The battle to secure the 2023 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series championship was a cage match, and ultimately came down to the survival of the fittest, after an insane quadruple-overtime finish at Phoenix Raceway.
Christian Eckes, behind the wheel of the No. 19 Chevrolet Silverado for McAnally-Hilgemann Racing, ended up securing his fourth victory of the season, after beating teammate Jake Garcia to the start-finish line by less than a half second.
Leading 36 of the race’s 179 laps, Eckes was able to make the final pass for the lead on the final restart, getting around Chase Purdy to secure the top spot amidst the chaos that played out behind the battle for the victory.
At the tail-end of the top-five, it was Ben Rhodes and Grant Enfinger who were locked into a slugfest for the NASCAR Truck Series title, with the GMS Racing driver making monumental gains on the final restart to get within range of the No. 99.
However, despite a massive lunge into the final corner, Enfinger couldn’t make the move stick – despite having arguably the cleanest truck of the Championship 4 – having to settle for second in points, as Ben Rhodes won his second NASCAR Truck Series title.
“I can’t even believe it. Let’s go,” said Rhodes after climbing from his truck. “To go 25 laps into overtime, you know what that feels like? Almost lose it three times? Look at the front of the truck. It’s crazy. I didn’t think we were going to make it. I thought we were going to pop a tire. I thought anything that could have gone wrong was going to go wrong.
“Grant almost got me,” Rhodes added. “Hats off to him. He ran a great race. I wouldn’t want to race against anybody else for the championship. He raced me clean, and I respect the hell out of him for it.”
Now, with 30 laps left in Friday’s supposed 150-lap contest, things looked normal, and it truly looked as though Corey Heim would be running away with his first NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series championship.
But, things got a little bit ugly from that point.
While battling for sixth place, Carson Hocevar made a lunge deep into the first corner, getting to the inside of Heim. However, the No. 42 Chevrolet was unable to make the corner, and got into the left rear of the TRICON Garage driver, spinning him out.
That ended up hurting Heim’s shot at the championship, as the side force was gone from the No. 11 Toyota Tundra TRD Pro, making it hard for the Marietta, Georgia native to drive.
So, with three laps to go, as he came up on Carson Hocevar, Heim decided to bring a whole new meaning to the phrase “Heim Time”, putting the Niece Motorsports driver into the outside wall, while also further damaging his vehicle.
The revenge broke the dam for what became an insufferable finish to Friday’s event, as crash after crash required overtime restart after overtime restart, and continued destroying more and more trucks in the closing laps.
Finally, after four attempts at a restart, we got a clean-ish one, allowing Christian Eckes to break away with the lead, and eventually the win.
Jake Garcia, in his final event with McAnally-Hilgemann Racing, scored a runner-up finish, a career-best for the driver of the No. 35 Chevrolet Silverado. Chase Purdy finished in third, while Jesse Love captured a fourth-place finish in his third start for TRICON Garage.
Ben Rhodes, the 2023 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series champion, recorded a top-five result, with Grant Enfinger in sixth, and Dean Thompson, Kaden Honeycutt, Tanner Gray, and Nick Sanchez rounding out the top-10.
Corey Heim’s streak of top-10 finishes came to a close on Friday, with the TRICON Garage pilot finishing on the lead lap in 18th. After being out of the race, Carson Hocevar finished a disappointing 29th.
With that mess of a race, the 2023 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series season is finished, and will resume with the season-opener at Daytona International Speedway next February.