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In a Nutshell
In a race of attrition and flat-out stupidity that saw four overtimes and 29 additional laps to complete the race, Rhodes outlasted his three championship foes, who all ran into forced problems in the closing laps of the race.
Meanwhile, McAnally-Hilgemann Racing earned its first one-two finish, as Christian Eckes won the season finale at Phoenix with Jake Garcia in tow. It’s a bittersweet moment for both drivers, as Eckes was a penalty away from a Championship 4 berth at Homestead-Miami Speedway (so the win would have crowned him the champion), while Garcia is leaving the team.
Eckes and Rhodes both had to earn their wins through pure survival, as chaos ensued and made the championship race quite possibly the biggest joke in NASCAR history.
The Top Truckers at Phoenix Raceway
Top Storylines of the Race
- Several new faces appeared in different rides as 2024 silly season rages on. Sean Hingorani drove Henderson Motorsports’ No. 75 normally occupied part time by NASCAR Xfinity Series driver Parker Kligerman. Stefan Parsons stepped behind the wheel of Rackley WAR’s No. 25 to end the season. AM Racing’s ARCA Menards Series driver Christian Rose drove the team’s No. 22 truck while Chris Hacker returned to the series following his arrest and subsequent suspension from the sport in August.
- Colby Howard told Frontstretch that he will not be returning to CR7 Motorsports in 2024. He is now on the hunt for a job while CR7 is in search of a driver (Enfinger is rumored to be the leading candidate given his previous ties to the team).
- The race itself featured an uncanny 12 cautions for 77 laps – over half of the scheduled distance of 150 laps and about 43% of the overall final race distance of 179 laps. Despite that there were only 10 lead changes among just six drivers.
- Twelve drivers of the 36-truck field (one-third of the entire field) failed to finish the race due to accidents. This allowed some drivers such as Kaden Honeycutt to finish in the top 10 and grab some great results for backmarker teams.
The Championship-Winning Move
The championship looked to be Heim’s from the start. He won the pole and led 45 laps, winning stage two and finishing second behind Majeski in stage one. Even as split strategies began to take effect entering the final stage, it was clear Heim had the fastest truck of the Championship 4.
That didn’t stop Carson Hocevar from trying to take it from him, though.
Hocevar got off strategy from the other three championship drivers as a way of trying to outsmart Heim and the No. 11 team. And it worked all the way up until 30 laps to go, when Heim finally got around him to take the championship lead.
But not for long. Contact between the two sent the No. 11 spinning.
Hocevar immediately dropped back on the next restart, seemingly mentally checked out after his mistake. That put the championship fight between Rhodes and Enfinger. Another late caution allowed Enfinger to take the championship lead from Rhodes, and with four laps to go, it seemed like Enfinger would walk GMS Racing off into the sunset with a championship.
Then there was run-in between two old friends.
The caution and subsequent restart allowed Rhodes to take the championship lead back from Enfinger, though it wasn’t without contact between the two of them and Eckes, forcing Enfinger to pit under caution to clear the damage.
All Rhodes had to do was make it to the checkered flag without tearing up his truck and he was the champion by a wide margin, as every other playoff driver was outside of the top 20.
But then the field kept wrecking. And wrecking. Rhodes even got in on the fun after then-leader Zane Smith missed a shift, causing Rhodes to cave his right-front fender in by slamming into the back of the No. 38.
Despite the damage and a late surge from Enfinger, Rhodes was able to nab his second championship in three years (had he passed Smith for the title in 2022, he would have an unprecedented three in a row, but he came one spot short last year).
Introducing your 2023 champion: Rhodes, for the second time in his career.
Enfinger earns his best championship finish in his career by finishing second, but is left wondering what could have been after coming oh-so-close this year. He seemingly had it in the bag before the late slew of cautions.
Meanwhile, Heim finished third in the championship, as Hocevar failed to finish the race after Heim’s retaliation, falling to a disappointing fourth after a breakout 2023 season for the NASCAR Cup Series-bound driver.
Lost in the chaos is MHR’s 1-2 finish that allowed Garcia to earn his career-best finish, earning him Rookie of the Race for his performance. A shoutout is also in order for Jesse Love, who finished an impressive fourth with TRICON Garage.
