The NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series will decide its champion on Friday evening at Phoenix Raceway, and heading into the winner-take-all-tilt, all four contenders seemed very confident in their chances at NASCAR Championship 4 Media Day on Thursday.
Obviously, they all made it here for a reason, but the confidence oozing in the room gave off a true feeling that makes you believe we are in store for an epic race for the championship on Friday.
Corey Heim Believes in TRICON Garage; Excited For Extended Practice
Corey Heim has been the class of the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series field for the majority of the 2023 season, and he comes into Friday’s event at Phoenix Raceway just trying to temper his confidence. But the way he and his team have prepared all season long, has him feeling like he is in the best position possible to score the championship this weekend.
“Definitely gives me a lot of confidence in my team, knowing that we’ve been so good at basically every race track ever since springtime this year, it definitely gives me a lot of confidence going into this weekend,” Heim said on Thursday. “But it’s kind of all reset at this point, so it’s hard to say where we’re going to end up, but we’ve got a long 50-minute practice tonight, and looking forward to going out and executing during it.”
Part of the overconfidence with his team is the speed that they’ve unloaded with off the truck all year long. But even if TRICON doesn’t carry the speed off the truck, Heim is happy to have an extended 50-minute practice session this week to dial the truck in.
“I feel like we’ve been really good off the truck basically every week this year. We have a little extra time to go out and try some different stuff. Kind of a new week for us. We’re going to treat it like a test, try some different things, and use our teammates to our advantage to make sure we have exactly what we need going into tomorrow night,” Heim explained.
The only thing that Heim feels is a wildcard going into the weekend is the 1-mile track itself.
“Phoenix is really unique on its own. I’ve never really been to a place like it,” Heim said. “It’s really a big variable for us, just because we only race here once a year in the Truck Series. Everyone might be a little rusty. Have to knock the rust off and we’ll see how it goes.”
Grant Enfinger Feels His Pairing With Jeff Hensley is Best in Truck Series
While Heim has been the man on top of the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series championship standings for the majority of the season, he can’t get caught sleeping because there are three other hungry drivers looking to snatch the title.
One of those hungry drivers is Grant Enfinger, who will be competing in the final race ever for the GMS Racing Truck Series team, which will shut its doors at season’s end. Enfinger, like everyone, was exuding confidence on Thursday. But Enfinger’s main source of confidence lies within the relationship between him and his crew chief Jeff Hensley.
“We’ve worked together for five years or so now. There’s that part. It’s kind of like the intangibles. You can’t put all of that into intellectual words I guess,” Enfinger explained. “Certain people click. Jeff is an old-school racer, and I speak his language and he speaks mine. I feel like neither one of us are the smartest people at our craft, but we’re always working together and working harder than the next guy, I feel like. Neither one of us will settle.”
The chemistry between Enfinger and Hensley is certainly palpable as they have recorded three victories this season, including one at The Milwaukee Mile, which many of the competitors say is the most similar track on the schedule to Phoenix.
Enfinger says while they may not have the best speed in their No. 23 Champion Power Equipment Chevrolet Silverado in the early portion of the race, he and Hensley have a knack for getting things tuned up over the course of a race.
“Historically, our pairing, I feel like we do a better job than anybody on pit road,” Enfinger stated. “We don’t always start the race with the best truck, but I feel like we make our stuff better on each pit stop. I don’t know if everybody else does to our extent. We have weaknesses too, of course, but our chemistry has been there. We always can speak the same language and have each other’s backs.”
If Enfinger can pull it off, it’ll mark the first NASCAR National Series championship in his many years in the sport.
Carson Hocevar Feels Over-Prepared for Phoenix
While everyone else is waiting on practice to remember their marks, and find their groove, Carson Hocevar feels he’s prepared as well as he can for this weekend’s race.
“Just all of the time we’ve done in the sim,” Hocevar explained when asked what has him feeling so good about Phoenix Raceway. “We’ve worked on Phoenix since the start of the Playoffs. We’ve run laps at least 10-to-15-20 days worth of sim minimum. I’ve done Josh Wise sim at Phoenix, I’ve done Cup sim at Phoenix with cars that are going to be in the Final Four. I’ve done Phoenix a lot, honestly.”
Hocevar continued by saying, “It wouldn’t be for a lack of effort. I just feel so over-prepared at Phoenix that I don’t know what I would do differently. Knowing that, I don’t know what the pressure is. I’ve prepared everything I can. I’ve done the homework per say, I know exactly where you think you would be able to go fast.”
To put an exclamation point on his calm demeanor for this weekend, Hocevar isn’t going to seclude himself and think all night about the race. No, instead, he is enjoying his Championship 4 experience, and has plans for Thursday night.
“I’ve just enjoyed it. I’m plenty confident. I don’t need to get my mind off of it. We’re going to do a team dinner, and we’re going to go out and enjoy,” Hocevar said.
Ben Rhodes Will Let Opportunities Come to Him
While he is definitely the underdog of the group, the only driver in this fight with a NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series championship on his mantle is Ben Rhodes. If you are sleeping on Rhodes, you could be making a massive mistake.
The Kentucky native is in the Championship 4 for the third consecutive season, and after a late-season crew chief swap, he has been re-paired with Rich Lushes, who he won the championship with in 2021, and finished runner-up with in 2022.
Additionally, Rhodes comes into this weekend riding the momentum of back-to-back runner-up finishes at Talladega Superspeedway and Homestead-Miami Speedway. However, Rhodes will not be the aggressor in this race.
He says that he has learned valuable lessons over the years, and he will let the race come to him.
“I used to be — I would get so amped up about the race, and get so excited about it that I could make myself too aggressive,” Rhodes admitted. “I could make myself try to force opportunities. I’ve come to learn if you just let the opportunities present themselves and get them when they arrive, you’re going to do so much better, and you’re going to be a better person for it.”
While Rhodes will take a calm approach to the race in an effort to hopefully be in the mix in the closing laps, he doesn’t hope that his competitors for the championship, who will all likely be pressing hard for their first championships, crash out of the event. He wants to win it straight-up.
“People joke about how like, ‘It would be really cool, think about how easy it would be if the other drivers wrecked out, and you just got the championship on the first lap,’ No,” Rhodes stated with a serious tone. “The most epic, the most awesome, and the most rewarding moments are when you grind it out, and you absolutely beat those guys on a late-race restart, or you get it on a long run, and you pass them back. That is fun, that is rewarding, and it makes the championship worthwhile.”