Trackin’ Trucks: Ben Rhodes Wins Championship while Chandler Smith Wins at Phoenix

Credit: Debbie Ross for Skirts and Scuffs 

Ben Rhodes started the 2021 Camping World Truck Series season a winner, and he’s ending it a champion. 

Rhodes finished third in the Lucas Oil 150, ahead of the three other championship-eligible drivers (Zane Smith, Matt Crafton, and John Hunter Nemechek) to win his first series title. It was the 24-year-old’s first Championship 4 appearance during the NASCAR Playoffs.  

The championship race came down to the last laps, where Zane Smith appeared to be in good territory to win his first championship. Rhodes picked up speed to reach the back bumper of the No. 21 Chevrolet to nudge him just enough to get passed him and in winning position for the CWTS championship trophy. 

“ I thought it was gone,” Rhodes said during the trophy presentation. “When the 21 (Smith) drove past me, I thought it was all over. He just kept driving away further and further and further. The end of the race, when everybody started wearing their stuff out, I didn‘t think I had anything left. I was sideways every corner. But we had just enough, just enough.

“… This sounds weird, but this felt special from the time I got here, but I didn‘t want to ruin it,” he added. “I didn‘t want to say anything, I didn‘t want to do anything out of context, I just wanted to stay 100% focused.”

Indeed it was special. So special for the Kentucky native that his celebration carried over into the media center. Rhodes commented on his favorite adult beverage, his hometown, and, more meaningfully, where he viewed himself in the NASCAR landscape of drivers. 

Representing The Athletic, Jeff Gluck asked the newest champion where he viewed himself among the NASCAR landscape. His answer didn’t disappoint as the driver got serious about what got him to this moment. 

“When you’re the young guy trying to come through the sport you imagine yourself being that Cup champion at age 18. Right? So you kind of set like these unrealistic goals.

“But I’m so happy with where I’m at. (Team owners) Duke and Rhonda Thorson, I wouldn’t even be racing right now if it wasn’t for them. They’re amazing. I owe everything really to them for anything that I have going on in the sport today. So they gave me my big break. They gave me my opportunities. So I’m here today because of them. So I’m not going anywhere unless they told me they don’t want to race anymore … it’s like a family. It’s one big family in Ohio.”

ThorSport Racing earned its fourth championship on Friday night. They are previous winners on three different occasions, all with veteran Matt Crafton. Crafton finished fourth in this year’s standings after a 12th-place finish at Phoenix. 

Aside from the championship celebration, Kyle Busch Motorsports still had something to celebrate despite the dejection of coming up short for the championship with John Hunter Nemechek. Race winner Chandler Smith dominated on the way to his second career victory, earning both Stage 1 and Stage 2 wins before bringing the whole thing home in P1. He secured the Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors with two victories, six top-five finishes, and nine top-10 finishes. 

Stewart Friesen finished the race in second, Rhodes third, Creed fourth, and Zane Smith rounded out the top five. 

Championship favorite John Hunter Nemechek's title hopes were diminished on Lap 1.  Nemechek, who started 16th from his qualifying effort, scraped the wall and was also clipped by Kris Wright.

Nemechek was forced to pit with a flat left front tire, sending the driver of the No. 4 Toyota two laps down to the leaders. He recovered his two laps and worked his way back up to finish seventh, but was not able to get close enough to be in contention for the championship. 

Championship 4 results:

  1. Ben Rhodes
  2. Zane Smith                                
  3. John Hunter Nemechek          
  4. Matt Crafton                             
Trackin’ Trucks: Ben Rhodes Wins Championship while Chandler Smith Wins at Phoenix  Trackin’ Trucks: Ben Rhodes Wins Championship while Chandler Smith Wins at Phoenix Reviewed by Courtney Horn on Saturday, November 06, 2021 Rating: 5