Below is an in-depth look at the four drivers who have qualified for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Championship 4 and will race for the title at Phoenix Raceway in the Lucas Oil 150 on Friday night, Nov. 5 at 8 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.
Matt Crafton (No. 88 ThorSport Racing Toyota)
After missing the Championship 4 last season for the second time since the elimination-style Playoffs were introduced to the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series in 2016, Matt Crafton is back to contend for the title in Phoenix and in the process has set a new series record in Championship 4 appearances at four (2016, ’17, ’19 and ’21).
The three-time NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion (2013, 2014, 2019) got to Phoenix the hard way – through relentless consistency. Crafton is the only driver in the Championship 4 this season who hasn’t visited Victory Lane yet. In fact, he hasn’t hoisted a trophy since Kansas Speedway in July of 2020 – a string of 37 races without a win. But he’s strung together five top fives and 12 top-10 finishes this season and is the only former series champion among this season’s Championship 4.
During the regular season, Crafton finished on the lead lap in all but three races. And during those 15 races that set the Playoff field, Crafton led a total of 16 laps and posted an average start of 8.2 and an average finish of 12.6; including the six Playoff races, he has an average finish of 11.4 on the season.
To take a look back at Crafton’s championship seasons – he is the only champion to win titles in the original points format and the Playoff format – he had only one win in his first title campaign in 2013, the fourth race of the season at Kansas. He then finished 21st in the season finale at Homestead-Miami but had already mathematically locked-up the title by the start of the event.
In 2014, Crafton won a pair of races en route to the title – but both wins were early in the season, at Martinsville in the second race on the schedule and then at the 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway in the sixth race. He then finished ninth at Homestead-Miami to close out the title by 21 points over Ryan Blaney (second in the final standings). The title named Crafton as the only driver in series history to win back-to-back championships, a distinction he still holds today.
Then in 2019, in his fourth attempt at winning the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship in the Playoffs, Crafton achieved his goal. Crafton managed to become the first driver in NASCAR national series history to win a series title without winning a race. In 2019, he posted seven top fives and 18 top 10s. In the season finale of 2019, Crafton led nine laps and finished second to Austin Hill, but was the highest finishing Championship 4 contender and as a result took home the season trophy.
Playoffs Recap: While the 2021 regular season was a bit of a roller coaster for Crafton, he has found a gear in the postseason. After an average finish of 12.6 in the opening 15 races of the season, Crafton has upped his game with an average finish of 6.8 in the six Playoff races thus far.
Crafton has been running towards the front most of the Playoffs this season. In fact, Crafton has posted three top fives and fives top 10s in the six Playoff races this year. His lone finish outside the top-10 was at Talladega Superspeedway (14th). To start the postseason, he put up a runner-up finish at World Wide Technology Raceway then followed it up with a 10th at Darlington and a seventh-place finish at Bristol to advance to the Playoffs Round of 8.
Heading into the penultimate race last weekend at Martinsville Speedway, none of the Championship 4 Round spots had been locked-up. Crafton was third in the Playoff standings going into Martinsville up by 10 points over the Championship 4 cutline. The veteran driver from Tulare, California put up a strong effort and grabbed a fifth-place finish which was enough to secure a spot in the final round of the Playoffs.
Phoenix Raceway Outlook: The elder statesman of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Championship 4 field, Matt Crafton, has the most experience at this weekend’s finale venue – by a lot. Crafton has raced at Phoenix Raceway 20 times, recording six top-five and 12 top-10 finishes, and he’s completed 98.7% of the laps ran in those 20 events. Last season, in the season finale at Phoenix he started fifth and finished 14th. His best series finish at the 1-mile track is runner-up back in 2014.
Crew Chief Corner: Carl “Junior” Joiner and Matt Crafton have been teamed up together at the track since 2012 and it’s been quite the successful pairing. Together they have won 13 races (all but two of Crafton’s career Camping World Trucks total) and put together 82 top-five and 158 top-10 finishes. Joiner was also atop the pit box for Crafton’s three championships in 2013, 2014, 2019.
At Phoenix Raceway, Joiner has led Crafton in nine races putting up three top fives and four top 10s. The pair have an average finish of 11.7 together at Phoenix.
