NASCAR Championship Weekend Preview: Trucks and Xfinity Series

NASCAR Championship Weekend Preview: Trucks and Xfinity Series

by November 4, 2021 0 comments

Before the NASCAR Cup Series Championship can be decided, the two lower series must crown their own first. The Trucks and Xfinity Series respectively have been as about as different as imaginable. This year’s Trucks Series has been chaotic, in both good and in sometimes alarmingly bad ways. The mix of inexperienced youth has been, an experience to put it lightly. Last week at Martinsville along with the Knoxville dirt race were wreck fests like you read about. With that said about the newcomers, the mainstays like Matt Crafton and Johnny Sauter still persist.

Moving on to the Xfinity Series, you are talking about what has been by all accounts the best racing series on the planet over the last 1.5-plus years. If you are the type of fan that has fallen out of love with NASCAR over the on-track product, you may not have to look far to find some compelling racing. This finale in Phoenix should be no different. With that out of the way, here are the eight drivers competing for NASCAR’s other National Series titles, starting with the Trucks.

Be sure to catch up on all of our NASCAR and NASCAR DFS coverage.

NASCAR Camping World Trucks Series Final Four

No. 21 Zane Smith– GMS Racing

2021 Stats: One Win, 13 Top 10s, Two Top 5s, 131 Laps Led, Average Finish of 13.48

Kicking things off is the 22-year-old native of Huntington Beach, California. Smith despite only having one win, got one at the absolute perfect time. A clutch performance at Martinsville in a must-win spot gets him back to the Championship Race for the second year in a row. Although Smith only has two full-time seasons in the Trucks Series, his resume in racing is pretty solid.

At just 16 years old, Smith finished second in the famed Snowball Derby Super Late Model race in 2015. The winner of that race you may ask, defending Cup Series Champion Chase Elliott. He has four career ARCA wins to go with his three in the Trucks Series as well. Not to mention, Smith finished second in this championship a year ago to Sheldon Creed. Don’t overlook Smith, he has a ton of momentum and has been here before.

No. 99 Ben Rhodes– ThorSport Racing

2021 Stats: Two Wins, 15 Top 10s, Seven Top 5s, 99 Laps Led, Average Finish of 9.62

After a bet on himself to find a full-time Xfinity Series ride did not work out, Rhodes has found a home in the Trucks Series. Now in his sixth full year in the series, Rhodes finally makes the Championship Race for the first time in a career year. Rhodes’ two wins were almost a full year ago at Daytona (please shorten the season length NASCAR) but an average finish near 9.5 is very impressive. To add to that, he only has four finishes outside the top 15 all year. No wins since February is a concern, but Rhodes deserves to be here regardless.

No. 88 Matt Crafton- ThorSport Racing

2021 Stats: Zero Wins, 12 Top 10s, Five Top 5s, 20 Laps Led, Average Finish of 11.43

Now for the true elder statesmen of the Trucks Series. The 45-year-old Crafton has had to rely on consistency in his later years. In his last 82 starts dating back to the first day of August in 2015, Crafton has one, count them, one win. That despite a Championship in 2019 in a winless season, one of the great oddities in motorsports this century.

In fairness, it is not like Crafton has been bad, just the top end of the series has been better in recent years. Of the four drivers in the Trucks title hunt, Crafton is likely the underdog. If he does win, however, he would tie the godfather of the series, Ron Hornaday Jr, with an all-time leading four NASCAR Trucks Series titles.

No. 4 John Hunter NemechekKyle Busch Motorsports

2021 Stats: Five Wins, 15 Top 10s, 12 Top 5s, 20 Laps Led, Average Finish of 9.9

The best driver in the NASCAR Trucks Series almost never made it to the Championship Race. To be blunt, a bush league move by Austin Wayne Self took Nemechek out early at Martinsville. Luckily, Nemechek had enough of a points buffer to move on by the end. But what a terrible way this would have been to go out. Getting junked by a driver who never came close to making the postseason, all over a racing incident.

