Truck Playoffs Set To Begin Near St. Louis

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, August 20 2021

John Hunter Nemechek leads the Trucks Series into the playoffs this weekend. (File photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

With five victories this season, 24year-old John Hunter Nemechek enters the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series playoffs as the favorite in the title chase, but maintaining momentum throughout the seven-race stretch could be an issue for all 10 of the championship contenders.

The playoffs begin Friday night World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway in Madison, Ill., and then experience a week break before the Sept. 5 race at Darlington, S.C. Two title contenders will be eliminated after the Sept. 16 event at Bristol, Tenn. The second round starts at Las Vegas Sept. 24, moves to Talladega on Oct. 2 and then undergoes a three-week break before the Oct. 30 Martinsville race which determines the four finalists for the Nov. 5 season finale at Phoenix.

Defending series champion Sheldon Creed, this year’s fifth seed, notes the schedule makes it “extremely” hard to establish momentum.

“This year there is so much off time,” Creed said. “I feel like we’re getting somewhere with our trucks and have a good run and then we’ll have three weeks off. It’s tough. I definitely want to race more.”  

Tenth-seed Stewart Friesen adheres to the racing philosophy that more is better. He keeps himself sharp during the Truck Series off-time by racing dirt big block modifieds. This season Friesen has already competed in 53 dirt modified races and a few late model events to bring his total to about 60, excluding his 15 NASCAR Truck races. 

“It’s been a little bit much the last few weeks with the mid-week modified stuff,” Friesen admitted. “We are coming off a run where we ran five modified races in seven days since Watkins Glen, so it’s been busy. … I wouldn’t change it for the world.” 

Despite Nemechek entering the title chase with 49 playoff points, more than double those possessed by any other competitor, third-seed Ben Rhodes doesn’t believe his fellow Toyota driver has an advantage.

“It’s anybody’s championship, so I wouldn’t count anybody out going into the final four and I wouldn’t certainly try to make anyone the favorite just yet,” Rhodes said. “We’ve seen the regular season champions get in trouble in the playoffs. 

“The truth of the matter is there are 10 of us and only three of us that can win at anyone stage, so it’s not like everybody’s going to win. I do think it’s our best season that we’ve put together, but anything can happen.”

In addition to himself, Rhodes cites Nemechek, Creed, fourth-seed Todd Gilliland and seventh-seed Matt Crafton as the top title contenders. Even though the 45-year-old Crafton is winless entering the playoffs, he is the only driver who has competed in every playoff since the system began in 2016. Crafton also has the opportunity to tie NASCAR Hall of Fame member Ron Hornaday Jr.’s record four Truck championships. Crafton became the first driver in the series to win two consecutive championships (2013-14) and clinched his third in 2019.

Teenagers Carson Hocevar and Chandler Smith are the two series’ rookies vying for the title this year in a field representing seven different organizations. Kyle Busch Motorsports, ThorSport Racing and GMS Racing have two title contenders each. Representing KBM are Nemechek and Chandler Smith. ThorSport has Rhodes and Crafton in the title hunt, while GMS’ hopes rest with Creed and Zane Smith. Other teams in this year’s championship bout are: Austin Hill, Hattori Racing Enterprises; Gilliland, Front Row Motorsports; Hocevar, Niece Motorsports; and Friesen, Halmar-Friesen Racing. Six are Toyota drivers, three Chevrolet and one Ford.  

The Truck playoffs kick off at 9 p.m., ET, Friday, Aug. 20, and will be televised on FS1. 


| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, August 20 2021
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