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How each NASCAR Truck playoff driver could win the title

By Jonathan Fjeld and Joseph Eigo

The NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series playoffs begin with the TSport 200 Friday night at the Indianapolis Raceway Park.

Here is a look at each driver and how they could pull off the title.

#10 – Matt Crafton – 2002 points

Photo by Dominic Aragon/TRE
  • -28 points to the lead; -3 to the cutline; -17 to fourth
  • Never missed the playoffs (2016-present; 2019 champion)
  • No wins, one top-5 finish, six top-10s

The longest-tenured driver in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series is back with another chance at a title. 

In his 23rd full-time Truck season, Matt Crafton became one of three ThorSport drivers to make the playoffs. 

Since the implementation of the current playoff format back in 2016, he has not missed the playoffs. However, 2023 has not been Crafton’s best. 

Entering the playoffs as the #10 seed with just one top-five finish and six top-10s, it’s been a bumpy 2023 for the No. 88 truck. It’s also been 77 races since the Kansas race in July 2020, when Crafton last found victory lane.

Photo: Erick Messer/TRE

Crafton is an obvious underdog coming into the playoffs. Still, the three-time Truck Series champion’s experience could spoil the title fight.

Kansas has been Crafton’s best track throughout his career. It’s also the only track where he has three wins.

The cutoff race in round one could loom large for the No. 88 team. Crafton will also want to break his 0-for-49 winless streak in playoff races and get his first playoff race win.

What stands in his way of a fourth title is, like the eighth and ninth seeds, the tenth seed has never made the Championship Four.

With his strength this season being shorter tracks – of which there are two in round one and one in round two plus the championship race in Phoenix – Crafton’s shot at a fourth title should never be overlooked.

Crafton’s advantage: Only multi-time champion in the playoffs

#9 – Matt DiBenedetto – 2002 points

Photo by Feliz Vigil/TRE
  • First playoff appearance (finished 13th in points in 2022)
  • No wins, one top-5, nine top-10s
  • -28 points to the lead; -3 to the cutline; -17 to fourth

For the first time in the organization’s very short history, Rackley W.A.R. is in the playoffs and with a driver who has playoff experience.

Matt DiBenedetto made the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs in 2020, finishing 13th in points. After DiBenedetto bowed out of the Cup Series in 2022, he has found a home with Rackley W.A.R.

The duo looked consistent last year but didn’t have the speed of a playoff-contending team, even after winning at Talladega in October.

This year, they have.

Consistent 11th-17th place finishes this year are now top-10 finishes – nine – this year. Six consecutive top-10s dug them out of a hole in the final seven regular-season races as they balanced out five finishes of 20th or worse in the first nine races.

Making the Championship Four also takes being consistent – and DiBenedetto has it.

What he doesn’t have are playoff points. Seven drivers are starting 10 or more points ahead of DiBenedetto.

Like the next driver we’ll see, though, just making the playoffs is a big enough accomplishment. Anything else is cake, which DiBenedetto could savor, should he make the second round and tap into past success at Bristol and/or Talladega.

DiBenedetto’s advantage: Consistency

#8 – Nick Sanchez – 2005 points

Photo: Erick Messer/TRE
  • First playoff appearance (first full NASCAR season; 2022 ARCA champion)
  • -25 points to the lead; +3 to the cutline; -14 to fourth

With a series-high four poles in 2023, Nick Sanchez has arguably the best raw speed. While his finishes don’t stand out much, he has as many top-10 finishes (8) as Zane Smith, Carson Hocevar and Christian Eckes – and a 13.3 average finish not far off of them.

The Truck Series rookie also ranks third in laps led this season – 231 – behind only Corey Heim (408) and Ty Majeski (256). While that’s due leading 168 of 172 laps in Texas, he also led 37 laps in Nashville.

Photo: Erick Messer/TRE

Sanchez has consistency with five top-10s in the last six races but he doesn’t have that on tracks a mile and under. On those tracks this year, he has finished 18th (Bristol Dirt), 11th (Martinsville), 30th (North Wilkesboro) and 8th (Richmond).

With IRP and The Milwaukee Mile in round one and Bristol in round two, Sanchez will need to find consistency if he wants to earn his first-ever Championship Four berth.

No matter how he fares, just making the playoffs is a big enough accomplishment for the 2022 ARCA champion – and a sign of a bright future for the rookie.

Sanchez’s advantage: Raw speed.

#7 – Ben Rhodes – 2013 points

Photo by Chris Madrid/TRE
  • -17 points to the lead; +11 to the cutline; -6 to fourth

Ben Rhodes comes into his sixth playoff appearance on a roll. 

The 2021 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Champion earned a win in the regular season at Charlotte. He also earned four top-five finishes and 10 top-10s – including five top-10s in the last six races – and just one finish outside of the top 20.

In the last two Truck Series playoffs, Rhodes entered as the #3 seed. This season, he enters as the #7 seed, in between teammates Ty Majeski and Matt Crafton.

The No. 99 truck might be fighting an uphill battle this go-around. He hasn’t won at any of the six tracks preceding Phoenix. He also produced multiple top-five finishes at only Talladega and Kansas where he has two at each.

