Race Weekend Central

Truckin’ Thursdays: Setting the Truck Series Championship 4

This weekend, the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series heads to Homestead-Miami Speedway for the final race in the Round of 8.

Heading into the Baptist Health 200, only one driver in Ty Majeski can breathe easy after locking himself into the Championship 4 with his first career win at Bristol Motor Speedway. And in a perfect world, ThorSport Racing has the opportunity to put two more of its drivers into the title race, though that might be a little difficult.

Defending champion Ben Rhodes sits just three points above the cut line and in a precarious position to put up a title defense. And if we’re being realistic, Homestead hasn’t exactly been kind to the driver of the No. 99 Toyota in five prior starts.

His lone top 10 came in a 10th-place finish in 2019, though Rhodes holds an average finish of 15.8 with 45 career laps led at the mile-and-a-half track.

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Unfortunately, the playoffs haven’t gone all that well for Rhodes, who has a pair of runner-up finishes combined with three results of 13th or worse. He also hasn’t led more than single-digit laps since World Wide Technology Raceway Park in June. That’s not exactly the championship form needed to go back-to-back.

Just behind Rhodes, sitting three points below the cut line, is his teammate Christian Eckes. But their results at Homestead couldn’t be more different.

In just two starts at the track, the driver of the No. 98 Toyota has a pair of top 10s and one top five. He’s also got an average start of third, giving him a history of much-needed track position in such a short race. And while he’s winless this season, Eckes has just one finish outside the top 10 in the playoffs at Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park (16th). If Eckes can’t win the race, he will definitely need some help in the form of problems for the competition, but his prior results at the track put him in a good position heading into the weekend.

Meanwhile, just two drivers enter this event with a mathematical shot at locking themselves in on points. Chandler Smith and Zane Smith, who sit 30 and 18 points above the cut line, respectively, can control their destinies a little more readily than the rest of the playoff drivers.

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Chandler Smith needs to score just 29 points, regardless of who wins the race and where the rest of the playoff drivers finish. But he comes into the weekend with a bit of a handicap because he hasn’t raced at Homestead before. The good news for the driver of the No. 18 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota is that his first win this season came at another mile-and-a-half track at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Zane Smith’s path is a little more difficult; he’ll need to score 41 points to make sure he clinches his spot in the Championship 4 no matter who wins. The bad news is that he ran just 19 laps at Homestead in 2020 before he was involved in a crash that took him out of the race. The series didn’t run at Homestead last season due to logistics related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sitting sixth in the standings and tied with Eckes at three points below the cut line is Stewart Friesen. In five starts at Homestead, he has just two top 10s and an average finish of 13th, far from what will be needed for him to put up much of a fight for the win and his spot in the championship battle. The good news for Friesen is his lone win this season came at Texas Motor Speedway, another mile-and-a-half track.

Not too far behind Friesen is John Hunter Nemechek, who entered this season highly favored to win the championship based on last year’s performance. Instead, he now sits five points below the cut line and needs some help to make the Championship 4 on points. The good news for Nemechek fans, though, is that he’s got a great history on mile-and-a-half tracks, in general, though an average finish of 8.8 and zero wins at Homestead puts the No. 4 team behind the eight ball a bit.

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The eighth and final driver still remaining in the playoffs is Grant Enfinger, who sits a distant 29 points below the cut line. There’s almost no way he’ll point his way into the next round, even with some help. He’d essentially need catastrophe to strike multiple playoff drivers to make that happen, leaving winning as his only realistic shot at keeping his title hopes alive.

The thing to remember about Enfinger, though, is he has a knack for putting himself in the right place at the right time when he needs it most. After all, he entered the playoffs seeded ninth out of 10 drivers and immediately went out to win at Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park to lock himself into the Round of 8. And now, on the verge of being locked out of the championship battle, Enfinger’s got something to prove.

One other thing Enfinger has going for him is crew chief Jeff Hensley. The duo was reunited in July and put together a solid playoff run that included four straight top fives before a 29th-place finish at Talladega Superspeedway put them behind the eight ball. But if there’s one thing you should remember about Hensley, it’s that he’s not afraid to make untraditional calls from atop the pit box to try to make magic happen for his driver.

Obviously, the easiest way to take all of the guesswork out of the equation is to simply win the race. But given there are plenty of other drivers in the field who are looking to prove themselves, auditioning to potential future sponsors with just two races remaining on this year’s schedule, you can bet they won’t just pull over to let the playoff drivers have a clear track.

When it comes down to it, I would be surprised if Chandler Smith and Zane Smith don’t join Majeski in the Championship 4. It’s that fourth driver that leaves a little more of a question mark, but given their prior performance at the track and this season, in general, look for Eckes or Enfinger to pull out a win when they need it the most.

Truckin’ Tidbits:

  • There are currently 37 trucks on the entry list at Homestead for 36 spots. Tyler Hill is back behind the wheel for Hill Motorsports while Ryan Preece returns to the No. 17 David Gilliland Racing Ford. Meanwhile, NASCAR Mexico driver Max Gutierrez is set to make his fourth start this season with AM Racing. Qualifying for Saturday’s event will run Friday, Oct. 21 at 4:30 p.m. ET.
  • Earlier this week, Hattori Racing Enterprises announced it would part ways with driver Chase Purdy at the end of this season. He failed to qualify for the season opener at Daytona International Speedway and has just two top 10s in 20 races thus far in 2022. As of press time, there is no word on where he might end up racing next season.

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