Race Weekend Central

Truckin’ Thursdays: Setting the Stage for the Championship

The NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Championship 4 is set.

After a chaotic race at Homestead-Miami Speedway, it all comes down to four drivers for the 2023 championship.

One of them is hoping to win his second championship; the other three are looking for their first. For two of them, it is their first Championship 4 appearance in their careers. Impressively, all four of them finished in position Nos. 1-4 in the penultimate race at Homestead on Oct. 21.

With the championship race still a week away, let’s meet the lucky four who will be competing for a crown at Phoenix Raceway.

Corey Heim

2023 wins: 3
Championship 4 appearances before 2023: Zero
Best points finish: 14th (2022)
Best Phoenix finish: 7th (2022)

Far and away the favorite to win the championship at this juncture, Corey Heim has lit up the charts in his first full-time Truck season. Heim has amassed three wins, his most recent at Bristol, and is the only Championship 4 driver to finish in the top 10 in every playoff race this season.

Even while missing a race at World Wide Technology Raceway due to an undisclosed illness, Heim had incredible consistency compared to everyone around him, and as some drivers stumbled, Heim soared en route to the regular season championship.

See also
Corey Heim Returning to TRICON

We should have known what Heim was capable of last season, as he won Rookie of the Year and finished 14th in the final point standings despite missing seven races of the 23-race season. He also picked up two wins in his part-time gig – an altogether very impressive season for a part-time rookie.

Heim now makes it to the Championship 4 in his first full-time season, and while nothing is guaranteed, he enters Phoenix as the title favorite, hoping to give TRICON Garage its first driver’s championship.

Carson Hocevar

2023 wins: 4
Championship 4 appearances before 2023: Zero
Best points finish: 10th (2021, 2022)
Best Phoenix finish: 9th (2021)

After two seasons of promise led to consistent heartbreak, Carson Hocevar has finally had his breakout year in 2023. After starting the season looking strong, he was still looking for his first win after coming oh-so-close several times beforehand. Then at Texas Motor Speedway, the seas parted, and win No. 1 was finally achieved.

Hocevar wasn’t satisfied with the win, though, as he has reeled off three more for the most wins of any driver this season. If anyone is going to put up a challenge to Heim for the championship, it’s Hocevar. As the winner of the last race at Homestead, the 20-year-old is riding on a wave of momentum into Phoenix.

See also
Tracking the Trucks: A Hail Mary, a DQ & a 4th Win for No. 42

Hocevar makes his first Championship 4 despite making the playoffs each of the last three seasons. He finished last in the playoff standings in both 2021 and 2022, and now he’s guaranteed at least a fourth-place finish in the points.

But he definitely wants to win it all.

Hocevar is moving up to the Cup Series next season with Spire Motorsports, so I’m sure he would like nothing more than to go out on top in the Truck Series with Niece Motorsports, his team of the last four seasons.

Ben Rhodes

2023 wins: 1
Championship 4 appearances before 2023: 2 (2021, 2022)
Best points finish: 1st (2021)
Best Phoenix finish: 2nd (2022)

Ben Rhodes was one position away at Phoenix last season from entering this race with a shot at winning three straight titles. However, entering with a shot at the title this year is nothing short of a miracle for Rhodes.

Having just one win at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Rhodes has spent a majority of the season flying under the radar. He comfortably made the playoffs by virtue of his win, and was able to make the Round of 8 relatively cleanly, but needed a lot of help to make the Championship 4, much like he did last season.

He found that help by virtue of a bold pit call by crew chief Rich Lushes. Now Rhodes is back in the Championship 4 for the third-straight year. He is the only driver in this year’s Championship 4 with a previous title. In 2021, he won the championship but finished third in the race at Phoenix – proving that a win isn’t exactly necessary if your competition finds trouble.

