Yesterday evening, we saw the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series take the green flag for the final time in 2021 at Phoenix Raceway in Phoenix, Arizona. Throughout the season we’ve had wild racing, crazy restarts, and lots of crashes. This final race, though, didn’t reflect what all that was (for the most part at least.) Former championship contenders Chandler Smith in the KMB #18, Sheldon Creed in the GMS #2, and Todd Gilliland in the DGR #38 qualified in the first three positions. Championship Four contenders Ben Rhodes in the #99 and Matt Crafton in the #88 qualified fourth and fifth in their Thorsport Toyotas, with Carson Hocevar in the Niece Motorsports #42 alongside. Stewart Friesen in the #52 and Derek Kraus in the #19 were in the row behind, with Christian Eckes in the #98 starting in ninth and Hailie Deegan in the #1 finishing off the top ten. Championship driver Zane Smith in the #21 qualified thirteenth, just ahead of sixteenth place John Hunter Nemechek in the KBM #4, the lowest of the four title contenders.
On the opening lap, every truck took different lines. Some elected to stay on the racing surface, with some deciding to dip their toes just barely onto the apron. Others decided to use the entire apron, nearly hitting the inside wall. Chandler Smith lost the lead to Sheldon Creed, though the two would remain close. Further back, Nemechek hit the wall and, while correcting the truck, was struck by another competitor. This caused him to cut a tire, and because NASCAR didn’t display the caution flag, he was scored two laps down due to repair. After twelve laps, the #45 Niece Motorsports Chevy of Lawless Alan spun and hit the wall, ending his day early. Nemechek then gained one of his laps back, though he still had a long way to go before getting back on the lead lap.
Creed once again led at the restart, with pressure from Chandler Smith behind. Chandler took the lead late in the stage, allowing him to win the first stage of the race, with Sheldon Creed behind. At the stage end, the #17 DGR Ford of Taylor Gray spun, coming to a stop, though he kept the car going.
In the second stage, not much would change. Chandler Smith and Creed would swap the lead a few times, and further back Ty Dillon in the #32 would save his truck from major contact with the outside wall. Chandler went on to win the stage, sweeping the first two after leading many laps. Championship Four driver Ben Rhodes finished the stage in third, the highest of the four. Because of the stage ending caution, John Hunter Nemechek was back on the lead lap.
Chandler Smith restarted with Stewart Friesen alongside, as he swooped to the bottom of the apron. As the usual two of Smith and Creed swapped the lead over and over, Nemechek was making up lots of ground, passing fellow championship contender Matt Crafton. Up to this point, the highest championship driver was Zane Smith in the #21. Ben Rhodes in the #99 attempted to pass him for the Championship Four lead, though it wouldn’t be enough. Before Zane Smith could pull away and claim his first ever title, Rhodes sent it into turn one, as Zane came down. The two made contact, and Smith was moved by Rhodes for the title lead. With very few laps left in the race, Chandler Smith was leading. After a dominating performance, Chandler Smith in the #18 KBM Toyota won his second ever race. After two wins and 16 top tens on the season Ben Rhodes in the #99 Thorsport Toyota became the 2021 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Champion!
After C. Smith’s win, Stewart Friesen ended the race in second, with champion Ben Rhodes in third. Former champion Sheldon Creed finished in fourth, with teammate Zane Smith finishing fifth in the race and second in the championship standings. Christian Eckes ended his great year with a sixth place finish, and John Hunter Nemechek ended off a great back-to-front drive in seventh. Todd Gilliland finished in eighth place after a consistent run all day, with Carson Hocevar sneaking into ninth, and Austin Hill finishing off his season with a top ten. Matt Crafton unfortunately finished the last of the four contenders with a twelfth place finish.
Photo Credit///Darryl Webb