To Rhodes’ credit, he has never raced at The Milwaukee Mile in Trucks. He also has only one start at Indianapolis Raceway Park.

In the Truck Series’ return to IRP last year, Rhodes did secure a top-five finish. With that leading off round one and the closer being Kansas, where he led 17 laps and placed second in stage one earlier this year, Rhodes should have a good shot at advancing at least to the second round. 

The number seven seed has made three of the six Championship Four fields.

Rhodes’ advantage: Experience.

#6 – Ty Majeski – 2014 points

Photo: Erick Messer/TRE
  • Second full-time NASCAR season (made Championship Four in 2022)
  • No wins, seven top-5s, 11 top-10s, two poles
  • -16 points to the lead; + 12 to the cutline; -5 to fourth

The Wisconsin short track ace enters this year’s playoffs in the same spot he was in last year: Winless.

While a mistake in turn three took Majeski out of a win at Gateway, the regular-season finale at Richmond was another story.

He won the pole, swept the first two stages and led 168 of 250 laps – all while having to driving through the field due to pit road issues.

The final pit road issue, a strategy miscue, took the win from his grasp with just four laps to go.

While not a winner yet in 2023, Majeski has been a title contender. He finished second in the regular-season points and has two other stage wins.

Majeski has only had two races where he didn’t either finish in the top-11 or lead laps. He had electrical issues in Nashville and power steering issues at Darlington.

Speed, then, isn’t an issue – nor is his playoff seed.

Photo: Erick Messer/TRE

Last season, he entered in the No. 7 seed with eight fewer points than this season. Two stage wins in the first round helped his cause last season but he won’t need as much help this season.

If Majeski can reel off three solid top-10 finishes in round one and consistently outpoint Hocevar and Eckes in round two, he’ll be headed for his second Championship Four berth.

A win helps too and it could propel Majeski to a chance at redemption in Phoenix.

The number six seed has made three of the six Championship Four fields.

Majeski’s advantage: Speed, seeking redemption

#5 – Grant Enfinger – 2017 points

Photo: Erick Messer/TRE
  • -13 points to the lead; +15 to the cutline; -2 to fourth

Three years after he won the Round of 8 cutoff race at Martinsville and earned his lone Championship Four berth to-date, Grant Enfinger begins another quest for his second berth and his first Truck Series championship.

Enfinger’s No. 23 truck enters the playoffs as the fifth seed following a successful regular season with wins at Kansas and Gateway, six top-fives and nine top-10s. 

This is Enfinger’s seventh full-time year. His best points finish is fourth in 2020.

The six-race playoffs, leading up to championship weekend, presents Enfinger with a great chance to get back into the Championship Four.

Photo: Erick Messer/TRE

Enfinger has won at three of the six tracks leading up to Phoenix — Kansas, IRP and Talladega. 

The playoffs will begin at IRP where Enfinger won last season in an overtime finish.

Then, Kansas has been Enfinger’s best track his entire career, with six top-five finishes and eight top-10s. When he won there in May, he led 65 of 134 laps.

If Enfinger doesn’t fare well at one of these tracks, Kansas could come at a good time being the cutoff race of the first round. 

The number five seed has made a surprisingly low one of the six Championship Four fields.

Enfinger’s advantage: Consistency, winning at the right times

#4 – Christian Eckes – 2019 points

Christian Eckes races around Daytona International Speedway; Photo by Erick Messer/TRE
  • Two wins (Atlanta, Darlington), five top-5s, eight top-10s, one pole
  • -11 points to the lead; +17 to the cutline; +2 to fifth

In the offseason, the future looked murky for 22-year-old Christian Eckes after ThorSport let him go.

Now, with Bill McAnally Racing, he is having his best season yet in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. 

Eckes enters his third playoff appearance as the No. 4 seed, thanks to 14 playoff points earned in the regular season.

Eckes, the 2019 ARCA champion, found success at tracks he’ll take on in the playoffs. In ARCA, he won at Kansas and IRP. This year, he has already won at a drafting track – valuable as Talladega lies ahead in the second round.

Photo: Erick Messer/TRE

If he wants to earn his first Championship Four berth, he’ll have to survive that and overcome some inconsistencies.

After starting the season with three top-10 finishes, Eckes swapped between scoring a DNF in 30th and finishing 15th for the next five races.

After crashing out and finishing 30th in Kansas, he won at Darlington – then finished 25th at North Wilkesboro after a crash.

In the six races since, the No. 19 team has recorded four top-10 finishes.

If Eckes and his McAnally-Hilgemann Racing team can avoid trouble, MHR could add a Trucks championship to their illustrious accomplishments in NASCAR’s developmental levels.

The number four seed has made three of the six Championship Four fields.

Eckes’ advantage: A fierce drive to cement his future and prove doubters wrong

#3 – Carson Hocevar – 2021 points

Carson Hocevar stands on pit road at Bristol Motor Speedway before the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Weather Guard Race on Dirt, April 8, 2023, at Bristol Motor Speedway. Photo: Jeff Ames
  • Three wins (Texas, Nashville SS, Richmond), seven top-5s, eight top-10s
  • -9 points to the lead; +19 to the cutline; +4 to fifth

For Carson Hocevar, 2023 has been his breakout season in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. 

