In a daring strategy call, Rhodes was the first playoff contender to make his final pit stop – just on the edge of a fuel run – and moved into the lead when the remainder of the field cycled through a round of green flag stops.
With 20 of 134 laps to go, Rhodes still held more than a six-second lead over Zane Smith, but Hocevar was on the move. After passing Smith for second with 15 laps left, he set his sights on Rhodes and got around him with 10 to go.
Hocevar ended up taking the win – his fourth of the 2023 season – by 2.705 seconds over Smith. Rhodes ended up third, Corey Heim fourth and Grant Enfinger rounded out the top five.
“We were so fast. This thing was so good,” Hocevar said. “It kills me I can’t do a burnout, but we have to take this motor to Phoenix. We got behind on pit stops and lost track position which was unfortunate.
“God, I love winning. I love it. We just got to win at Phoenix.”
The win by Hocevar locks him into the Championship 4 and in two weeks he will race for a chance at his first series title at Phoenix.
Joining him in the Championship 4 are Heim – who was locked in after his win at Bristol – Enfinger and Rhodes.
Failing to advance to the title race and eliminated from the playoffs are reigning series champion Smith, Nick Sanchez, Ty Majeski and Christian Eckes.
UPDATE: After the race, NASCAR announced Smith’s No. 38 Front Row Motorsports Ford had been disqualified for violating NASCAR Rule Book number 14.4.7.I Windshield Support. The truck will be taken back to the R&D Center in Concord, N.C. The disqualification does not change the playoff results.
Front Row Motorsports released the following statement: “We are disappointed in the disqualification from today’s NASCAR CRAFTSMAN Truck Series event. We will continue to work and discuss with NASCAR officials back at the NACAR R&D Center in Concord, N.C. before making any further comment.”
Heim grabbed the lead early and held off Majeski by 1.462 seconds to take the Stage 1 win. Hocevar was third, Smith fourth and Enfinger rounded out the top five.
Heim held off a late charge by Smith on a two-lap dash to the finish and claim the Stage 2 win. Bayley Currey was third, Sanchez fourth and Friesen rounded out the top five.
During a late-stage caution, Enfinger was penalized for an uncontrolled tire during his pit stop and had to restart from the rear of the field. Eckes was penalized for a restart violation and had to start the final stage from the rear of the field.
During the break between Stages 2 and 3, a handful of lead lap trucks decided to pit but Heim remained on the track and in the lead when the race returned to green with 67 laps remaining in the race.
Smith powered around Heim on the restart to move into the lead for the first time.
Mason Maggio spun off Turn 4 with 55 laps to go and several lead lap trucks – including Rhodes – took the opportunity to pit. Smith remained on the track and in the lead on the restart with 50 laps left.
With about 35 laps remaining, several of the lead lap trucks kicked off a round of green-flag pit stops to take on new tires and fuel to make it to the end of the race.
Eckes was caught speeding on pit road during his stop and had to serve a pass-through penalty.
Once the cycle of stops was completed with less than 20 laps remaining, Smith moved into second, about six seconds behind Rhodes, who had pit way earlier than the rest of the playoff drivers.
Hocevar passed Smith for second with 15 laps to go and began running down Rhodes for the lead. He finally got around Rhodes and took over the spot with 10 laps left.