Race Weekend Central

Ben Rhodes Denies Stewart Friesen Championship 4 Berth by 1 Point

HOMESTEAD, Fla. – Stewart Friesen stood under the sun at Homestead-Miami Speedway after the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series’ penultimate race of the season on Oct. 22, sunglasses covering his facial expression.

But there was no need to guess his emotion. It was frustration.

For the second consecutive year, the Canadian NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver failed to make the playoffs. Even worse, he missed the championship finale berth to Ben Rhodes by the smallest of margins too – one point.

It had been a tame race for the truckers on Saturday afternoon in southern Florida. So tame in fact that you probably couldn’t tell there were seven drivers all fighting for each position as if their championship hopes depended on it.

The drama began with John Hunter Nemechek, who was a popular favorite for the title by many heading into the playoffs, as he slapped the wall early in stage one.

Nemechek was forced to pit and fell three laps down to the rest of the field, the damage done leaving his No. 4 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota Tundra incapable of keeping up with the pace of the field. He couldn’t recover and ended his day with lost championship hopes in what has been a dominant year. Again.

“I ultimately pounded the fence,” said a dejected Nemechek. “I tried to make back probably too much in too close of a time period and hit the fence again. I don’t know. I have to figure out how to be better.

“I should be in the final four, but this round hasn’t been very good to us … Just tried to fight and fought a little too hard.”

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Then there was Grant Enfinger. While in a must-win situation heading into the penultimate race of the Truck Series season, the driver of the No. 23 GMS Racing still had a hat in the ring for most of the race, quietly hovering around in the top 10 in striking distance of the lead in case of a late race caution.

But he too became a casualty of the dreaded flat tire. In the final stage, Enfinger was forced to pit off sequence and limped to pit road to service the deflated Goodyear. That was the bad news.

However, Enfinger just pitted under the fuel window to make it to the end. Alas, while still pitting earlier than anyone else, the GMS Racing Chevrolet had lost too much time. He was eliminated as well.

“I was optimistic at first,” said Enfinger. “Just couldn’t get air in that tire and cut it down … Frustrated to not advance with all the support that we have. We had the resources to fight for a championship. We just came up short.”

That left Friesen and Rhodes juggling that final championship transfer spot with each pass made.

After the final pit stop, Friesen ran inside the top five and reached the third position. However, despite his high standing on the track, he still remained dead even with reigning Truck Series champion Rhodes, who was riding in seventh as the meat in a ThorSport Racing sandwich between teammates Christian Eckes and Matt Crafton.

With 10 laps remaining, it appeared Crafton was gaining on Rhodes, putting a sure ticket to Phoenix in danger of being lost. However, the No. 99 of Rhodes had a second wind, and ran down teammate Eckes with around five laps to go, allotting the 25-year-old that one point he needed to clear Friesen and put himself in the top four drivers in points.

Upon the cooldown lap, Friesen could only reflect on the past three races and the culmination of points that had put him in that position. That included the yellow flag that was waved on the last lap at Talladega Superspeedway.

“If we could’ve been scored where we were at when the field was frozen, we would be in,” said the upset Friesen about the caution at Talladega. “We would have four more points.

“But, you know, that’s how she goes, right?”

Friesen took note of who Rhodes was racing for those crucial points too.

“I don’t know if there was shenanigans or what. But who knows?”

Shenanigans or not, the final four is set for the Camping World Truck Series finale at Phoenix Raceway in two weeks, and once again, Rhodes will be a part of the final four.

But that doesn’t mean it’s time to whip out the Bud Light just yet for the reigning champ. That’ll have to wait until after the championship finale.

“I’m going to relax, and I’m going to wait because I’m so focused on Phoenix,” chuckled Rhodes.

“When we get to Phoenix though, it’s going to be a celebration like no other.”

About the author

Dalton Hopkins began writing for Frontstretch in April 2021. Currently, he is the lead writer for the weekly Thinkin' Out Loud column and one of our lead reporters. Beforehand, he wrote for IMSA shortly after graduating from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in 2019. Simultaneously, he also serves as a First Lieutenant in the US Army.

Follow Dalton on Twitter @PitLaneLT

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Tom B

It sure looked like Eckes wasn’t helping his teammate with the points he needed.

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