OBSERVATIONS: Lucas Oil 150 at Phoenix Raceway

By: Ashley McCubbin

When you are racing against the best drivers for the championship, mistakes can prove costly – no matter how big or small. While Ben Rhodes celebrated his title, John Hunter Nemechek and Zane Smith were reminded the hard way.

From the drop of the green flag, Rhodes proved to have a faster truck than his counter parts and immediately put himself in a good position by running inside the top-five. Despite falling back initially on the final run to the checkered, he kept trying to make ground and believed in his truck on the long run to make it happen.

It paid off, as a composed Kentuckian drove his way to the title. It’s quite the contrast compared to the hot head that was feuding when now teammate Christian Eckes last season.

Smith had the title seemingly in hand at the beginning of the run, but a truck that fell off on the long run ultimately saw him fade back. It was only made worse when he got stuck in a bit of lap traffic, allowing Rhodes to close the gap quickly.

Without that conscious decision trying to get by the No. 25, does the GMS Racing sophomore win the title? It would have took Rhodes a couple more laps to get there, but with how much faster he proved to be, it may have been a matter of time. However, sometimes you never know what can happen.

Nemechek put himself in a box with a poor qualifying effort compared to his title partners, followed by contact with fellow competitors at the beginning. This would trap him a couple laps down, ultimately just a single circuit behind for over 90 laps. Although able to get the lucky dog late, he was unable to make-up ground, driving his way from the back to finish seventh.

If he stays out of trouble early, or perhaps take a wave-around on a earlier yellow to get back on the lead lap, does that change the course for him? Absolutely, as he proved he had speed greater than his competitors.

Ultimately, those battling the next two days learned something simple – avoid contact, qualify well, and do not make mistakes. We know Denny Hamlin and Kyle Larson had a reminder about speeding penalties at Martinsville, so maybe they are smart enough.

The Championship battle is rightfully at the forefront of everyone’s mind, though it can grow annoying hearing the same four names mentioned on the broadcast all night long. Stewart Friesen put himself in a position to possibly win and challenged both Chandler Smith and Sheldon Creed, though barely got discussed along the way.

There are fans of all the drivers in the field tuned in. While you may want to turn your focus up say 30-50% on those four, there should be respect to those who may be there to support someone else.

Did you see the lack of wrecks and caution flags in the event? After the dramatics that we saw all year in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, especially at Martinsville Speedway with discussions of destroyed trucks and a lack of respect, it was like living on an alternate universe.

Perhaps the conversation that followed combined with warnings from team owners as drivers look for rides for 2022 and beyond served as a wake-up call.

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