June 19th, 2016

Rhodes races to fourth-place finish at Iowa

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Roy Walter

Assistant Editor


Rhodes races to fourth-place finish at Iowa
“We were definitely the fastest truck here tonight,” Ben Rhodes said / photo from Ben Rhodes’ Twitter feed / cover photo from NASCAR Trucks’ Twitter feed

Even the fire that severely damaged his race shop couldn’t keep Ben Rhodes from racking up his best finish so far in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.

The 19-year-old Louisvillian overcame all the adversity and stress that went with it and came home with a fourth-place finish in Saturday night’s Speediatrics 200 at Iowa Speedway.

But he left the 0.88-mile track believing he could have placed even higher.

“We were definitely the fastest truck here tonight,” Rhodes said. “It’s just unfortunate that we couldn’t win it because of the circumstances at the end.”

The 2015 graduate of Holy Cross High pointed to two “circumstances” that hurt his chances: the fact that he wound up on the inside line on restarts and a red flag period right before the end of the race that caused a change in his truck's handling.

“If we could have restarted on the outside, we would have done great,” he said. “The outside was the name of the game on restarts. It gave people the momentum they needed and the room they needed to be able to go where they wanted and pick off positions. Unfortunately, we started on the bottom every single time.”

The Truck Series rookie raced inside the top 10 all night in a field of 32 trucks and was in the top four for the last 42 laps. He was third when a caution period ended with 13 laps to go, and the racing up front was fierce the rest of the way, with the leaders going three-wide at times.

Rhodes briefly made it up to second but then lost a bit of ground. Then the caution flag waved when a truck hit the wall with eight laps to go.

“Before that caution flag came out we were passing a truck for second place on the front straightaway,” he said. “Unfortunately, he got his position and we didn’t get the pass completed in time. If we were able to have another corner to complete the pass, I think we’d be in victory lane right now.”

The trucks slowly circled the track during that final caution period, but then NASCAR officials waved the trucks to a stop with the red flag while fluids were cleaned off the track.

Just sitting on the track caused handling problems for Rhodes in his No. 41 Alpha Energy Solutions Toyota Tundra.

“The red flag makes the tire pressure start settling,” Rhodes explained. “The heat starts coming out of the tires, so the tire pressure starts going down. When the heat comes out of the tires and you start warming them up again it makes it drive different and it didn’t go to our liking there at the end.”

Laps ticked off during the caution period, so that meant there would be a green-white-checkered finish, and Rhodes had trouble making up ground during the two-lap shootout. At the end, he couldn’t get past ThorSport Racing teammate Cameron Hayley, who finished third behind race winner William Byron and Cole Custer.

It was an impressive performance, especially considering how the week started out for ThorSport’s four-driver team. A fire early Monday at their headquarters in Sandusky, Ohio, damaged about a third of their race shop. With the facility unusable, the team moved what was left of its trucks and equipment to a nearby grocery store parking lot and worked there to prepare some trucks for Iowa.

The truck Rhodes had planned to race Saturday night and next week at Gateway Motorsports Park was spared. Under the circumstances, though, he took a conservative approach during Saturday night’s race.

“I was trying to be patient with every single truck I was around and I was just saving my tires the entire night,” he said. “I wasn’t abusing them; I wasn’t trying to push the envelope with anybody. I just waited until they made a mistake and I would pass them.”

That allowed him to have a fast truck at the end of long runs, but then the yellow flag would wave and he couldn’t continue picking up positions.

“The thing that hurt us tonight is the cautions coming out,” Rhodes said. “But I can tell you, on the restarts, if I was able to get to the high side we were gonna pick up a lot of spots.

“Things got really hectic at the end of the race and I could have ruffled some feathers and maybe ended up in victory lane. But we didn’t do that because we only have two trucks right now and we chose to keep this one nice for Gateway.  If we’re in the same position at Gateway, I can tell you that these guys who worked hard deserve the win and we’re going to ruffle some feathers to get it.”

Rhodes’ previous best finish in a Truck race came in November 2014, when he placed fifth at Phoenix International Raceway in his fourth and final start in the series that year. His best this year had been a sixth at Atlanta.

“Even though it was our best finish, it’s still tough considering the run we had going,” Rhodes said. “But it’s definitely what we needed. It’s a step in the right direction. We’re bringing our season back around.

“We’re going to take this truck to Gateway and we’re just going to have to win there.”

 

 

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