July 8th, 2016

UPDATED STORY: Rhodes 13th at KY Speedway

Block_id_-_roy_crop

Roy Walter

Assistant Editor


UPDATED STORY: Rhodes 13th at KY Speedway
“It was just a tough race from the start,” Ben Rhodes said / photo from Ben Rhodes’ Twitter feed / cover photo from NASCAR Trucks’ Twitter feed

Not even a burning desire to grab his first NASCAR Camping World Truck Series victory on his home track or a large crowd of fans cheering him on could will Ben Rhodes into victory lane Thursday night.

The 2015 graduate of Holy Cross High School couldn’t make up any ground at crunch time and cruised home with a 13th-place finish in the Buckle Up Your Truck 225 at Kentucky Speedway.

“It was just a tough race from the start,” Rhodes said.

The speed and handling of his No. 41 Alpha Energy Solutions Toyota Tundra were not the issues. This was the first race since Kentucky Speedway was repaved, and the brand new asphalt might have been a factor.

“We had a really fast race truck from the beginning of the race – it was a shame we couldn’t showcase it,” he said. “There wasn’t a very wide racing groove where the rubber was laid down. That made it very narrow and hard to pass. We were going really fast; it was a very fast race track. It was just hard to pass for that reason and because of aerodynamics.”

Rhodes made an impressive run early in the race. Being the ninth-fastest qualifier (180.874 mph) earlier in the day meant he started the 32-truck race from the inside of the fifth row.

It didn’t take him long to pick up positions, and he had worked his way up to sixth by lap 36 of the 150-lap race at the 1½-mile tri-oval in Sparta.

Rhodes was inside the top 10 for the next 31 laps, but then he lost considerable ground during a pit stop and never got back in the top 10 again.

The 19-year-old Louisvillian was in sixth place when Spencer Gallagher got loose and spun Sprint Cup star Kyle Busch into the wall on lap 57, a collision that knocked Busch out of the race and brought out the yellow flag for the fourth time.

Rhodes headed to the pits and was one of the few drivers who had all four tires changed, which cost him a lot of time compared to his competitors. As a result, NASCAR lined him up way back in 21st place for the restart on lap 65.

“We were worried because our tires were having some blistering issues,” Rhodes explained. “The tires were actually blistered up – meaning rubber would come off of them at certain parts – and it could lead to tire failure if you weren’t careful.”

He and his team were being cautious because they are still trying to build their stable of trucks back up to replace the ones lost at last month’s fire at ThorSport Racing’s race shop.

“We only have three trucks right now where a lot of teams have trucks to spare,” Rhodes said. “We’re kind of making do with the trucks we have, so we definitely didn’t need any issues (wrecks). Plus, if you have an issue you can’t finish the race.

“It may have put us in a hole, but we still had a couple of bad stops after that. So I don’t know if it would have made much of a difference considering what happened at the end of the race.”  

Rhodes quickly picked up a couple of positions and moved into 14th on lap 97, but he had trouble gaining any more spots. The best he could do was 12th place on lap 112.

“Our truck had awesome speed and still had a lot of speed at the end of the race,” he said. “We just couldn’t get past the trucks and never got a chance to show it.”

Rhodes was expecting a crowd of 5,000 or so fans in the stands to cheer him on, plus many more who watched the race on TV.

“It’s disappointing because we had so many people come out and support us and I definitely wanted to give them a good show,” he said. “It’s just disappointing the way it ended. I’m more disappointed for them than how it turned out for us.”

The Truck Series rookie had hoped to keep his recent hot streak going. In his last three races, Rhodes finished 11th at Texas Motor Speedway, then fourth at Iowa and second at Gateway. During that span he moved up from 16th to 10th in driver points – and the all-important race to make the eight-driver Chase for the Championship at season’s end.

But Rhodes doesn’t consider Thursday night’s finish to be a setback.

“We just had a tough race, and that happens,” he said. “We had the speed; the performance was there in the truck. We just couldn’t get past anybody and that was the story for the whole race.  We’ve just got to work on our end as far as pit stops, making sure everything works properly so we don’t get put in a hole like that again.”

Busch, the defending Sprint Cup champion who will drive in Saturday’s Quaker State 400 Cup race at Kentucky Speedway, wound up finishing 30th. Gallagher kept racing after the wreck and placed 16th. The winner was William Byron, who drives for Kyle Busch Motorsports and made it to victory lane for the fourth time this year.

The good news for Rhodes is that he still is 10th in the driver standings.

“That’s very important because I think you can get in (the Chase) on points this year,” he said. “Getting points and making up a point deficit is huge. We just have to make sure we beat them at the next few races and we’ll be up there in no time.”

His next chance will come July 20 at Eldora Speedway, a dirt track near New Weston, Ohio.

 

Recent Articles