By Christian Koelle, Staff Writer
Friday night’s Lucas Oil 150 at Phoenix Raceway will be the final race for Kyle Busch Motorsports, at least with Toyota on each of the three trucks. While Corey Heim and John Hunter Nemechek won’t compete for the championship, Chandler Smith will look to gain the organization’s third NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship with Toyota, which could be the final, for now, with TRD.
Chandler Smith made his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series debut at Iowa in 2019 and all 60 of his starts have come with KBM. His second full-time NCWTS season will end in at least his first Championship Four appearance. Smith earned his second career victory last season at Phoenix and will look to translate that success into his first championship in what could be his previous Truck race as he moves to the NASCAR Xfinity Series and Kaulig Racing in 2023.
“It gives us a lot of data; we know what works and doesn’t work at Phoenix,” said Smith. “Looking back at last year, we were really good, got the pole, and won both the stages and the race. And if you look to the year before, we ran at the back but salvaged a good finish. We’ve been on both sides of the totem pole – we were absolutely horrible and then we went and stomped their butts.
“We have a lot of notes, I think obviously it would be dumb of us not to go back with what we had, and I think that is what we are going to do. We just can’t beat ourselves. We know how to win there, and we know how to qualify well there and the track position is definitely big because the race is really short. Qualifying well, staying up front and staying out of trouble, and racing the race track. We’ve produced fast Toyota Tundras all year, so there is no reason we stop now.”
“I feel like last year, the last three quarters of last year we showed what we were going to have in store for this year,” added Smith. “We were really good at the end of last year – started getting wins and running up front every single week and were the truck to beat almost every other week – where the year before we were hit or miss. We ended up getting our stuff together, we were more consistent, winning races and I told the guys next year we are out for blood – we’re going to go get them next year. And look, we’re sitting here talking about running for a championship and it has just been an amazing experience.”
John Hunter Nemechek found career rejuvenation at Kyle Busch Motorsports. After leaving Front Row Motorsports at the end of the 2020 season, Nemechek made a move to Kyle Busch Motorsports, a step down from the NASCAR Cup Series that many questioned. During his first season with KBM, Nemechek tallied five victories, 12 top-five, and 16 top-10 finishes. More in all three categories than he had in his previous eight seasons in the NCWTS.
He returned to the organization in 2022 earning two victories, nine top-five, and 14 top-10 finishes. He even tallied seven career poles, his first with the organization. That seven poles in one season are the most ever for a driver at Kyle Busch Motorsports. Only Kyle Busch (2010) and Noah Gragson (2018) came close with six poles. Despite not having his 2023 plans announced yet, JHN will look to earn his eighth victory with the organization.
“I’m grateful for the opportunity that Kyle, Toyota, TRD, and everyone has given me to be a part of KBM,” said Nemechek. “I’m proud to be a part of the KBM family and winning races over the last two years with a final-four appearance. The goal was to step back and be able to win races and I’ve been able to do that with the support and personnel at KBM. It would mean a lot to end with a win and get the final win with KBM and Toyota. Eric, all of the No. 4 guys, Kyle, the KBM employees in the machine shop (Rowdy Manufacturing), the fab shop, and all of our partners.”
Out of the three drivers at Kyle Busch Motorsports competing this weekend at Phoenix Raceway, Corey Heim is the only driver remaining in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series in 2023. Moving over to the newly named TRICON Garage, Heim will make his final start Friday Night as a part-time driver.
He made his Truck debut at Darlington in 2021 after having a long line of success racing against Ty Gibbs in the ARCA Menards Series. In his debut, he was running solidly until an accident sidelined him and he was relegated to a 23rd-place finish. His success with Kyle Busch Motorsports has paved the way for him to run full-time in 2023, another driver grew from the Toyota farm system through KBM.
“I’m super grateful for my experience at KBM,” said Heim. “From my first start to my last, I feel like I have learned so much racing for Kyle and being a part of a top-notch organization.”
Making 18 starts with the organization, Heim earned his first career Truck Series victory at Atlanta earlier this year and earned his second at Gateway. Despite not running a full season in 2022, Heim is on tap to become the Truck Series Rookie of the Year. It will be the second straight ROTY earned by Kyle Busch Motorsports after Chandler Smith earned the title in 2021.
“It certainly means a lot,” said Heim. “It wasn’t something I came into the year setting my sights on, considering if any of the full-time rookies make the playoffs, I wouldn’t have a chance. But I take every race one week at a time and try to perform to the best of my ability, and throughout my career, it’s always given me the best results at the end of the season. So, I’m very grateful when it’s all said and done that I get to take Rookie of the Year home.”
Kyle Busch Motorsports’ tenure with Toyota will reach 776 starts across 13 seasons after Friday’s race at Phoenix. Kyle Busch and Taylor Malsam were the first two drivers to compete with KBM at Daytona in 2010. Busch would earn the organization’s first victory at Nashville Superspeedway in 2010 while the first pole for the organization would come at Dover a few weeks later. Leaving out the Phoenix results, KBM with Toyota will have a total of 98 victories, 285 top-five, and 455 top-10 finishes. KBM helped Toyota earn eight manufacturer championships.