Ben Rhodes sealed the deal Friday night at Phoenix Raceway, winning the 2021 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship in his first-ever appearance in the Championship 4. After six full-time seasons in the Truck Series, the 24-year-old ThorSport Racing driver has a truck title to celebrate.
The Championship 4 battle came down to the final laps. Zane Smith appeared to be in championship-winning position, but with eight laps remaining, Rhodes found enough speed in his No. 99 ThorSport Racing Ford to pass Smith, nudging the back bumper of the No. 21 GMS Racing Chevrolet in Turn 2 to get by him.
Rhodes finished the race in third. Smith finished fifth and second in the championship standings.
“I thought it was gone,” Rhodes said during the trophy presentation. “When the 21 (Smith) drove past me, I thought it was all over. He just kept driving away further and further and further. The end of the race, when everybody started wearing their stuff out, I didn‘t think I had anything left. I was sideways every corner. But we had just enough, just enough.
“This sounds weird, but this felt special from the time I got here, but I didn‘t want to ruin it,” he added. “I didn‘t want to say anything, I didn‘t want to do anything out of context, I just wanted to stay 100% focused.”
Another Championship 4 driver, John Hunter Nemechek, had his title chances quickly evaporate at the start of the race. A left-front tire went down on his No. 4 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota after the start of the race as a result of some contact with another truck. Nemechek lost two laps after pitting to change tires. He earned both laps back and recovered for a seventh-place finish to finish third in the championship standings.
The final Championship 4 driver, Matt Crafton, fought an ill-handling No. 88 ThorSport Racing Ford throughout the night. Crafton finished 12th and took the fourth spot in the final playoff rankings.
Rhodes opened the season with a statement, winning back-to-back races at Daytona International Speedway and the track‘s road course layout. Those proved to be his only two wins throughout the remainder of the regular season, but his consistency radiated throughout the year with seven top-five finishes, 15 top 10s and a trio of runner-up finishes this season heading into Phoenix.
The Phoenix finale caps off a career year for Rhodes in the Truck Series, including his first multi-win season, but he‘s no stranger to success behind the wheel.
Before landing at the top of the Truck Series standings, Rhodes burst onto the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East (now ARCA Menards East) scene with a stellar 2014 campaign. At 17 years old, Rhodes scored five wins, 11 top fives, 13 top 10s and six pole awards in 16 races. He had just five finishes outside the top four all season, resulting in a series championship. That same year, Rhodes ran four races in the Truck Series and brought home three top-10 results.
That early success landed Rhodes a part-time ride in the Xfinity Series, driving 10 races for JR Motorsports in 2015. One year later, he earned into a full-time role in the Truck Series behind the wheel for ThorSport and hasn‘t looked back since. Rhodes joins veteran Matt Crafton (2013, 2014, 2019) on the list of championship drivers for ThorSport.
“I wouldn‘t even be here today if it wasn‘t for Duke and Rhonda (Thorson, ThorSport team owners),” Rhodes said. “They gave me my opportunity in this sport. They were my very first full-time national team that I raced for and I‘ve been with them ever since. They‘re so amazing and I can‘t even begin to thank them enough. This has just been a ride of a lifetime. I hope it‘s not over. I want to keep going now. This is amazing.”