AVONDALE, AZ — Chandler Smith was the under the radar driver of the night on Friday at the Phoenix Raceway. The Kyle Busch Motorsports driver swept both stages and took the victory in the Lucas Oil 150 en route to his second win of the season including both occurring in the playoffs.
This was the third time in the last five years that a Championship 4 member didn’t win the season finale.
Smith, won two of the three cut races this postseason in his No. 18 Toyota but finishes of 35th, 19th and fourth last round kept him from advancing to the Championship 4 and as a result of his win under the lights on the west valley race track, a championship to go along with it.
Last year’s champion and Phoenix race winner, Sheldon Creed, led a race-high 106 of 150 laps but his truck lacked the long run pace that Smith’s had as Creed would lead early in each stage but give way to the top spot to Smith as the long runs went on. Smith, passed Creed on Lap 132 and would lead the final 18 laps in giving Toyota their 15th win of the season and 213th of their NASCAR Camping World Truck Series career. They’ve won at least 12 times in seven of the last nine seasons.
Creed, led the most laps on the season too at 708 overall but would finish fourth in his final start in the No. 2 Chevrolet. He moves up to the NASCAR Xfinity Series with Richard Childress Racing next season. Creed, was second in both stages.
Stewart Friesen brought his No. 52 Toyota home runner-up, crossing the finish line 4.694-seconds behind Smith. Friesen, has five straight top six finishes now at Phoenix and five in the final seven starts to the year. Friesen, was fourth in both stages himself.
The driver sandwiched between Smith, Friesen and Creed was our 2021 series champion. Ben Rhodes led the way among the Championship 4 drivers all night with the exception of a few laps. He was fifth and third respectively in the two stages and was out front under green flag conditions among the four title contenders all the way until Lap 110 when Zane Smith passed him on track for the third spot.
Smith, would pull away to a 2+ second lead and looked like the new favorite to earn his first career title, but his No. 21 Chevrolet struggled to turn and when he caught lapped traffic with 10 to go, it allowed Rhodes to close back in. Rhodes, used his bumper a bit with eight to go to move Smith out of the way and he never looked back.
Rhodes, crossed the finish line in third to net his first career Truck Series championship as well as giving ThorSport not only their fourth title, the first three via Matt Crafton, but their first career owners championship as well. He’s the 19th different driver to win a championship in the series as the Louisville native began the season with two straight wins at Daytona.
He ends it celebrating in the Arizona desert.
Rhodes, hasn’t won a race since and after five top three finishes in the first 10 races to the season, he entered Phoenix with just a pair over his last 11 starts. In fact, those top three’s were his only top five finishes since Texas in mid June.
He turned it up when it mattered the most though in coming out of the gates strong in his No. 99 Toyota and while he says he felt like it was all over with Smith passed him, he rallied back for his 16th top 10 of the season and the season champion. He’s the lowest finishing champion in the Championship 4 era in Trucks. The other four were either first or second in the final race of the year.
Smith, fell back to fifth for just his third top five all year. Both came the last two weeks at that. He battled his truck all night in being ninth and sixth respectively in the two stages but his third top five in as many tries at Phoenix wasn’t enough to win a title as the GMS Racing driver comes up just short. He was two seconds back of Rhodes in the end as he’ll finish runner-up in points for a second straight year now too.
Smith, has no plans yet for 2022 which is disappointing. He didn’t have a bad year despite just three top fives. He still had 14 top 10’s, but the consistency wasn’t there.
The other two Championship 4 drivers had rough nights. John Hunter Nemechek got into the Turn 2 wall on the opening lap and then contact with a backmarker early in the race to his left front ended up cutting down a tire not long after. Nemechek, had to pit for repairs and would lose two laps as a result. Luckily for him, he’d get a quick caution after on Lap 11 which gave him one of those two laps back.
He’d run most of the way a lap down though as he’d have to pit for both stage breaks and those were the only cautions until Lap 100 for Tate Fogleman stalled on track to bring out the fourth and final yellow of the night. That ended up giving Nemechek his final lap back and he was 24th and now on the lead lap again. After spending 89 laps a lap down, he was back.
The problem is, it was too little too late. He would rally to come back up to seventh and was only 3.3 seconds back of Rhodes at the finish, a seventh place result was the best he could do which landed him third among the four title contenders.
Nemechek, dominated the season with five wins and the second most laps led (572) but he lost his momentum this summer. The KBM driver entered Knoxville in July on the heels of three wins in a four race span including eight top fives at that point of the year (13 races).
He didn’t win again.
Nemechek, did finish runner-up twice over the final nine races, but that and a third (Bristol) and fourth (Talladega) were the only top fives to show for it. He was outside the top 10 in four of those final nine races and never really was a factor again.
He was crashed while leading coming to the finish at Talladega. He was crashed last week in Martinsville. He had a rough night again for a third straight week.
Matt Crafton was fourth of the four in 12th. He had a bad handling truck all night and could do nothing with it. This was the second time in the last three races he failed to score a top 10, but that and one more result was the only three instances over the last 11 races he failed to get a top 10.