Ben Rhodes secured his second NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series championship in the last three years late Friday night at Phoenix Raceway, and the 26-year-old Kentuckian says he’s in no hurry to move to NASCAR’s Cup Series.
“I love the Truck Series. It’s fast, it’s crazy, the races are short,” said the 26-year-old Rhodes, whose inebriated post-race interview after his first championship in 2021 has become legendary, showed up in a similar condition this year.
The word “crazy” definitely described the Truck Series season finale at the one-mile track. Twenty-nine laps of overtime was needed to complete the race that had 12 caution flags. With two laps remaining in the originally scheduled 150-lap event, Grant Enfinger appeared headed for his first Truck championship. Then championship four competitor Corey Heim, who had been spun on lap 120 by fellow title contender Carson Hocevar, ran Hocevar into the second-turn wall.
“Had a lot of right-rear damage and was pretty much just out-of-control free, so as soon as the 42 (Hocevar) … really, he was the third one that went by me on the outside and I about wrecked every time, and by the time he got there, I finally just spun it out,” Heim says. “With him on my door, I lost all my side force and lost control.”
The late-race caution breathed life back into Rhodes’ title hunt. He passed Enfinger on a restart and then held him off on the final lap to give ThorSport Racing its fifth Truck championship in the last 10 years. Crew chief Richard Lushes had nothing but praise for Enfinger for not spinning Rhodes as they charged to the checkered flag. He said he would have understood if Enfinger had taken that route.
“I guess I could have drove it down into the apron into his door and not lifted or something and just booted both of us, but it wasn’t like I had enough of a run going to get into him and just get him loose or anything like that,” Enfinger said. “It would have been a different story if I had, had some momentum, but I had lost my momentum there with the top side rolling on top of us. I’m not going to just completely blitz somebody and wreck both of our stuff. If I had an opportunity to loosen him up and shove him out of the way, sure, I would have done that.”
Rhodes finished fifth in the bizarre race while Enfinger took sixth in the event won by Christian Eckes. Heim finished 18th. Rounding out the championship four was Hocevar in 29th.
For 2024, Hocevar moves to NASCAR’s Cup Series. Enfinger’s future is unknown since GMS Racing closed its doors after the season finale. Heim returns to the Truck Series. Rhodes will be back at ThorSport Racing and he couldn’t be happier.
“I’m having a lot of fun in the Truck Series with ThorSport right now,” Rhodes said. “They’ve done so much for me. They gave me my big break. They gave me my opportunity. We’ve won two championships together, two owners’ championships, and what I love most about ThorSport Racing is the culture.
“I go up there and Duke (Thorson, co-owner) teaches me things about things other than racing. We have dinner every night and it’s everything not to do with racing … business experience, it’s just life … it’s stuff from his age and all of his life experience that he teaches us. That’s invaluable to me. I love it. I’d change it for nothing.”