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It’s hard to believe, but the 2023 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series playoffs are already upon us.
The Round of 10 kicks off on Friday, Aug. 11 at Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park, but the series has a much-needed off week to prepare for the chaos that is playoff racing.
Over the next two weeks, Frontstretch will prepare you for the Truck Series playoffs with a breakdown of each of the 10 drivers vying for the 2023 Truck Series championship. This week will take a look at Nos. 1-5 in playoff seeding.
No. 1: Corey Heim
Best points finish: 14th (2022 – part-time rookie)
After running a part-time schedule in 2022 (but still winning two races and Rookie of the Year), Heim returned to the Truck Series full-time in 2023, jumping ship from Kyle Busch Motorsports to TRICON Garage, and made the playoffs in his first legitimate attempt.
Not only that, but he won the regular-season championship in his first try as well, netting him an additional 15 playoff points to start the playoffs. Heim has two wins on the season, at Martinsville Speedway and Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. An undisclosed illness sidelined him at World Wide Technology Raceway, but he returned stronger than ever and maintained his consistency as his closest rivals kept crashing out or finding other trouble late in the regular season.
Heim enters the playoffs as the provisional favorite for the title, but there are several other strong contenders who would like to say otherwise.
No. 2: Zane Smith
Best points finish: Champion (2022)
Smith opened up the 2023 season as the favorite, being the defending champion. Two wins within the first four races only strengthened those odds of going back-to-back. But since those two wins at Daytona International Speedway and Circuit of the Americas, Smith has gone cold. He’s shown flashes of excellence but more often than not has been caught up in an incident and has finished poorly.
Smith has as many finishes inside the top three as he does outside the top 10. It’s truly been a feast or famine season for the No. 38 team and despite being seeded second in the playoffs, Smith’s chances at repeating as champion seem low unless he can get his consistency turned around in the playoffs.
No. 3: Carson Hocevar
Best points finish: 10th – twice (2021, 2022)
Hocevar returns to the playoffs for the third straight season, but this time he has more confidence thanks to finally getting career win number one at Texas Motor Speedway. As soon as he cleared the first win hurdle, he became dominant. He followed Texas up with two more wins at Nashville Superspeedway and Richmond Raceway, entering the playoffs with the most wins of any driver.
After two early exits from the playoffs in both 2021 and 2022, Hocevar enters the 2023 playoffs with a vengeance, and with the likelihood of him moving up to the Xfinity or Cup series in 2024 being very possible, Hocevar would love to close his full-time Truck Series career with a championship.
No. 4: Christian Eckes
Best points finish: 8th – twice (2020, 2022)
Both Eckes and his team, McAnally-Hilgemann Racing, have found more success than ever in the Truck Series. After spending time at Kyle Busch Motorsports and ThorSport Racing, Eckes only managed one career win during his part-time season with ThorSport in 2021 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in September.
Likewise, MHR had zero career Truck Series wins in three full-time seasons with its former driver Derek Kraus, who won the ARCA Menards Series West championship for the team in 2019.
Following Kraus’s release at the beginning of the 2023 season, Eckes and MHR joined forces and both have improved because of it. Eckes grabbed the team’s first win (his second) at Atlanta Motor Speedway and followed that up with a win at Darlington Raceway a few weeks later. Eckes is making his third appearance in the playoffs with his third different team, while MHR makes its first playoff appearance.
Eckes has run up front quite a bit this season but has only managed two wins. However, he has been wildly inconsistent otherwise – in the five races between his two wins, he alternated 30th and 15th-place finishes. Eckes and his No. 19 team can make a splash in the playoffs, but need to start gathering the finishes he needs to do so. He’s finished in the top 15 the last three straight races, so he has momentum – he just needs to keep it.
No. 5: Grant Enfinger
Best points finish: 4th (2020)
Enfinger entered 2023 in a much more comfortable position with his GMS Racing team than he did last year. After being announced to drive the No. 23 for 2022 and beyond, it took a while for Enfinger to get up to speed with his new-old team, as he hadn’t driven for GMS since he was a part timer in 2016, where he won with the team at Talladega Superspeedway.
However, a win at IRP gave Enfinger a serious shot at making a last-ditch run at the championship. Despite ending up seventh in the final points, he and the team used the IRP win to carry momentum into 2023, where he has racked up two wins at Kansas Speedway and World Wide Technology Raceway and is currently entering the playoffs with back-to-back top 10s.
Enfinger could be a sleeper pick to at least make the Championship 4, something he hasn’t done since 2020. And with the series returning to IRP to begin the playoffs, Enfinger looks to once again start the playoffs with a win.
Next week will break down the playoff drivers Nos. 6-10 in seeding as the Truck Series gears up for IRP.
About the author
Anthony Damcott joined Frontstretch in March 2022. He co-authors Only Yesterday (Wednesdays) and Fire on Fridays (Fridays); he is also the site's primary Truck Series reporter and writer, and contributes to SRX coverage, too. A proud West Virginia Wesleyan College alum from Akron, Ohio, Anthony is currently pursuing his master of journalism at Temple University. He is a theatre actor and fight choreographer-in-training outside of Frontstretch. He is a loyal fan of the Cincinnati Reds and Carolina Panthers, still hopeful for a championship at some point in his lifetime.
You can keep up with Anthony by following @AnthonyDamcott on Twitter.
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