HOMESTEAD, Fla. — Two Smiths, one Rhodes and a guy named ‘Ty’ that keeps on winning — the Camping World Truck Series Championship 4 was set on Saturday afternoon at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Defending series champion Ben Rhodes was the last driver to clinch his championship-contending spot in next month’s finale at Phoenix Raceway, turning in a sixth-place effort that was just enough to hold off ThorSport Racing teammate and third-place finisher Stewart Friesen for the final transfer spot by a single point. He’ll be joined by Saturday’s winner and fellow ThorSport driver Ty Majeski — who clinched his position with a victory at Bristol Motor Speedway last month — along with Chandler Smith and Zane Smith at the Nov. 4 Lucas Oil 150 (10 p.m. ET, FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
“Had a lot of frustration (racing my teammates),” Rhodes said with a relieved smile on pit road after the race. “I had a blow-up on the radio at the end of the race, but I wouldn’t expect anything different because my teammates are good competitors. The Truck Series, it just is what it is. It’s hard racing. It‘s why I think it’s the best racing in NASCAR. I really do.
” … and I knew it was close; they were filling me in. They told me that Stewart had, you know, he couldn’t exactly catch the guy in front of him, but I had to pass my teammate and then somehow hold both of them off behind me. And they’re dragging me through the pack. They’re trying to pull slide jobs. They’re doing everything they could to take it, and it was just really difficult. I was frustrated, but at the same time, I’m happy now because it’s all wiped clean.”
For Friesen, it’s a frustrating end to his best season since his lone Championship 4 appearance in 2019, winning his first race (Texas Motor Speedway) since that campaign and improving across the board following somewhat underwhelming 2020 and 2021 seasons.
“That’s how she goes, right? I‘ve been around a while. And there’ll be more good days; there’ll be more frustrating days,” Friesen said. “I’m just proud of my group. That’s what we take home, and I’m proud of Chris Larsen, Halmar and my family. And that’s something that we hang our hats on. It’s our family and our guys. We‘ll l keep digging. I mean, we’re gonna keep trying over the winter. We totally revamped our fab shop in the last two weeks. So we can do just about damn near anything now. Our guys are some of the best, and we’re gonna be hopefully around for a while and be a force here the next couple years.”
Also eliminated were two-time 2022 winner John Hunter Nemechek, Lucas Oil Raceway winner Grant Enfinger and another ThorSport driver in Christian Eckes.
Nemechek, arguably the best driver in the series the past two seasons, saw his title hopes washed away almost immediately on Saturday, scraping the wall twice in Stage 1 and eventually being forced to pit for a flat tire. He entered the race just five points below Rhodes but finished 35th in the 36-truck field, six laps off the pace.
“The first time I hit the fence, I got dirtied up in dirty air trying to roll to the outside of the 52 (of Friesen) carrying a lot of speed and then tried to make back, probably a little bit too much and too close to the time period and hit the fence again and had a tire go down,” Nemechek said. “I don‘t know. Gotta figure out how to be better. Frustration. Should be in the (Championship) 4. This round hasn’t been very good to us; we spun, hit the fence at Bristol during practice, had to go to the backup truck and got behind. We tried to fight (today) and fought probably a little bit too hard.”
Enfinger had issues of his own, heading to pit road on Lap 80 after his own flat tire and brush with the wall. He wound up 14th, one lap down.
Disappointing end to our playoffs. Ran over something and got a RF flat early into the 3rd stage that cost us an opportunity to fight for the win. We had speed. Thanks for all of the hard work by everyone @GMSRacingLLC @GMSFabrication @TeamChevy @ChampionPowerEQ pic.twitter.com/4lwHyahDI6
— Grant Enfinger (@GrantEnfinger) October 22, 2022
Eckes fared reasonably well (seventh) but entered the race three points below Rhodes and stayed on the wrong side of the bubble.
The consensus seems to be that Majeski will be the man to beat at Phoenix, but it also gives Rhodes an opportunity to not only back up his first career title last year — but perhaps top one of the most notably raucous, light-beer fueled post-championship celebrations in recent memory.
“I’m gonna relax in other ways (tonight) because I’m so focused on Phoenix,” Rhodes said. “We get to Phoenix (and win), though, and you’re gonna see a celebration like none other.”