Ben Rhodes Gaining NXS Knowledge as He Enters Road Course Debutby Kyle Pokrefky August 7, 2015 0 comments
2015 continues to serve as a tremendous learning experience for 2014 NASCAR K&N Pro Series East champion Ben Rhodes as the 18-year-old out of Louisville, Ky. tries his hand in the XFINITY Series.
A new, unique challenge presents itself to the driver of JR Motorsports’s No. 88 Alpha Energy Solutions Chevrolet this week as the youngster enters his first-ever road course XFINITY race in the form of Saturday’s Zippo 200 at Watkins Glen International.
After being announced as the driver of JR Motorsports’s ‘star car’ for 10 races this season, Rhodes has been listed as the driver of the car for all three XFINITY road course races this year – Watkins Glen, Mid-Ohio and Road America.
Talking with The Fourth Turn on Thursday, Rhodes said that he was a bit surprised that he was the driver selected to compete at the road courses for the team, but he views the opportunity as a compliment by the organization and an opportunity to better himself as a driver.
“I was surprised a little bit that they wanted me to do that because I’m not a road course ringer, I thought they would want good performance and the performances that I’d give them that I knew would be good would be on the ovals,” Rhodes said. “The road courses are a learning experience and I think that shows how into developing young talent they are because they’re giving me a chance to better myself on something that I don’t know and with taking that risk I may not run as well but I’m gaining knowledge out of it. That gives me confidence knowing that they have that faith into me.”
The preparation for a road course race is slightly different to the preparation that goes into an oval, says Rhodes.
Alongside of the information he can absorb off of teammates Chase Elliott and Regan Smith, Rhodes can utilize some of the knowledge he amassed from his K&N Pro Series East start at the track in 2014 that resulted in a third-place finish.
It also doesn’t hurt to have also received notes from his former late model owner, a master of Watkins Glen, Marcos Ambrose.
“On my side of things, the preparation has been a little different,” Rhodes said. “I’m spending a lot more time on the simulator and I’ve been reviewing a lot more videos – and not just from the XFINITY Series, but from the Cup Series as well. I watch the greats that raced there, the fastest guys that compete everywhere.
“In the past, it’s always been Marcos Ambrose, but now he’s not in it this year. I talked to him about it last year as well because I used to race for him in late models, so I called him a couple of times and got his take on stuff last year and I have notes written down from what he said. I also have notes from my teammates, Regan Smith and Chase Elliott.
“I’m kind of relying on everybody that I can and using as much data as possible.”
The five-time race winner in the K&N East ranks also has an idea as to what to expect at Watkins Glen with the larger and more powerful XFINITY cars.
“I think the XFINITY Series car is going to be a lot more on edge,” Rhodes stated. “The K&N Series cars, they have tires where you can lean on them in the corners and you can really be aggressive with them – the tires are very forgiving. I feel the XFINITY Series car isn’t going to be so forgiving.
“I feel like it’s going to jump around a lot more and it’s going to be tougher to control at times and I feel like maybe air will have a little bit bigger factor in fast corners like the esses or the carousel. I feel like that’s going to be a bigger factor than in the K&N Series… these cars are more aero dependent than I expected.”
Four races into his 10-race contract with JR Motorsports, Rhodes has respective finishes of seventh, 21st, 12th and 30th coming at Iowa Speedway in May, Chicagoland in June, New Hampshire in July and at Iowa just last week.
While he hasn’t picked up the finishes that he’s been looking for following his strong debut in May, Rhodes feels that the runs that didn’t quite go his way have helped provide even greater learning experiences for himself.
“I think the run with the team has been great so far,” Rhodes remarked. “I would’ve liked some better finishes than what we’ve had. Our last run at Iowa – that didn’t really go as planned. We had an issue on pit road and then the issue late in the race with contact from the No. 1 car.
“Other than that, a lot of it has been on me making mistakes on pit road that put us in a hole early on or making mistakes on the track. The good news is that, when I make those mistakes, it gives me a chance to overcome adversity in the races and fight for a good finish. When I fight for the finish, that means I have to pass a lot more cars than if I just ran in front that whole time.
“I think it gives me even more experience and I think that’s gotten me up to speed a lot quicker than if I just ran up front with a great car.”
Heading into his road course debut, the reigning K&N East champion feels that he’s pointed in the right direction moving forward.
“I think going into Watkins Glen, I have a better foundation underneath me and I feel planted in a good direction and that it’s going to lead into better things,” he concluded.
Photo Credit: Jonathan Ferrey/NASCAR via Getty Images