NASCAR Truck Series

Ben Rhodes wins 2021 NASCAR Truck Series championship

4 Mins read
Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

Ben Rhodes began the 2021 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series season by winning the first two races. On Friday night, he ended the season with his first series championship. Despite not winning the Lucas Oil 150 at Phoenix Raceway, Rhodes finished ahead of Championship Round rivals Zane Smith, John Hunter Nemechek, and Matt Crafton to secure the title in his sixth full year of Truck competition.

A pair of eliminated drivers led the way in qualifying as Chandler Smith won the pole ahead of Sheldon Creed. Rhodes topped the Championship Four with a fourth-place qualifying effort ahead of Crafton’s fifth. Zane Smith and Nemechek started thirteenth and sixteenth, respectively. Dawson Cram, Jennifer Jo Cobb, and Norm Benning missed the show.

Creed, reeling after missing the final round by just four points, quickly jumped to the lead. Ten laps in, Nemechek’s title hopes were quickly jeopardised when contact with Kris Wright caused him to brush the wall and his left-front tyre to go down. As a result, he fell two laps down and out of the top thirty. Lawless Alan‘s spin a lap later led to a caution.

Smith passed Creed for the top spot on lap 35 and led to the stage win. Todd Gilliland, Stewart Friesen, Rhodes, Carson Hocevar, Crafton, Christian Eckes, Zane Smith, and Derek Kraus rounded out the top ten; Nemechek was thirtieth. Taylor Gray spun with a downed right-rear coming to the finish.

Beating the field off pit road between segments, Creed assumed the lead to begin Stage #2. Nemechek elected to pit, subverting expectations that he would stay out and take the wave-around to return to the lead lap. The stage commenced with Creed taking off ahead of Rhodes. Although Nemechek began the stage as the first lapped truck and would rejoin the lead lap if a caution came out via free pass, Creed and the leaders eventually passed Spencer Boyd, shuffling the pass to him instead.

Much like in the first stage, Creed dominated the second before Chandler Smith took the lead on the final lap. Rhodes once again led the final four in third, followed by Friesen, Gilliland, Zane Smith, Hocevar, Crafton, Enfinger, and Eckes. Nemechek remained a lap down in twenty-seventh and the fourth driver a lap down behind Will Rodgers, Jordan Anderson, and Austin Wayne Self. While the three took the wave-around, Nemechek once again decided against it and assumed the free pass position.

Credit: Sean Gardner/Getty Images

Friesen and Smith paced the grid to the start of Stage #3. A strong restart by Creed propelled him to the lead two corners later before the caution came out for Tate Fogleman‘s truck stopping on the track, finally placing Nemechek back on the lead lap. Creed continued to lead on the lap 106 restart. Four laps later, Zane Smith overtook Rhodes for third to become the highest-running playoff driver.

By the 20-to-go mark, Nemechek had caught Crafton for eleventh while Chandler Smith took second from Friesen. Smith cleared Creed for first on lap 133, and Friesen did the same to take second shortly after. With ten laps remaining, Rhodes chased down Zane Smith for fourth, an effort that was aided by lapped traffic and a tap from the rear, before completing the pass two laps later.

Chandler Smith drove off to his second career win, also securing him Rookie of the Year honours. He is the third Kyle Busch Motorsports driver to win ROTY after Erik Jones in 2015 (also won the championship) and William Byron the following year.

Behind Smith and Friesen, Rhodes placed third to win the championship. It is ThorSport Racing‘s fourth driver’s championship after Crafton won in 2013, 2014, and 2019, while Rhodes enjoys his first title since winning the now-ARCA Menards Series East in 2014.

“That was the hardest last forty laps I think I have ever driven in my life,” said Rhodes. “I was doing things to the race car I probably shouldn’t have been doing, it was dumb, but I had everything to lose. And we brought it home and won it. I don’t even know what to say. This is crazy. Bookends for the season, I am so proud of my ThorSport Racing group. This wasn’t like a vision we had, right, everyone wants to win it, but you just don’t know, it’s so hard.”

Zane Smith finished fifth to place runner-up in the standings for the second straight season. Nemechek, the regular season champion, concluded his night in seventh for a third-place points run. Crafton, who would have tied Ron Hornaday Jr. for the most championships in Truck Series history had he won, was twelfth.

Race results

FinishStartNumberDriverTeamManufacturerLapsStatus
1118Chandler SmithKyle Busch MotorsportsToyota150Running
2752Stewart FriesenHalmar Friesen RacingToyota150Running
3499Ben RhodesThorSport RacingToyota150Running
422Sheldon CreedGMS RacingChevrolet150Running
51321Zane SmithGMS RacingChevrolet150Running
6998Christian EckesThorSport RacingToyota150Running
7164John Hunter NemechekKyle Busch MotorsportsToyota150Running
8338Todd GillilandFront Row MotorsportsFord150Running
9642Carson Hocevar †Niece MotorsportsChevrolet150Running
101116Austin HillHattori Racing EnterprisesToyota150Running
111713Johnny SauterThorSport RacingToyota150Running
12588Matt CraftonThorSport RacingToyota150Running
13279Grant EnfingerCR7 MotorsportsChevrolet150Running
141426Tyler AnkrumGMS RacingChevrolet150Running
15819Derek KrausMcAnally-Hilgemann RacingToyota150Running
161223Chase Purdy †GMS RacingChevrolet150Running
17101Hailie Deegan †David Gilliland RacingFord150Running
182351Drew DollarKyle Busch MotorsportsToyota150Running
191840Ryan TruexNiece MotorsportsChevrolet150Running
201524Jack WoodGMS RacingChevrolet150Running
212544Dean ThompsonNiece MotorsportsChevrolet149Running
223034Will RodgersReaume Brothers RacingToyota149Running
23293Jordan AndersonJordan Anderson RacingChevrolet149Running
243225Willie AllenRackley WARChevrolet149Running
251932Ty DillonBret Holmes RacingChevrolet149Running
262422Austin Wayne SelfAM RacingChevrolet147Running
273133Chris HackerReaume Brothers RacingToyota147Running
282830Danny BohnOn Point MotorsportsToyota147Running
292617Taylor GrayDavid Gilliland RacingFord146Running
303504Cory RoperRoper RacingFord146Running
313620Spencer BoydYoung’s MotorsportsChevrolet146Running
322002Kris Wright #Young’s MotorsportsChevrolet143Running
333456Tyler HillHill MotorsportsChevrolet106Alternator
342112Tate FoglemanYoung’s MotorsportsChevrolet98Electrical
352215Tanner GrayDavid Gilliland RacingFord80Rear Gear
363345Lawless AlanNiece MotorsportsChevrolet11Accident
Bold – Champion
Underline – Championship Round driver
Italics – Rookie of the Year
† – Competed for Rookie of the Year
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History major at San Jose State University and lifelong motorsports fan who covers NASCAR and the Stadium Super Trucks.
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