The Truck Series left Las Vegas last week but the gambles didn’t stop. With high stakes – a chance to fight for the Craftsman Truck Series championship in the final race of the season at Vegas – several teams took their chances at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
It certainly paid off for race winner Carson Hocevar, who led just the last 11 laps of the 134-lap event to get his fourth win of the season and earn a spot in the Championship 4, overcoming early setbacks.
“We got behind on pitstops and just lost track position, which really was unfortunate,” Hocevar admitted.
He dropped to the back of the top ten by the middle of the race, but recovered and took a chance with a green flag pitstop as the laps wound down. That chance paid off as he ran down and passed the leader Ben Rhodes.
“I was mad. I thought we could win today for our truck. And even with all the setbacks – for debris and everything – we had a shot to win and we did just that.”
“I mean, we were so fast. This thing was so good,” an excited Hocevar said. “It kills me that I can’t do a burnout, but we have to take this motor to Phoenix. It’s so good. This truck was so good.”
“I love winning! I love it,” he exclaimed. “So we’ve just got to go win at Phoenix.”
It was second-place Ben Rhodes, though, who gambled the most of any driver. When the caution came out shortly into Stage 3, Rhodes was the sole Playoff driver down pit road to take his last set of tires, gambling on a long green flag run, which he got.
This took him from outside the top twenty in a struggling truck to the lead, which he only lost when other teams copied his approach and pitted for new tires under green.
“I don’t know what to think,” Rhodes admitted. “To be honest, the whole day was so difficult… when we pulled off of pit road to start the race, I was shaking the truck back and forth and I was like ‘this is not good.'”
“I knew we were in for a long day, I just didn’t know it was going to be this difficult. So thankful to finish where we did.”
Of his crew chief Rich Lushes, Rhodes was entirely complimentary: “I can’t thank him enough for making that call. He’s really good at making these calls when it counts.”
“What a day. I don’t know if I should be happy or mad or sad, I’m just wore out to tell you the truth.”
The success of the call was enough for Rhodes to make the Championship 4 by the slimmest of margins – just one point.
Zane Smith took the same approach as Hocevar, pitting at the same time, but could only manage second place on the track wasn’t good enough for him.
Smith entered the race with a 36-point deficit to the cutline and needed a win to advance. Not getting it means that his fourth and last Truck Series season – before moving to the Cup Series – is his first not to participate in the Championship 4.
It got worse for Smith after the race, too. After the race, NASCAR announced that “The No. 38 truck has been disqualified for violating NASCAR Rule Book number 14.4.7.I Windshield Support. We will bring the No. 38 truck back to the R&D center.”
“We are disappointed in the disqualification from today’s NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series event. We will continue to work and discuss with NASCAR officials back at the NACAR R&D Center in Concord, N.C. before making any further comment,” his Front Row Motorsports team said in a statement.
With the disqualification, Smith is credited with a 34th-place finish with no effect on the Playoff results.
Corey Heim and Grant Enfinger both finished in the top five. Both will advance to the Championship 4 as well.
Corey Heim came in with no pressure, having already locked himself into the Championship 4 by virtue of his win at Bristol. That’s given him plenty of time to prepare.
“Definitely really excited for Phoenix,” Heim said. “I’ve been putting in a lot of hard work and studying, it’s going to be the biggest race of my career.
He had a great race too, sweeping both stages as well as earning a strong finish to extend a streak of top-ten finishes.
Grant Enfinger fought back from a pit road penalty for an uncontrolled tire in Stage 2.
“It feels great,” Enfinger said of making the Championship 4. “Pretty disappointed in our execution, you can’t make mistakes against these guys, and pretty blessed to have a second opportunity.”
For Ty Majeski, a top ten wasn’t enough. Despite finishing ninth, he failed to make the Championship 4, and just needed more from his truck.
“We just missed it a little bit today. We were just all over the splitter. Way too hard to attack on restarts and maintain our track position,” he explained. “The long run we were okay, just couldn’t get going.”
“I wish we could be competing for a championship in Phoenix, but I see my teammate Ben made it,” he added. “So we’ll go to Phoenix and hopefully bring home a race win and championship.”
Nick Sanchez, who started on pole, finished 17th. It was the bad race he couldn’t afford after entering the race a few points above the cutline.
He ran well in the first two stages but, during green flag pitstops, Sanchez tried to enter pit road quickly when the No. 15 truck of Tanner Gray slowed down hard in front of him, with Sanchez slamming into Gray’s truck. He could continue, but it took him out of the championship hunt.
“Obviously I lost a lot of time there,” Sanchez said of his pit road issue. “I lost a lot of time in the pits trying to fix it. It’s just my fault, no two ways to it.”
“I had time to slow down, and I just didn’t,” he added. “So that’s on me and I apologize to my team and everyone who supports me.”
“To miss by one point is pretty rough. But I guess what you do is go to Phoenix and try to win.”
It was even worse for Christian Eckes, who also failed to make the Playoffs despite entering the race above the cutline. After running towards the front, he was hit with a restart violation for moving slightly out of line in a restart just before the end of Stage 2.
His team chose not to fight the penalty, despite Eckes urging them to on the radio, saying it was obvious that he was leaving his line before the start line despite not being alongside the truck in front of him.
It got even worse for Eckes in the green flag pit stops in the closing stage of the race, when he was hit with a pass-through penalty for being too fast entering. That all left him back in 20th place.
“Raced like this was my first race,” Eckes admitted. “Sped on pit road and pulled out of line… we had a truck able to advance and just kept making mistakes.”
“I just wasn’t good enough today.”
The race featured five cautions, three of which were for cause. The most jarring incident of the race came during caution, though, when Memphis Villarreal, driving the No. 33 truck, hit his tire changer on pit road after overshooting his box in heavy traffic. Villarreal was hugely apologetic to the crew member of the radio, who was transported to the infield care center in obvious pain.
The NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series returns after a two-week break for the final race of the season at Phoenix Raceway on Friday, November 3rd, to crown a champion.
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