could be 20-21-22-23 and the 20th place finisher win the title.

Christian Eckes won in Las Vegas to kickoff the semifinal round with Tate Fogleman’s rare triumph in Talladega after.

Young’s Motorsports’ Fogleman was the fifth different first-time winner this season in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series with his surprising win four weeks ago at Talladega Superspeedway; joining Martin Truex Jr. (Bristol Dirt), Ryan Preece (Nashville), Chandler Smith (Bristol) and Christian Eckes (Las Vegas).

With Fogleman’s victory, the 2021 season becomes the third consecutive season and 14th overall (since 1995-Present) the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series has produced five or more first-time winners in a single season. Every season since the inception of the series in 1995 has it produced at least one first-time winner. The 2012 season holds the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series record for the most first-time winners in the series in a single season at nine.

The thing is though, the other four playoff races were won by playoff drivers including the two cut races being won by drivers having to win to advance on. That’s why I feel like Friday night’s will be won by a playoff driver since they went 1-2-10-13 last year 2-4-5-11 in 2019, 1-3-8-12 in 2018 and 2-3-5-6 in 2017.

With that said Ben Rhodes hasn’t won since the second race of the season, John Hunter Nemechek not since eight races ago at Pocono and Matt Crafton not since Kansas last year (37 races ago). Can either of them win when they need to in the end?

Rhodes, has just a pair of top fives in his last 11 starts. Nemechek, has been 22nd or worse in three of his six playoff races but in the top four in the other three. Zane Smith is coming off of a win for just his second top five of the season while Matt Crafton has eight top 10’s in his last 10 tries.

Crafton, hasn’t had a top five at Phoenix since 2016. Nemechek hasn’t had once since 2017. Rhodes has two in six tries with Smith being runner-up last year. Is he the favorite now?

Smith doesn’t know what he’s doing next year yet and is the only one of the four to have won in the last five months. He did so in walkoff fashion last Saturday. He was second last year and fifth in the 2019 Xfinity Series race on this very track. His teammate Sheldon Creed won this race and took home the championship a year ago.

What a story it would be if Smith wins on Friday night?

No wins in the first 20 races of the season and just one top five all year then going 2-for-2 after. It could realistically happen which would prove why this playoff format is so vital. Smith, had eight finishes of 14th or worse this season. He had one top five going into the semifinal round and won the penultimate race of the season. He could be a champion.

So could Crafton who hasn’t won in well over a year. But, his last title in 2019 he went winless all season and finished second at Homestead to still take home the crown. He’s had three championships compared to none by the other three vying against him on Friday night and nine straight top six finishes in the final standings including 12 of the last 13. He’s guaranteed another one this Friday as the worst he can finish in points is fourth now.

But, he’s after a title. He finished sixth in this race last year and has six top six finishes in his No. 88 Toyota in the last nine tries on the season including 12 top 10’s in 21 races.

Rhodes is looking to bookend the year after winning the first two races. He had five top three’s in the first 10 races run. But, over the last 10, he’s had just two. Can he win Daytona to start the year and Phoenix to end it? He was fourth last year and seventh this past spring.

Finally, you get Nemechek who’s been by far the best driver all season. He’s won six times, more than the others combined. He’s led 572 laps, second most. He’s had more speed than the other three in this round. The thing is, bad luck has struck him a lot lately. Does luck get in the way again?

He has five finishes 10th or worse in the last 10 races. But, when he’s on, he’s on. He also has seven top fours in the last 12 including three wins and a pair of runner-ups in that span too.

So, who gets the job done under the lights in the Arizona desert?



Gilliland Has To Wonder What Might Have Been

If Gateway didn’t happen where Gilliland finished 29th and Chandler Smith doesn’t pass John Hunter Nemechek late in Bristol, then Todd Gilliland would likely be racing for a championship this Friday night in the Arizona desert. Gilliland, came into the day having 11 top 10 finishes in his last 12 races. The only one not?

Gateway.

He had 10 top seven’s in that same time frame and three top fives in the last four races.

Last Saturday, he led a race-high 133 of 204 laps and was leading coming to the white flag. Yes, he got wrecked, but Saturday further shows that he likely has the best truck in terms of speed heading to the season finale.



Rough Racing Borderlines Out Of Line Respect In The Truck Series

Last Saturday’s race at Martinsville led to a lot of hurt feelings but also showed that a lot of the drivers in this Truck Series lack the respect of others. We had a lot of drivers racing over their heads which sparked a playoff record 14 caution flags in 204 laps of racing last weekend. The bad thing is, a lot of them could have been avoided but they weren’t due to drivers not being smart in the corners and/or paybacks being given.

That resulted in a final stage where no momentum could be found. We saw nine cautions fly over the final 90 laps of racing. That’s far too many.

“Whip somebody’s ass,” Crafton said on the driving in the series now. “If they wreck you, at the end of the day, don’t just talk about it, do something about it. That’s my motto. These guys work too hard. Sponsors pay too much money to get wrecked and (shown) no class at that.

“Just bust somebody in the mouth and that will fix that.”

The biggest problem was a non playoff driver in Austin Wayne Self wrecking a championship favorite in John Hunter Nemechek on Lap 129 that day. Self, hooked Nemechek in Turn 3 and nearly ended the Kyle Busch Motorsports drivers’ championship hopes by virtue of that. Luckily for Nemechek and Self, JHN advanced on by four points still despite a 39th place finish.

The accident looked like Self was issuing a payback for Nemechek bumping into his bumper a corner earlier. He says it wasn’t as he just “held his line” which we know is a complete farce. That’s not a line you take and when you have a championship driver below you, you should think about giving an inch.

He’d say he wasn’t aware Nemechek was below him which furthers his case that maybe racing isn’t for him. If you don’t have the situational awareness to know that, just park it.

That comes a race after Tate Fogleman crashed Nemechek for the win in the tri-oval at Talladega.

“There’s nothing that NASCAR has done. It’s just like the (Self) incident. It’s blatant that he just hooked me in the right rear for no apparent reason and wrecked us. That was that. There should be some type of consequence there.

“I view that as the same thing as Joey Logano-Matt Kenseth at Martinsville. They took each other out in their own playoff deal. (Kenseth) wasn’t in the playoffs (he had been eliminated). How can you view that differently? It’s being more consistent with calls and seeing those scenarios.”

The lack of respect in the series grows by the race and it’s starting to get way out of hand. Something needs to happen soon or this series will end up being an utter embarrassment. Saturday’s racing, or lack there of, was completely avoidable.

The thing is, these younger drivers grew up racing the wrong way and feel like in order to be up front in NASCAR, you have to use your bumper and be aggressive in nature and style. That’s now how you race though which is why the series’ races look like amateur hour.

“You don’t have to ask me about respect, I was trying to avoid people all day,” said Ben Rhodes. “I let plenty of people go by that were beating my back bumper off. Sure enough, when they got up there in a fighting match, I would drive back by them once they started racing side-by-side and doing something stupid.”


Prediction

  1.  4 Nemechek – Hard to go against the best Truck all season.
  2. 21 Smith – He’s good at Phoenix and would be an interesting story should he win.
  3. 18 CSmith – He was third in both of his other two Phoenix starts. Why not a third again for a third time?
  4. 38 Gilliland – He’s been hot and going for an owners title so he has a lot to race for too.
  5. 52 Friesen – He has four top sixes in-a-row at Phoenix.

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