Photo: Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images via NASCAR

Chasing the Championship: Breaking Down the NASCAR Truck Series Title Fight

By David Morgan, Associate Editor

AVONDALE, Ariz. – The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series will be the first title fight of the weekend to be settled, as the four remaining drivers in the Playoffs will duke it out Friday night at Phoenix Raceway for the right to hoist the championship trophy when the checkered flag falls.

Eight drivers started the Playoffs with a berth in the championship race in mind, but half of them fell by the wayside, leaving Matt Crafton, John Hunter Nemechek, Ben Rhodes, and Zane Smith as the four drivers to battle for supremacy in the Lucas Oil 150.

By the Numbers

What: Lucas Oil 150, NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Race No. 22 of 22

Where: Phoenix Raceway – Avondale, Arizona

When: Friday, November 5

TV/Radio: FOX Sports 1, 8:00 pm ET / MRN and Sirius XM NASCAR Channel 90

Track Size: 1.0-mile oval

Banking: Eight to nine degrees in Turns 1-2, 10 to 11 degrees in Turns 3-4 and frontstretch dogleg

Race Length: 150 laps, 150 miles

Stage Lengths: Stage One/Two – 45 laps each, Final stage – 60 laps

November 2020 Race Winner: Sheldon Creed – No. 2 Chevrolet (Started third, 27 laps led)

Tale of the Tape – How the Championship 4 Stacks Up:

John Hunter Nemechek – No. 4 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota

2021 Stats: Five wins (Las Vegas, Richmond, Charlotte, Texas, Pocono), 12 top-five finishes, 15 top-10 finishes, 572 laps led, 9.9 average finish

Phoenix Specific Stats: Seven starts, two runner-up finishes, four top-10 finishes, 31 laps led, 13.7 average finish.

Why Nemechek Can Win: Though he had a close call last weekend at Martinsville that could have easily taken him out of the championship picture, Nemechek has been the man to beat all season long behind the wheel of his Kyle Busch Motorsports machine and Friday’s season finale in Phoenix should be no different.

With the best equipment he has ever had in the Truck Series, Nemechek is the odds-on favorite to win the championship this season and if the performance he has put up this year is any indication, whoever hoists the trophy at the end of the night will have to go through Nemechek to get there.

What the Driver Says: “Coming to KBM this year was coming back to win races. We were #Here4Wins, we used it when announced me coming back. I wanted to come here to be able to park it and victory lane and take checkered flags home. For me, it was proving to myself that I could still do this.

“When we use that hashtag, we’re not just using it to win races, we’re here to win practice, qualifying, stages, races, and championships. Luckily, we were able to lock up the regular season championship earlier this year, so now trying to go for the playoff championship. Hopefully, we’ll be the ones hosting that trophy over our head come Friday night.”

Zane Smith – No. 21 GMS Racing Chevrolet

2021 Stats: One win (Martinsville), two top-five finishes, 13 top-10 finishes, 131 laps led, 13.5 average finish

Phoenix Specific Stats: One start (2020), runner-up finish, 48 laps led

Why Smith Can Win: Last weekend, it was win or go home for Smith to even be able to make it into the Championship 4 and he was in the right place at the right time when the seas parted in front of him to be able to take the lead, win the race, and transfer through to the championship race.

If his results this season and in his lone start at Phoenix last weekend are any indication, Smith will be a contender Friday night, especially with a GMS Racing truck underneath him. Can he use the momentum from Martinsville to propel him to a title? It’s certainly a possibility.

What the Driver Says: “I am excited for Phoenix, it’s definitely one of my best tracks, and having the opportunity to get to race for a championship again is amazing. It’s been a wild year with all the adversity thrown at our team, but we never let up and I think that’s what got us to the Championship 4. I hope to get MRC Construction, Maury, Chevrolet, and all of GMS Racing another championship on Friday night.”

Matt Crafton – No. 88 ThorSport Racing Toyota

2021 Stats: No wins, five top-five finishes, 12 top-10 finishes, 19 laps led, 11.4 average finish

Phoenix Specific Stats: 20 starts, no wins, six top-five finishes, 12 top-10 finishes, 16 laps led, 10.0 average finish.

Why Crafton Can Win: Despite not yet making it to victory lane in 2021, the elder statesman of the Truck Series is ready to take it to his younger championship competitors on Friday night, showing that a championship can be won even without winning a race.

Crafton has been here before, winning the title three times previously, with the most recent one coming in 2019 at Homestead, so that experience will go a long way in helping him in his quest to tie Truck Series legend Ron Hornaday, Jr. with a fourth championship.

What the Driver Says: “To be able to get to Hornaday, to be able to get one more than Hornaday, that would be great to say you won five, you won six, you won 10, or whatever. At the end of the day, as long as you’re out there and you’re competitive and you have a chance to be in the right position to win races and fight for championships, that’s all you can ask for.

“(The race) is going to be aggressive, without a doubt, but I don’t think its going to be drive through the guy to wreck him to go win a championship. I don’t think you’re going to see that. I don’t expect that. Are you going to race hard, lean on each other, and do whatever you have to do to win a championship? Absolutely.”

Ben Rhodes – No. 99 ThorSport Racing Toyota

2021 Stats: Two wins (Daytona, Daytona Road Course), seven top-five finishes, 15 top-10 finishes, 99 laps led, 9.6 average finish

Phoenix Specific Stats: Six starts, no wins, two top-five finishes, three top-10 finishes, 48 laps led, 10.3 average finish.

Why Rhodes Can Win: After starting off the year with a pair of wins at Daytona and the Daytona Road Course, Rhodes didn’t make it back to victory lane for the remainder of the 2021 season, but overall has the best average finish among his championship rivals and in turn, his best shot at taking home the trophy since his career began back in 2016.

As chaotic as a Truck Series race can get, a consistent driver who can put himself in the right place at the right time has a chance to be in the running when it matters most on Friday night, allowing him to challenge the three other title contenders for the right to be called champion.

What the Driver Says: “I’m more focused on this than I’ve been on any other race before. I’ve done a lot of studying, a lot of simulator time. Anything that’s a variable, I’ve looked at it, studied it, and the same goes for my team. We’re very, very, very prepared, but I know there are some things you can’t prepare for.

“If something is going to take us out of the race, I’d rather it’d be something I can’t control. Because when you can control it, that really eats at you. We’ve done everything we can to make sure we’ve got a really fast truck and we’re on top of everything we’re doing.”

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David Morgan is the Associate Editor for Motorsports Tribune. A 2008 graduate from the University of Mississippi, David has followed NASCAR since the early 90’s and became hooked at an early age after attending his first race at Talladega Superspeedway in 1993. He has traveled across the country since 2012 to cover some of the most prestigious events both IndyCar and NASCAR have to offer, with an aim to only expand on that in the near future.