NCTS: Christian Eckes Wins Season Finale at Phoenix; Ben Rhodes Claims Second Championship Title

The NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series crowned a series champion Friday, or Saturday on the east coast, in a chaos-filled event that took four overtime attempts to finish. Corey Heim, one of four drivers racing for the title, had a leg up on the field after securing the pole for the championship event. 

Ty Majeski quickly snatched the lead away from Heim to lead the first 48 circuits. Heim later reclaimed the top spot over the next 47 laps of the event before losing it to Christian Eckes under yellow at lap 95.

Eckes went on to lead the next 26 circuits until all hell broke loose at lap 121.

Championship contenders Carson Hocevar and Corey Heim tangled in turn two. The seventh yellow of the night between the two championship drivers also collected Stewart Friesen at no fault of his own.

Hocevar apologized to Heim over his in-car radio. Heim and the No. 11 crew, however, weren’t pleased with Hocevar. 

The field went back green at lap 125 with Sanchez leading.

Zane Smith two laps later passed Sanchez for the top spot with 23 to go … or so he thought.

The Corey Heim and Carson Hocevar feud were far from over.

Heim allowed Hocevar to pass the No. 11 Toyota machine on the top side before forcing Hocevar into the outside wall. The incident that forced the event into NASCAR Overtime also involved Taylor Gray.

Zane Smith, Christian Eckes and Chase Purdy all traded the lead throughout the four overtime attempts. Eckes took the lead from Purdy in the final overtime attempt to score the win in the series finale.

Meanwhile, further back in the field, the championship battle was flaming hot between Grant Enfinger and Ben Rhodes.

Enfinger sustained damage on one of the overtime restarts that forced the No. 23 Chevrolet team to pit road on lap 158. This placed 2021 NCTS champion Ben Rhodes into the catbird seat.

Enfinger methodically worked into the top 10 through the next two overtime restarts to challenge Rhodes on the last lap for the series title.

Picking off positions one by one, Enfinger eventually found himself at the back tailgate of the 99 of Rhodes coming to the checkered. Despite this challenge by Enfinger, Rhodes held Enfinger off to claim the 2023 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series championship.

“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,” said Rhodes. “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. Hats off to him. He ran a great race.”

Rhodes and Enfinger finished fifth and sixth while Jake Garcia, Chase Purdy and Jesse Love claimed second through fourth. 

“I don’t know, maybe if he didn’t have such a run down the back straightaway, but I needed to get under him to make that pass,” said Enfinger.

The championship race also marked a bittersweet end for GMS Racing as they’ll cease operations.

“Championship racing, it’s just incredibly unfortunate to end GMS Racing like this,” Enfinger added. “I really felt like we had that championship in grasp, and to be honest with you, I don’t know if I’d have done anything different. Just wasn’t meant to be.”

Dean Thompson, Kaden Honeycutt, Tanner Gray and Nick Sanchez finished seventh through 10th..

The series will now enter the long off-season. Be sure to follow Speedway Digest on X, formerly known as Twitter, or Facebook to keep up with all the off-season news.

Brett Winningham
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