As the final stage of Friday’s NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship race at Phoenix Raceway played out, Zane Smith seemed poised to claim the title as best finisher among the Championship 4.
But Ben Rhodes was not to be denied.
After being passed by Zane Smith for third place and the lead among the Championship 4 with 41 laps to go, Rhodes reeled him back in.
Then, with nine laps to go, Rhodes nudged Zane Smith up the track entering Turn 2 to reclaim the spot he needed to win the title.
Here’s the winning move on Zane Smith. pic.twitter.com/8Ur8Jav8yJ
— NASCAR on NBC (@NASCARonNBC) November 6, 2021
Rhodes finished third behind race winner Chandler Smith and runner-up Stewart Friesen. But it was enough to give him his first Truck Series title over Zane Smith (finished fifth), John Hunter Nemechek (finished seventh) and Matt Crafton (finished 12th).
“I can’t even breathe – that was the hardest last 40 laps I think I’ve ever driven in my life,” Rhodes told Fox Sports after the race. “I was doing things with the race car I probably shouldn’t have been doing. It was dumb. But I had everything to lose.
“We brought it home and we won it. I don’t even know what to say. This is crazy. … I’m so proud, so proud of my ThorSport Racing group. We went to Daytona (at the start of the season) – this wasn’t like a vision that we had. Everybody wants to win (a championship), but you just don’t know. It’s so hard.”
Rhodes gave ThorSport its fourth Truck title after Crafton’s three in 2013, 2014 and 2019. He earned two wins, eight top-five finishes and 16 top-10 finishes this season.
When asked what he needed to come home with the title, Zane Smith simply replied “just for my truck to return, man.”
“We struggled with that since we unloaded,” he told Fox Sports. “Still, an insane year, really. We were, I don’t know, eight laps away from winning the championship. … I tried using all my tools from my side of things, but could not get the (truck) to turn. We just fought that all night.”
Zane Smith reached Phoenix with a shot at the title after winning last week’s elimination race at Martinsville Speedway. The last two races saw him earn two of his three top five finishes in 2021.
As for the “other” Smith, Chandler Smith notched his second win of the season. He earned his first career Truck victory earlier in the playoffs at Bristol Motor Speedway.
“First and foremost, all glory to the man upstairs,” he said in Victory Lane. “Without Him, none of this would be possible. I wouldn’t have all these awesome relationships with all these guys, my racing family. This is my family.
“Also, He’s blessed me with a great family and being around great people and being able to come out to Phoenix Raceway in front of these fans tonight and be able to compete in high-tier equipment. I’m just really blessed right now.”
STAGE 1 WINNER: Chandler Smith
STAGE 2 WINNER: Chandler Smith
WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Chandler Smith and Stewart Friesen finished 1-2 after being eliminated from the playoffs last week at Martinsville Speedway. … Sheldon Creed, who was also eliminated last week, led a race-high 106 laps before finishing fourth in his final full-time start for GMS Racing. He now heads to the Xfinity Series with Richard Childress Racing in 2022.
WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Nemechek couldn’t fully recover from falling two laps down due to a flat tire at Lap 7 following contact with another competitor. He spent 89 laps off the lead lap until returning to the lead lap via free pass due to a caution with 50 laps to go. Nemechek ran well in the final run to the finish, but it wasn’t enough.
NOTABLE: The 2022 Truck Series season begins Feb. 18 at Daytona International Speedway.