Rhodes enters Phoenix with just as much momentum as Hocevar does. While Hocevar has the most recent win, Rhodes is coming off of back-to-back runner-up finishes. He needs a little bit more if he wants to outright win the championship, but a solid run could help Rhodes like it did in 2021 if his fellow contenders find trouble.

Grant Enfinger

2023 wins: 3
Championship 4 appearances before 2023: 1 (2020)
Best points finish: 4th (2020)
Best Phoenix finish: 4th (2018)

Grant Enfinger was one of the hottest drivers in the Truck Series garage throughout the summer months, and even entering the playoffs he was looking really good, winning the second race of the playoffs at The Milwaukee Mile.

But since that win, Enfinger has gone quiet. A dismal 17th at Kansas Speedway left a poor train of momentum heading into the Round of 8. Despite a solid showing in the Round of 8 sans a 13th-place finish at Talladega Superspeedway, Enfinger squeaked into the Championship 4 by a handful of points.

Nevertheless, Enfinger has three wins, tied with Heim, but surprisingly he doesn’t have the Championship 4 experience one would think. He’s only competed for a championship once in 2020 and finished fourth of the four drivers in contention. Wins are one thing for Enfinger, but a championship has been a different battle.

See also
Chandler Smith, Kaulig Racing to Part Ways in 2024

He did win the 2015 ARCA Menards Series championship and was the 2019 Truck Series regular-season champion, so he’s used to lifting important hardware, but hasn’t been able to replicate that success as of late. Enfinger might be the biggest long shot for the championship, but that might be what makes Enfinger so dangerous. The moment you write him off, he comes out of nowhere and surprises people.

And what better way for Enfinger’s team, GMS Racing, to go out than with another drivers’ championship before it bids farewell?

––––

Four drivers. One last race. A championship on the line.

My official prediction: Ben Rhodes, 2023 Craftsman Truck Series champion. Who’s your pick?

Truckin’ Tidbits

  • Dean Thompson will return to TRICON Garage in 2024, joining Heim as the only two who are confirmed to return to the team. The Brothers Gray, Tanner and Taylor, have not yet announced their plans, but since their grandfather Johnny is part-owner of the team, they will likely both return in 2024 barring unusual circumstances.
  • Chris Hacker was reinstated by NASCAR on Oct. 25 after his DUI arrest on Aug. 15, shortly after the Truck race at Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park. He will compete in the Xfinity Series race this Saturday (Oct. 28) at Martinsville Speedway.
  • Ty Majeski and his No. 98 team were docked 10 driver and owner points following Homestead for violating NASCAR’s front suspension guidelines. Majeski failed to make the Championship 4, so the penalty had no championship implications.
  • In a shocking move, Jesse Love will move from ARCA to Xfinity in 2024, replacing Sheldon Creed in Richard Childress Racing’s No. 2. Love was seen as the heir apparent to Heim’s seat at TRICON next season, as Heim was the favorite to take John Hunter Nemechek’s No. 20 Xfinity ride. But when it was announced Heim was staying at TRICON, Love instead signed with RCR. Toyota yet again loses another generational talent due to what can only be described as developmental hell in the pipeline.

With the off-week for the Truckers this week, the championship race at Phoenix Raceway takes place on Fri, Nov. 3 at 10 p.m. ET (boy it’ll be a late one). Coverage can be found on FOX Sports 1.

About the author

Frontstretch.com

Anthony Damcott joined Frontstretch in March 2022. Currently, he is an editor and co-authors Fire on Fridays (Fridays); he is also the primary Truck Series reporter/writer. A proud West Virginia Wesleyan College alum from Akron, Ohio, Anthony is now a grad student. He is a theatre actor and fight-choreographer-in-training in his free time. 

You can keep up with Anthony by following @AnthonyDamcott on Twitter.

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Kevin L

It’s absurd — if not financially counterproductive — to not automatically include a SEASON CHAMPION in the Championship Final Race.
Name one sport in the world which does not do so?

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