Team Talk: Matt Crafton and ThorSport Racing go together like peanut butter and jelly. Crafton has raced all but 25 of his 497 career NASCAR Camping World Truck Series races with ThorSport (his lone year away was the 2004 season, in which he raced fulltime for Kevin Harvick Inc.). In addition to longevity with ThorSport Racing, Crafton is also in his 18th consecutive season with sponsor Menards on the hood of his truck. ThorSport Racing is the longest tenured team in the Camping World Trucks and does it all from their Sandusky, Ohio, headquarters. ThorSport Racing made its NASCAR Camping World Truck Series debut at the Milwaukee Mile with driver Terry Cook in 1996. The organization collected its first NASCAR Camping World Truck Series win at Flemington Speedway with driver Terry Cook on August 8, 1998. In 2013, ThorSport Racing became the only team in series history to lead the championship for an entire season; Sauter led the first three races and Crafton led the final 19 races. The organization has qualified for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Playoffs 10 times – 2016 (Matt Crafton), 2017 (Matt Crafton, Ben Rhodes), 2018 (Matt Crafton, Ben Rhodes), 2019 (Matt Crafton, Johnny Sauter), 2020 (Matt Crafton, Ben Rhodes) and 2021 (Matt Crafton, Ben Rhodes). And have earned four appearances in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Playoffs Championship 4 Round – 2016, 2017 and 2019 with driver Matt Crafton – and this season it’s the first time the team qualified two of its drivers in the Championship 4 (Matt Crafton, Ben Rhodes). And to boot, ThorSport Racing has had 15 consecutive season with at least one victory – the longest consecutive wins streak in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.
John Hunter Nemechek (No. 4 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota)
During the offseason prior to 2021, John Hunter Nemechek made the announcement that he would be leaving Front Row Motorsports and the NASCAR Cup Series to return to the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, only this time it would be with the powerhouse organization of Kyle Busch Motorsports. And to sweeten the deal, Kyle Busch Motorsports named Eric Phillips as Nemechek’s crew chief – winningest crew chief in series history. Nemechek made it clear his intentions from the start, ‘I’m here for wins’ and that’s exactly what they have been doing.
In the first 15 races of the 2021 season, the No. 4 Kyle Busch Motorsports team had been on another level from the competition putting up a series leading five wins (Las Vegas, Richmond, Charlotte, Texas and Pocono), nine top fives and 12 top 10s. He also won nine stages and accumulated 34 Playoff points during the regular season. As a result, he claimed his first NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Regular Season Championship becoming the fifth different driver to accomplish the feat; joining Austin Hill (2020), Grant Enfinger (2019), Johnny Sauter (2018) and Christopher Bell (2017). Of the previous four Regular Season Champions, only Christopher Bell went on to win the overall series title at the end of the Playoffs in 2017.
In total in 2021, Nemechek has led 527 laps (second-most) and leads series in season-to-date Driver Rating (113.5). In 21 series starts this year he has posted five wins, 12 top fives and 15 top 10s – all career high-marks for the Mooresville, North Carolina native.
Playoffs Recap: Unlike John Hunter Nemechek’s regular season, the Playoffs have been a rocky road to the Championship 4 round that ultimately had him relying on his Playoff points to get him into the final round. Nemechek started the postseason with a disappointing 22nd-place finish at World Wide Technology Raceway, but then quickly rebounded with a runner-up finish at Darlington and a third-place finish at Bristol to advance to the Round of 8. Then again, Nemechek stumbled out the gate and finished 33rd at Las Vegas and then answers with a fourth-place finish at Talladega to keep his Championship 4 hopes alive.
Heading into the penultimate race last weekend at Martinsville Speedway, none of the Championship 4 Round spots had been locked-up. Nemechek was the Playoff standings leader going into Martinsville up by 36 points over the Championship 4 round cutline. The veteran driver from Mooresville, North Carolina started from the pole at Martinsville but was caught in an incident with Austin Wayne Self mid-race that sidelined him for the rest of the event. He finished 39th and had to watch as the race played out, but in the end Nemechek had earned enough Playoff points to carry him to the Championship 4 round for the first time in his career.
Phoenix Raceway Outlook: John Hunter Nemechek has made seven NASCAR Camping World Truck Series starts at Phoenix Raceway posting two top-five and four top-10 finishes; including two runner-up finishes in 2015 and 2017. He also led 31 laps at Phoenix but hasn’t made a series start at the track since 2019.
