The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series wasn’t without drama for the opening elimination race in the 2021 Playoffs last weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway. Kyle Busch Motorsports’ rookie Chandler Smith, 19, won his first career race taking the lead on a final re-start with only five laps remaining to advance to the Round of 8 in the Playoffs in an amazing clutch performance.
Smith’s KBM teammate John Hunter Nemechek – a five-race winner and the Regular Season Champion – will start Friday night’s Victoria’s Voice Foundation 200 presented by Westgate Resorts at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (9 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) as the Playoffs’ points leader – with a 24-point edge over GMS Racing driver Sheldon Creed, who won the opening two races of the Playoffs (Gateway and Darlington).
ThorSport Racing driver Ben Rhodes, a two-race winner in 2021, is ranked third in the reseeded Playoff standings. Zane Smith, Chandler Smith, three-time series champion Matt Crafton, rookie Carson Hocevar and Stewart Friesen all remain championship eligible, advancing to this three-race round with races at Las Vegas, Talladega, Ala. and the Charlotte ROVAL.
Todd Gilliland and two-race winner Austin Hill were eliminated from Playoff contention last week at Bristol. Hill, driver of the No. 16 Hattori Racing Enterprises Toyota, is the defending winner of this Fall Las Vegas race and the only multi-time race winner in the field – taking the Playoff victories here in 2019 and 2020.
Nemechek, driver of the No. 4 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota, won at Las Vegas in March leading a dominating 94 of the race’s 134 laps and scoring the trophy by only .686-seconds over his team owner and the track’s winningest driver, Kyle Busch. Hill was third, followed by current Playoff drivers Friesen and Crafton.
There are five former race winners in the Friday’s field, including Hill, Nemechek, Rhodes (2017), Johnny Sauter (2007) and Grant Enfinger (2018).
Not only is Nemechek, 24, a favorite as a past winner. This year’s Regular Season Champion has three wins, a pair of runner-up finishes and that third place at Bristol in the last nine races. He has only one other top-five finish at Las Vegas, however, in addition to his win this March and has led laps in only two of his previous seven starts at the 1.5-mile track.
Creed, 24, looks to maintain his Playoff momentum. The defending series champion led 189 of the 200 laps at Bristol last week – a race that took place only days after Richard Childress Racing announced the young Californian would driver fulltime for the championship organization in the NASCAR Xfinity Series in 2022.
Rhodes, driver of the No. 99 ThorSport Toyota, is another easy favorite at Vegas. He won in his second start at the track (2017) and has six top-10 runs in nine races. The 24-year-old is hoping to revitalize his work this season. After scoring back-to-back wins at Daytona’s speedway and road courses in February, he has led only 11 laps total in the last 10 races – none in the five races immediately prior to Las Vegas.
Friesen, driver of the No. 52 Halmar Friesen Racing Toyota, is currently on a three-race top-five run – marking the first time he’s put together three consecutive top fives in two years. He brings a solid resume to the Vegas high banks as well, with three top-10 finishes in three series starts there.
“I think everybody’s confidence is really high now for sure,” the series’ most recent winner Chandler Smith said. “I definitely think we’re going to be pretty good going into the next round.”
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!