June 11th, 2016

Rhodes just misses top-10 finish at Texas

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Roy Walter

Assistant Editor


Rhodes just misses top-10 finish at Texas
“With the conditions we were dealt with, I think we did really well,” Ben Rhodes said after finishing 11th / photo from Ben Rhodes’ Twitter feed / cover photo from NASCAR Trucks’ Twitter feed

Ben Rhodes went to Texas Motor Speedway hopeful of notching a high finish, and he was in a favorable position to get one late in Friday night’s race.

He had worked his way into the top 10 and, because of the way his truck was handling, he was hoping for a caution period. One never came though, and without the aid of a restart, the 19-year-old Louisvillian lost a few positions over the last 35 laps and wound up finishing 11th.

Although he never got into contention for his first Truck Series win, Rhodes was satisfied with the way things turned out for him considering he couldn’t get enough lateral grip out of his No. 41 Alpha Energy Solutions Toyota Tundra.

“We were fighting that condition the entire race,” Rhodes said. “We had really good short run speed, but as we went on it became the loosest truck that I’ve ever driven. It was just really, really, really loose.”

After starting the Rattlesnake 400 in 12th place and falling back as far as 19th, Rhodes didn’t start making up significant ground until there were 64 laps left in the 167-lap race at the 1½-mile quad oval.

He was in 16th place when a caution period ended with 64 laps to go, and he picked up a position on the next lap. Four laps later Rhodes was in 13th, then11th when the yellow flag came out again for a caution period on lap 119.

Shortly after that restart he was in eighth place and he was in eighth again with 35 laps to go, but he never got any higher in the 32-truck field.

Rhodes said he was able to move up through the field because of “some good adjustments by our team. We had perfectly matched tires that allowed me to pass on the outside. We had really good adjustments by the team that allowed me to get more lateral grip. That picked us up a lot of speed. And we had a really good restart that helped us get a lot of positions.”

Rhodes was still in the top 10 until Daniel Hemric passed him with seven laps left, and he cruised home in 11th after that.

But alas, the last 45 laps were run under green.

“If we had a restart, I think we would have been great,” Rhodes said. “That’s what we needed. There were some guys who were out of tires, but we had enough tires for the entire race. The good thing about that is if we had the restart, we had awesome short run speed and I think we could have picked up a lot of positions and had a really high finish.”

Rhodes said his handling problem was caused by the setup of his truck. But his Kevin Bellicourt-led team from ThorSport Racing made adjustments to make things better during every pit stop.

“Our team gets an A+ tonight for in-race changes,” Rhodes said. “They did an awesome job, phenomenal job on making the adjustments needed to put speed back in the truck.

“We had a pretty fast truck at one point, but just before the final run I think we went just a little too far on our adjustments and that kind of made our long run speed kind of fall off just a little bit.” 

Rhodes added that his truck would handle fine on restarts, but the problem would worsen the longer each run got.

“There were a few things we could have done to try to help it, but the problem was that the changes we needed to do we couldn’t do during the race,” he said. “We did as much as possible and that helped it a whole lot.”

The Rattlesnake 400 was the seventh of 23 races on this year’s Truck Series schedule. Rhodes had an impressive start to his rookie campaign, placing seventh in the season opener at Daytona then sixth at Atlanta. The next race he won the pole at Martinsville but wound up 16th, then placed 18th at Kansas, 28th at Dover and 17th at Charlotte.

Though he wasn’t quite able to return to the top 10 Friday night, he left Texas Motor Speedway happy with his performance.

“Overall, with the conditions we were dealt with, I think we did really well,” Rhodes said. “Now we’re only eight points out of 10th place (in the driver standings), so we’re doing good. Our season has turned back around now. This is the race where we just needed to finish good and get momentum back on our side.”

The winner was William Byron, who passed Matt Crafton with five laps to go. Crafton, one of Rhodes’ teammates at ThorSport Racing who had won the previous Truck Series races, held on for second.

Next week the Truck Series will stop at Iowa Speedway before going to Gateway Motorsport Park on June 25.

“The next two races are at short tracks and they’re going to be awesome races for us,” Rhodes said.

 

 

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