Coming back to the Trucks Series after a run in Cup with Front Row has done wonders for the 24-year-old’s stock. Despite this, he is sticking in the series for at least one more year. Would like to think his boss wants another trophy for the shop since his hopes at a Cup title are over as well. If you want to know who the favorite is here, look no further than Nemechek. If things run smoothly, however, he is likely to come out on top. But as said at the top, this series has been chaos all year long.

2021 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Championship Pick: Zane Smith

NASCAR Xfinity Series Final Four

No. 9 Noah Gragson– JR Motorsports

2021 Stats: Three Wins, 20 Top 10s, 13 Top 5s, 360 Laps Led, Average Finish of 13.44

Gragson is one of the more polarizing figures in the Xfinity Series garage but is no doubt a good driver. Of all full-time drivers, he will finish third in the series in wins and either fourth or fifth in Top 5s. Like Smith, Gragson also needed and got a win to move on to Pheonix at Martinsville. His three wins also all come in the last nine races as well, so he has every right to be confident entering Phoenix, despite not being the clear-cut favorite. Do not overlook him, however, as anything can happen in these one-race championships.

No. 18 Daniel Hemric– Joe Gibbs Racing

2021 Stats: Zero Wins, 20 Top 10s, 14 Top 5s, 615 Laps Led, Average Finish of 11.09

What a half-decade stretch for Hemric here. He makes it to Cup with Richard Childress Racing in 2019, only to get let go after 36 races. Next, he has to settle for a part-time deal with JR Motorsports in Xfinity. Now he’s with Gibbs, and even then it doesn’t stop, because he is on the move again after this year. Taking over the No. 11 car at Kaulig Racing currently occupied by Justin Haley.

Despite the consent team swapping, Hemric is a pretty good driver. The only thing that eludes him is a win, but it is not for the lack of effort. In his last six races alone, he has five top 5s with three podiums. If he is able to reach victory lane on Saturday, it will be the biggest win of his entire life guaranteed.

No. 22 Austin Cindric– Team Penske

2021 Stats: Five Wins, 25 Top 10s, 21 Top 5s, 1037 Laps Led, Average Finish of 8.38

Now we get to the two prize fighters, starting with Cindric. His dad may be a key player for Team Penske in the office and on the pit wall for IndyCar’s Josef Newgarden, but Cindric became a champion on his own merit. His average finish was the best of any Xfinity Series driver, as were his 21 Top 5s, and 1037 laps on the point.

Cindric put up five wins in his title defense season and enters his last race as a full-time Xfinity driver this weekend. You would have to imagine he wants one more for the road before he takes over the famed No. 2 car for Roger Penske next year in the Cup Series. The biggest obstacle in his path is the man who has been a thorn in his side all year.

No. 16 AJ Allmendinger– Kaulig Racing

2021 Stats: Five Wins, 22 Top 10s, 18 Top 5s, 422 Laps Led, Average Finish of 9

Don’t know exactly what they have in the water bubblers at the Kaulig shop, but it feels like anyone who goes there is bought in from day one. Allmendinger may optimize that feeling more than anyone who has strapped in for the team. The Dinger has run for Kaulig in the Xfinity Series since 2019 and has eight wins in 48 starts. Five of those come this year, and that is not including his Cup Series win on the Indianapolis Road Course in the summer.

Allmendinger’s newfound love for stock car racing in the Xfinity Series most certainly has shown up in the stat sheet. One race of at least 200 laps is all that stands between him and a NASCAR Championship. One thing that is absolutely worth mentioning to wrap up is the finish to the regular-season finale at Bristol. Allmendinger and Cindric literally wrecked across the line in what was arguably the best racing finish of the year. Instead of wondering if there will be any sort of part two, better off assuming there will be if there is an opportunity. That goes for either party in this scenario.

NASCAR Xfinity Series Championship Pick: AJ Allmendinger


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