Crew Chief Corner: Veteran crew chief Eric Phillips began his NASCAR national series crew chief career in the NASCAR Cup Series for NEMCO Motorsports in 2002 with driver Ron Fellows at Sonoma Raceway. It wasn’t until 2004 that Phillips would serve atop a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series pit box but did so with driver Travis Kvapil and Bang! Racing owner by Alexander Meshkin. He then worked with several drivers for a few year at Morgan-Dollar Racing before jumping to Randy Moss Motorsports with driver Mike Skinner in 2009. But it wasn’t until 2010 Phillips found his home at Kyle Busch Motorsports and ever since it has been match made in heaven. Phillips has led KBM drivers to 32 of his series leading 42 Camping World Truck victories. In total he has led 10 different drivers to Victory Lane in his series career; including five times for John Hunter Nemechek this season – series-most this season.
When it comes to Phoenix, Nemechek is probably grinning ear-to-ear knowing he has Phillips on the pit box this weekend. Eric Phillips hasn’t competed at Phoenix as a crew chief since 2014 but in his last three starts at the track with three different drivers he has won – Kyle Busch (2012), Brian Scott (2013) and Erik Jones (2014). In total, Phillips has led drivers in 10 series starts at Phoenix posting three wins, five top fives and six top 10s.
Team Talk: Kyle Busch Motorsports was formed by owner/driver Kyle Busch in 2010 and the team made their NASCAR Camping World Truck Series debut at Daytona that season. In 2010, Kyle Busch Motorsports became the first team since the series debut in 1995 to capture an owner’s championship in its inaugural season, leading the series with eight total wins. In total, Kyle Busch Motorsports is a seven-time NASCAR Camping World Truck Series owner champion; including five consecutive (2010, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2019). In addition, they have collected two NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver championships with driver Erik Jones (2015) and Christopher Bell (2017). KBM drivers have earned spots in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Playoff Championship 4 round four times – 2016 (Christopher Bell), 2017 (Christopher Bell), 2018 (Noah Gragson), 2021 (John Hunter Nemechek). Plus, Kyle Busch Motorsports leads the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series in all-time wins with 89 victories (2010-2021).
Ben Rhodes (No. 99 ThorSport Racing Toyota)
Ben Rhodes is looking to become just the 19th different driver in NASCAR Camping World Truck Series history to win the championship and this season is the closest shot to the series title the Louisville, Kentucky native has ever had.
This is the first season in Rhodes’ six full seasons he has made the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Championship 4, and the first time ThorSport Racing has fielded two drivers in the Champ 4 (Matt Crafton, Ben Rhodes). Rhodes made his series debut back in 2014 for Turner Scott Motorsports running four races before moving to ThorSport Racing in 2016. Since joining ThorSport, Rhodes has made 136 starts for the team posting five wins, 39 top fives and 72 top 10s.
Rhodes’ path to the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Playoffs in 2021 was set in stone from the drop of the first checkered flag, as the 24-year-old snatched the first two wins of the season in the opening two races at Daytona (oval) and the Daytona Road Course. He ultimately finished the regular season third in the standings after posting two wins, five top fives and 11 top 10s. He also won two stages and earned 19 Playoff points to take into the postseason.
Playoffs Recap: Unlike his regular season effort that locked him into the postseason on wins, Ben Rhodes had to point his way through the 2021 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Playoffs to make the Championship 4 round. Rhodes started the Round of 10 off with a strong run at World Wide Technology Raceway (third-place finish) but then finished 34th at Darlington. With his Playoff campaign in the balance, Rhodes answered with a top-10 finish at Bristol (ninth) to move onto the Round of 8. He then put up a runner-up finish at Las Vegas and a 13th-place finish to survive Talladega.
Heading into the penultimate race last weekend at Martinsville Speedway, none of the Championship 4 spots had been locked up. Rhodes was ranked second in the Playoff standings going into Martinsville up by 35 points over the Championship 4 cutline. The rising star from Louisville, Kentucky started from third at Martinsville and raced his way to a seventh-place finish earning enough points to usher him into the Championship 4 for the first time in his career.
Phoenix Raceway Outlook: Rhodes has made six NASCAR Camping World Truck Series starts at Phoenix Raceway posting two top fives and three top 10s. His average finish at the track is 10.3. Last season in the season finale at Phoenix he started sixth and finished seventh. His career-best finish at the 1-mile track is fourth in 2019.
