Photo: Logan T. Arce/ASP, Inc.

Chasing the Championship: NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series at Phoenix

By David Morgan, Associate Editor

AVONDALE, Ariz. – The NASCAR Craftsman 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 Grant Enfinger, Corey Heim, Carson Hocevar and 2021 series champion Ben Rhodes as the four drivers to battle for supremacy in the Craftsman 150.

By the Numbers

What: Craftsman 150, NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Race No. 22 of 22

Where: Phoenix Raceway – Avondale, Arizona

When: Friday, November 3

TV/Radio: FOX Sports 1, 10:00 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 2022 Race Winner: Zane Smith – No. 38 Ford (Started on pole, 77 laps led)

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

Grant Enfinger – No. 23 GMS Racing Chevrolet

2023 Stats: Three wins (Kansas, Gateway, Milwaukee), nine top-five finishes, 12 top-10 finishes, 232 laps led, 9.1 average finish

Phoenix Specific Stats: Six starts, no wins, two top-five finishes, three top-10 finishes, 12 laps led, 10.8 average finish.

Why Enfinger Can Win the Title: Aside from being capable of winning on the shorter tracks on the Truck Series schedule, Enfinger is also carrying an entire organization with him into the title fight. After being a top tier team for many years, GMS Racing announced earlier this year that they would be shutting down at season’s end.

Given Friday night will be the team’s swan song, there would be no better way to go out than as champions.

What the Driver Says: “It’d be huge career-wise, obviously, to bring home a championship. We’ve been close before, got a regular season, made it to this race before, but yeah, we want the big trophy. I think it’d mean even more so from a personal standpoint, just something that I’ve worked really, really hard for. I feel like it’s taken me a long road to get here, to just be able to compete in the Truck Series. There’s probably not a whole lot of guys that were rookies at 31 years old in the Truck Series, so yeah, it’s something that I’m proud of and I worked hard for.

“There’s the team aspect and the organization aspect and man, this is something, me and Jeff have worked for. We’ve been together for five years. Obviously, GMS Racing has won these championships. Mike Beam has put so much into it and this organization goes away after tomorrow night.

“So, there’s a lot of reasons why we want this. Everybody here wants this championship, right? I think we’ve got a little bit extra desire and drive, but at the same time, we’re gonna do what got us here as well. And I feel like if we operated our best, we can beat these other three at their best. So that’s, uh, that’s our focus right now.”

Corey Heim – No. 11 TRICON Garage Toyota

2023 Stats: Three wins (Martinsville, Mid-Ohio, Bristol), 12 top-five finishes, 19 top-10 finishes, 564 laps led, 6.2 average finish

Phoenix Specific Stats: One start, no wins, seventh-place finish (11/22), five laps led.

Why Heim Can Win the Title: From an outright speed perspective, Heim should be the favorite based on the performance his team has put forth this season. Of the four title contenders, Heim has been the most consistently fast throughout the year. Only two times has Heim finished outside the top-10 and if they can keep that up on Friday night, they’ll be hard to beat.

What the Driver Says: “Throughout the year, I’ve been a big believer in that we’ve gotten better every week, every single race we’ve improved. We got off to a little bit of a slow start for our standards with the first three or four races, but I knew that we had the pieces in places, it was just a matter of putting it all together for me.

“With having a championship winning crew chief and spotter, all of the variables were kind of there for me, and with the help of Toyota Racing, building up now a championship contending organization, it is definitely special to be a part of such a great team and I cannot wait to go and contend for it.”

Carson Hocevar – No. 42 Niece Motorsports Chevrolet

2023 Stats: Four wins (Texas, Nashville, Richmond, Homestead), 11 top-five finishes, 13 top-10 finishes, 271 laps led, 10.8 average finish

Phoenix Specific Stats: Four starts, no wins, two top-10 finishes, no laps led, 18.5 average finish.

Why Hocevar Can Win the Championship: Hocevar has scratched and clawed his way up the ranks and now arrives at a moment he has long awaited with a chance to take home the title before moving on to the Cup Series in 2024.

Though Hocevar has been hit or miss throughout the year, if he is able to put it all together on Friday night, it could be a life-changing moment for him and his team.

Add in the fact that Hocevar has been putting in extra preparation for Phoenix in the eventuality he made it through to the final four, even before officially clinching his spot, that extra confidence and preparedness could be the key to victory.

What the Driver Says: “I’ve dreamt about this since all year. I’ve thought about Phoenix and last year even when we left Phoenix. So, I feel so over prepared right now that I could close my eyes and just run laps. I could probably go out there and drive with my knee, per se. I’d still hit the line. My knees are luckily long enough that I could be able to probably do that. But I’ve just enjoyed it…

“I just feel so over-prepared at Phoenix that I don’t know what I would do different. And just knowing that I don’t know what the pressure is. You know, I’ve prepared everything I can. I’ve done the homework per se. I know exactly where you think you would be able to go fast, you know, hopefully that translates [Thursday] in practice. But if not, it wasn’t from a lack of effort and the effort’s the only thing you can control.”

Ben Rhodes – No. 99 ThorSport Racing Toyota

2023 Stats: One win (Charlotte), six top-five finishes, 13 top-10 finishes, 112 laps led, 11.0 average finish

Phoenix Specific Stats: Eight starts, no wins, four top-five finishes, five top-10 finishes, 56 laps led, 8.4 average finish.

Why Rhodes Can Win a Second Championship: Of the four championship contenders, Rhodes may be a longshot, but he’s still the only one among them that has been here and won a championship before and that could be invaluable when it comes to getting the job done again on Friday night.

While he may not be the fastest, Rhodes noted that ever since he tasted what it was like to be able to win a title, he has been itching to make a return the championship stage. Now that the moment is here again, Rhodes may very well fly in under the radar and snag his second title.

What the Driver Says: “What an honor it’d be,” Rhodes said of winning a second championship. “If you list out the names of two-time champions, it’s pretty crazy. I consider them monuments of men in our sport that are legendary. They’re going to go in the Hall of Fame if they aren’t already – Ron Hornaday is there. It’s just cool.

“But even if I did get a second championship, I really wouldn’t consider myself one of them. I consider them greater than me, actually. I’m really bad at that – I consider a lot of people better than me. But maybe that fuels that fire like I have something to prove. That’s always been my attitude – I focus on myself, I don’t really think about what it’d mean or what it could be. But I promise you, I’ll celebrate harder than any of them because I do recognize the grind and struggle it is to get here.

“I know what my story has been and how hard it’s been to get to this point. Every opportunity I get, I really try to make the most of it. I’ve done that more in my life too. I try to take time to recognize things. I used to be really bad that even if we won, I’d be focused on the next race. I really didn’t celebrate or appreciate it. It’s really hard to do. You better appreciate the heck out of it. It’s not easy.”

Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)

Thursday, November 2

  • Truck Series Practice (8:00 pm ET – No TV)

Friday, November 3

  • Truck Series Qualifying (6:05 pm ET – FOX Sports 1)
  • Craftsman 150 at Phoenix (10:00 pm ET – 150 laps, 150 miles – FOX Sports 1)

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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.