AVONDALE, AZ — It was a valiant overtime effort that “just missed” for defending NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion Ben Rhodes, who battled Zane Smith all the way to the checkered flag of the overtime finish for the title race Friday night at Phoenix Raceway. He ultimately missed out becoming only the series’ second back-to-back champion by a mere .236-second.
Rhodes’ ThorSport Racing team opted for two tires during a pit stop with 10 laps remaining – the only driver among the Championship-eligible foursome to gamble on the two-tire stop. It put his No. 99 ThorSport Toyota out front; but the other three title contenders returned to the track with four fresh tires.
After the restart, the four championship-eligible drivers – Rhodes, Zane Smith, Ty Majeski and Chandler Smith pulled away to lead the field and settle the trophy amongst themselves. And Rhodes gamble looked as if it just may pay off. But as he pulled out to a nearly 2-second advantage on the field, Majeski got loose battling hard just behind Zane Smith bringing the final caution came out and forcing overtime.
“If the caution never came out, I honest to goodness think we could have won,” Rhodes said, noting that with only two new tires compared to his championship competition he essentially became a sitting duck on the final restart
“I’m thankful for those calls I just wish it could have worked out differently,” said Rhodes, who led eight laps and explained he purposely banged the car off the wall on the final lap hoping to make something happen.
“But that’s just the story of two (tires) versus four.”
Front Row Motorsports’ Zane Smith – who has finished runner-up in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series the past two seasons – earned his first championship with Rhodes runner-up, Kyle Busch Motorsports’ Chandler Smith third and Majeski 20th after his late-race spin.
All three of the non-winning championship contenders gave huge dues to Zane Smith’s team. Smith won the pole position for the race and led a race best 77 of the 154 laps. No one begrudged his title run.
“He was the best truck tonight and probably the best truck all year,” Majeski said of Zane Smith.
Chandler Smith agreed.
“They were in their own zip code, really all year,” Smith said. “To be honest with you, they may have been the most deserving of any of us.”
“It’s really disappointing but I can’t be too upset in only my second fulltime season having a shot at it. It just wasn’t meant to be.”
Rhodes finishes out the season ranked second in the championship, officially five points behind Zane Smith. Chandler Smith – who moves into the NASCAR Xfinity Series with Kaulig Racing next year, closes out his Truck Series career with a third-place championship finish, six points back. Majeski is fourth, 23 points back.
Rhodes, 25, answered his 2021 championship season with a victory on the Bristol Dirt Track, eight Top-5 and 13 Top-10 finishes.
It was a break-out year for both Chandler Smith, 20, and Majeski. Smith earned a career high three wins, eight Top-5 and 15 Top-10 finishes in the No. 18 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota. And Majeski, 28,took his first two career series trophies in the No. 66 ThorSport Toyota – with wins in Playoff races in Bristol, Tenn. and Homestead, Fla.