Crew Chief Corner: Rich Lushes made his NASCAR national series debut as a crew chief in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series for Hattori Racing Enterprises with driver Ryan Truex at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in 2016 – it was his lone effort that season. Lushes learned the crew chief ropes from competing in the ARCA Menards Series East and West. Lushes joined ThorSport Racing in 2018 as crew chief for Myatt Snider. He led Snider to finish ninth in the final standings after posting three top fives and eight top 10s. In 2021, Lushes joins forces with Ben Rhodes and success has followed the pair ever since winning the first two races of the season to qualify for the Playoffs and then earning a spot in the Championship 4. Lushes is looking to become the 20th different crew chief to win a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series title.
Team Talk: Ben Rhodes joined ThorSport Racing in 2016, his first year in fulltime racing in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and hasn’t looked back since. ThorSport Racing is the longest tenured team in the Camping World Trucks and does it all from their Sandusky, Ohio, headquarters. ThorSport Racing made its NASCAR Camping World Truck Series debut at the Milwaukee Mile with driver Terry Cook back in 1996. The organization collected its first NASCAR Camping World Truck Series win at Flemington Speedway with driver Terry Cook on August 8, 1998. In 2013, ThorSport Racing became the only team in series history to lead the championship for an entire season; Sauter led the first three races and Crafton led the final 19 races. The organization has qualified for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Playoffs 10 times – 2016 (Matt Crafton), 2017 (Matt Crafton, Ben Rhodes), 2018 (Matt Crafton, Ben Rhodes), 2019 (Matt Crafton, Johnny Sauter), 2020 (Matt Crafton, Ben Rhodes) and 2021 (Matt Crafton, Ben Rhodes). And have earned four appearances in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Playoffs Championship 4 Round – 2016, 2017 and 2019 with driver Matt Crafton – and this season it’s the first time the team qualified two of its drivers in the Championship 4 (Matt Crafton, Ben Rhodes). And to boot, ThorSport Racing has had 15 consecutive seasons with at least one victory – the longest consecutive wins streak in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.
Zane Smith (No. 21 GMS Racing Chevrolet)
The shooting star from Huntington Beach, California, Zane Smith, has become one of the most clutch racers in NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Playoff history. Ever since the 22-year-old, Smith, burst onto the series last year as a rookie and raced his way into the Championship 4 by finishing third in the penultimate race at Martinsville Speedway, many thought he was special. But then, when Smith doubled down last weekend at Martinsville Speedway while facing a ‘Win or Go Home’ scenario and the youngster raced his way into the Championship 4 round for the second consecutive season, the GMS Racing driver has proven he’s almost untouchable.
Smith’s 2021 season has been a self-proclaimed rough ride. Through the regular season (first 15 races) Smith didn’t win but did manage to post one top five and 10 top 10s. He ultimately ended the regular season fifth in the standings and qualifying for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Playoffs.
Though Smith’s Camping World Truck Series has been short, it has been impressive. In 45 series starts, he posted three wins, 10 top fives, and 27 top 10s. He has qualified for the Playoffs and the Championship 4 round in consecutive seasons and finished a career-best runner-up in the final championship standings last season.
Playoffs Recap: Zane Smith’s adventure to the 2021 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Playoffs Championship 4 Round is one movie scripts are written after. Smith opened the Playoffs Round of 10 with a dreadful 35th-place finish at World Wide Technology Raceway after an issue with a rear gear. He then followed it up with solid top-10 finishes at Darlington (ninth) and Bristol (eighth) to advance to the Round of 8. It was then Smith was hit with some bad luck finishing 29th at Las Vegas and then being caught in an incident at Talladega resulting in a 33rd-place finish. Smith plummeted in the Playoff standings to the basement of the leaderboard – in eighth place a massive 40 points behind the Championship 4 cutline.
Heading into the penultimate race last weekend at Martinsville Speedway, none of the Championship 4 Round spots had been locked up. Smith was facing a ‘Win or Go Home’ scenario as it would be nearly impossible to point his way into the final round. But grit, determination and the belief that he could win willed Smith to his first victory of the season, earning him a spot in the Championship 4 for the second consecutive season.
Phoenix Raceway Outlook: Zane Smith made his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series track debut last season at Phoenix Raceway in the Championship finale. Smith started second at Phoenix last season, led 48 laps and finished runner-up to his teammate Sheldon Creed in a wild final restart.
