As we have seen on many occasions since the implementation of the winner-takes-all playoff format across NASCAR’s top-three series, the four drivers battling for the championship, always bring their best stuff to the track.
The results of Thursday’s extended NASCAR Camping World Truck Series practice session from Phoenix Raceway backed up that observation swimmingly, as the top-three spots were occupied by drivers eligible for the title.
Ty Majeski, riding a wave of momentum from scoring his first two victories in the last three NASCAR Truck Series events, led the way in the 50-minute session, posting a mind-boggling lap of 25.921 seconds (138.884mph).
Majeski, behind the wheel of the No. 66 for ThorSport Racing, took to the track immediately and made a one-lap qualifying run, allowing him to rule the top spot on the leaderboard throughout the entire session.
As the other competitors started to make qualifying-trim runs later in the session, they also climbed the leaderboard, with championship contenders Zane Smith and Chandler Smith jumping to second and third, albeit more than four-tenths of a second slower than Majeski.
Corey Heim and John Hunter Nemechek, teammates to Chandler Smith at Kyle Busch Motorsports, completed the top five in the session. Tanner Gray, Christian Eckes, Derek Kraus, Layne Riggs, and Grant Enfinger completed the top-10.
Ben Rhodes, the other driver eligible to hoist a championship trophy after Friday’s 150-lap contest at Phoenix Raceway, clocked in 12th in the 50-minute session, after losing some practice time when the engine on his No. 99 Kubota Toyota Tundra wouldn’t fire.
Luckily, Rhodes’ ThorSport Racing crew was able to get the defending series champion onto the track before the end of the session, with the NASCAR Truck Series veteran making 18 laps around the one-mile facility.
Three cautions disrupted the flow of practice from Phoenix, one for an early-session incident by Derek Kraus, another by a blown engine by Dean Thompson, and a third to turn the track’s lights on.
While single-lap speed will be important for qualifying on Friday, race trim speeds are what the teams are looking to, as far as being able to put up a fight for the victory, and for four of the 35 drivers, a championship.
Tanner Gray, who clocked in sixth overall, had the fastest five-lap average in the 50-minute session, with Zane Smith, Derek Kraus, Ty Majeski, and Layne Riggs leading that category.
John Hunter Nemechek led both the 10-lap and 15-lap average categories over his teammate Chandler Smith, while Smith was the only truck to make a run that lastest 20 laps.
Stewart Friesen turned the most laps in Thursday’s practice session, making 44 circuits around the one-mile oval.