No. 1 – Jesse Love (fourth)
No. 2 – Nick Sanchez (10th)
No. 7 – Marco Andretti (35th)
No. 17 – Taylor Gray (23rd)
No. 20 – Nick Leitz (19th)
No. 22 – Christian Rose (16th)
No. 24 – Rajah Caruth (12th)
No. 30 – Chris Hacker (36th)
No. 35 – Jake Garcia (second)
No. 43 – Daniel Dye (32nd)
No. 61 – Jake Drew (33rd)
No. 66 – Conner Jones (34th)
No. 75 – Sean Hingorani (26th)
1 Thought About This Race
Well, NASCAR, you got what you wanted.
When the playoffs were created back in 2014, we all knew it was to add drama. To give us those awesome game-7 moments. It was only a matter of time before we got a full-blown meltdown of the Championship 4.
And of course, the Truck Series provided it.
If it weren’t for the winner-take-all championship race, then there’s no shot an incident between Heim-Hocevar happens (or if it does, it has way less championship implications).
But it doesn’t stop there. Heim flat out manipulated the end of the race and the championship by paying Hocevar back – a payback likely warranted, admittedly – that set the wheels in motion to take Enfinger out of a championship.
Heim didn’t get parked after that? Drivers always typically get parked for retaliation, blatant or not. Hell, Hingorani got suspended for his actions at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in ARCA for arguably less than what Heim did (lost in Heim’s retaliation is that he took out teammate Taylor Gray doing so).
What’s worse is that Heim could have waited a few laps to make his point known to Hocevar. There were less than a half-dozen laps to go. Make your point known on the cool-down lap. The story of the night was going to be about Hocevar’s mistake (given his track record of aggressive driving) until Heim completely flipped the script because he arguably ended more than Hocevar’s race.
This is why some fans are in opposition of the playoffs the way the format is now. This winner-take-all schtick is too chaotic for motorsports to adapt, let alone NASCAR, a sport that encourages contact between drivers.
You cannot tell me that anyone within the powers that be in NASCAR looked at this race and thought that it was anywhere close to mediocre, let alone good. What was on display Friday was nothing short of a farce.
What really drives this problem home is the fact that earlier that day, Steve O’Donnell gave the annual State of the Sport address and said that the playoffs are not “gimmicky.” What we saw in the Truck race was desperation caused by a gimmicked format, there is simply no other way to describe it. What’s O’Donnell to say now after that showing?
There needs to be some thinking done in the offseason about this. You could raise the minimum age for drivers to compete in NASCAR. You could enforce rough driving a lot better. You could even have a three-race fight for the title.
But it has to start with a thorough examination of this playoff format.
Paint Scheme of the Race
After 13 years of NASCAR and ARCA competition, the checkered flag at Phoenix was also the checkered flag on the operations of GMS Racing.
To commemorate its time and success in the Truck Series, the team decided to run two tribute schemes – with each truck honoring its two Truck championships.
Unfortunately, both trucks suffered damage during the race. Dye’s damage was terminal after a late race crash and he finished 32nd, while Caruth was able to salvage 12th.
Although I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Tanner Gray‘s Factory Canopies No. 15 designed like the color of a desert sunset sky.
A well-deserved (and much-needed) rest.
The 2023 Truck season is officially over. Teams now have three months to rest, recharge and regroup to prepare to do it all again in 2024, beginning with the season opener at Daytona International Speedway.
The opener for the 2024 Truck season will take place on Friday, Feb. 16 at 7:30 p.m. ET. FOX Sports 1 will open the season with TV coverage.
To hold you over until then, I leave you with Rhodes’ post-race press conference, which was just as entertaining as his 2021 championship post-race press conference.
About the author
Anthony Damcott joined Frontstretch in March 2022. He is an editor and co-authors Only Yesterday (Wednesdays) and Fire on Fridays (Fridays); he is also the primary Truck Series reporter/writer and dabbles in SRX coverage too. A proud West Virginia Wesleyan College alum from Akron, Ohio, Anthony is currently pursuing a master's degree. He is a theatre actor and fight choreographer-in-training in his free time. He's 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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