Coming into the season, the 20-year-old driver had not won at any level of NASCAR. Now, with three wins, Hocevar has arrived.

Hocevar is the lone playoff representative for Niece Motorsports. His three also wins lead the Truck Series this season.

The young driver even made his Cup Series debut in Spire Motorsports’ No. 7 Chevrolet at Gateway. He drove into a top-15 spot before brake failure took him out.

MORE: Four drivers blow brake rotors at Gateway

Photo: Erick Messer/TRE

The No. 42 team has momentum from winning the regular season finale at Richmond and starting the playoffs as the No. 3 seed.

It’s in stark contrast to where he was in May when he was 16th in points after a dismal 31st-place finish at Kansas Speedway.

After Kansas, he ripped off five straight top-5 finishes, including a win at Nashville. Then came the Richmond win after finishing 12th and 11th at Mid-Ohio and Pocono, respectively.

Given the success of the No.42 team this season, he’ll likely be in a tremendous position to qualify for the Championship Four.

The number three seed has made four of the six Championship Four fields.

Hocevar’s advantage: Arguably the most winning momentum of any playoff driver

#2 – Zane Smith – 2022 points

Photo: Erick Messer/TRE
  • Fourth playoff appearance (2022 champion; second in 2020, ’21)
  • Two wins (Daytona, COTA), eight top-5s, eight top-10s, two poles
  • -8 points to the lead; +20 to the cutline; +5 to fifth

The defending champion hasn’t had nearly as spotless of a year as last year. Wrecks at Texas, Darlington, North Wilkesboro, Charlotte, Gateway and Pocono, plus finishes of 20th and 21st at Atlanta and Bristol Dirt, dropped his average finish to 12.7 so far this season.

It also led to him leading under a third of the laps he led last year in the regular season.

“I feel like our speed is there and our team is there. What we need is a little bit of luck, which I’ve put together recently,” Smith said.

Smith’s other eight finishes were all in the top-3, including two runner-up finishes and a third-place finish near the end of the regular season.

Chase Briscoe, No. 22, races Zane Smith, No. 38, at dirt Bristol Motor Speedway. Photo by Jeff Ames/TRE

His eight top-5s and four stage wins are also the best of any driver in the field.

Smith has a slim advantage for a presumptive Championship Four spot, meaning he’ll need to stay out of trouble. If he can clean that up, Smith could be very dangerous, if his highest of highs are any indication.

In the 2020s, he has had two consecutive runner-up championship finishes and the title last year. It’d be only statistically fitting if he won the title this year before possibly moving on from the series.

“Phoenix is one of my best racetracks. Trying to execute and get there is tough,” Smith said. “My time in the Truck Series is coming to an end hopefully soon. I hope I get my chance to race on Sunday soon.”

The number two seed has made four of the six Championship Four fields.

Smith’s advantage: Consistent Top-3 speed, only previous Phoenix winner

#1 – Corey Heim – 2030 points

Corey Heim sits by his No. 11 Safelite Toyota after making a qualifying run Friday at Daytona. Credit: Jonathan Fjeld/TRE
  • First driver playoffs appearance (First full-time NASCAR season)
  • Two wins (Martinsville, Mid-Ohio), seven top-5s, 13 top-10s, three poles
  • 8-point lead, +28 to the cutline

You want to know how good Corey Heim was in the regular season? He missed a race and still managed to clinch the regular-season championship at the end of stage one in the regular-season finale.

Heim is quietly lighting up the Truck Series this year. He doesn’t have the most wins this season but he does have the most stage wins (5), top-10s (13), laps led (408) – and the best average finish (7.1) by 2.3 positions.

That gives the 21-year-old TRICON Garage driver an eight-point lead, a 13-point advantage over fifth and – most importantly – the most control over his destiny of any driver.

All of this is remarkable when you consider this is his first full-time NASCAR season.

“I got some experience racing the owner’s playoffs for KBM last year. But the driver’s playoffs is a whole lot more pressure. My crew chief Scott Zipadelli has been through this before and he told me, ‘Take it one race at a time,'” Heim said.

With only two finishes worse than eighth and only one finish worse than 15th – 34th in a crash-filled race at Atlanta – the 21-year-old driver nearly resembles Superman this season.

Photo: Erick Messer/TRE

In the current format, dating back to 2017, the regular-season champion is 6-for-6 on qualifying for the Championship Four. Heim’s regular season, with 30 playoff points earned, also ranks as the fifth-best since 2017.

The drivers around him on that list – Christopher Bell (40 – 2017), Zane Smith (37 – 2022), Brett Moffitt (27 – 2018) and Sheldon Creed 26 – 2020) – all won the championship in those respective years.

Add in the watchful eye of Scott Zipadelli, who won in 2018 with Moffitt, and there is every indication Heim could end his first full-time NASCAR season as a champion.

Heim’s advantage: Least amount of pressure on him out of any playoff driver

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