Crew Chief Corner: Veteran crew chief Kevin Manion made his NASCAR national series crew chief debut on a part-time basis in the NASCAR Cup Series with John Andretti (2003) and in the NASCAR Xfinity Series with Dale Earnhardt Jr. (2002). Manion’s biggest success as crew chief came in the NASCAR Xfinity Series when he led Martin Truex Jr. to back-to-back titles in 2004 and 2005. He then made the jump with Truex fulltime to the NASCAR Cup Series at Dale Earnhardt Inc. where the pair worked together from 2006-2010. He then worked with Jamie McMurray at Earnhardt Ganassi Racing from 2010-2013. In 2016 he joined Kyle Busch Motorsports and started to crew chief for multiple drivers. Manion has begun to build a reputation for cultivating young talent. In 2019, he led rookie Tyler Ankrum to his first win and first Playoff berth, and last season he did the same with Zane Smith. Manion best finish in the final championship standings in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series is second, with Smith last season. Manion has worked with four different drivers at Phoenix Raceway in the Truck Series and led Daniel Suarez to a victory at the track in 2016 and Smith to a runner-up finish last season.
Team Talk: GMS Racing is a two-time NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion (2016, 2020) – won the driver championship in 2016 with Johnny Sauter and the unified driver/owner title in 2020 with Sheldon Creed. From 2013 – 2021, GMS Racing has made more than 600 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series starts leading 13 different drivers to Victory Lane for a total of 41 series wins.
GMS Racing made their NASCAR Camping World Truck Series debut in 2013 at Kansas Speedway with driver Spencer Gallagher in the No. 21 Chevrolet.
GMS Racing is the only organization to have fielded a Camping World Trucks Championship 4 driver in all six years of the current elimination-style Playoff format (Johnny Sauter, 2016-2018; Justin Haley in 2018, Brett Moffitt in 2019; Sheldon Creed, Brett Moffitt and Zane Smith in 2020 and Zane Smith in 2021). Last season, GMS Racing became the first organization since the inception of the elimination-style format of the Playoffs in 2016 that fielded three out of the four Championship 4 contenders in one season (Moffitt, Smith, Creed).
NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, Etc.
ARCA Menards Series ties to Camping World Truck Championship 4 – All four of the Championship 4 contenders have stock car racing roots in the ARCA Menards Series platform, developing their skills in at least one of the series that currently races under the ARCA Menards Series banner.
2014 ARCA Menards Series East champion Ben Rhodes won five races in that season while recording 11 top-five and 13 top-10 finishes in 16 starts. He also ran a pair of East races in 2013, posting top fives in both.
Rhodes also ran two ARCA Menards Series races in 2014.
Zane Smith ran 38 races in the ARCA Menards Series between 2016 and this season, putting up four wins in 2018. Overall, he has 20 top fives and 26 top 10s. He has also run five races in the current ARCA Menards Series West, including three races at Phoenix.
Matt Crafton raced in five ARCA Menards Series races between 2010-1012. He put up two top-five performances in 2010. He also ran one race in the West in 2000, finishing second at Irwindale.
John Hunter Nemechek ran three races total in the East in 2013 and 2014. He had a best finish of 12th at Pensacola in his series debut.
Truck Sunoco Rookie of the Year Update – This season’s Sunoco Rookie of the Year battle will most likely come down to the final lap this weekend at Phoenix Raceway, as Kyle Busch Motorsports’ Chandler Smith currently holds a three-point advantage over second place Niece Motorsports driver Carson Hocevar. Both drivers have made two series starts at Phoenix Raceway in their careers. Smith has posted two top fives and has an average finish of 3.0. While Hocevar has a best finish of 23rd at the 1-mile track with an average finish of 27.5.
Camping World Trucks Owner Championship Update – Three of the four trucks and drivers that made it to the driver Playoff standings Championship 4 are in the owner Playoffs standings Championship 4 this season with the lone exception being Matt Crafton’s No. 88. Instead, Front Row Motorsports’ No. 38 Ford driven by Todd Gilliland has made the owners Playoff Championship 4 Round and will have a shot along with the other three at an owners’ title. Front Row Motorsports and ThorSport Racing are looking for their first owner’s titles in the series. GMS Racing earned their first owner title in the Truck Series last season. Kyle Busch Motorsports leads the series in owner titles with seven NASCAR Camping World Truck Series owner championships; including five consecutive (2010, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2019).
Manufacturers Championship – Toyota has clinched the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Manufacturers title this season. It is the manufacturer’s series leading 12th manufacturers championship.
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