Ben Rhodes Enters Kentucky With Momentum As ThorSport Racing Rises From The Ashesby Hunter Thomas July 4, 2016 0 comments
Ben Rhodes has had a challenging season in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, but he enters his home track, Kentucky Speedway with plenty of momentum after capturing two consecutive top-five finishes.
Just days after a fire engulfed ThorSport Racing on Monday, June 13, Ben Rhodes captured a fourth place finish at Iowa Speedway and then followed that performance up with a second place finish at Gateway Motorsports Park. Now that July is here, the No. 41 Alpha Energy Solutions Toyota team enters their home track of Kentucky Speedway hoping to pull off another strong finish. However, the story of overcoming a terrible fire is only the most recent chain of events in an incredible fight to make this year a success.
The season started off great for the team back in February. Rhodes finished seventh during the season opener at Daytona International Speedway and then followed that performance up with a sixth place finish a week later at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Rhodes sat on the pole during the third race of the season at Martinsville Speedway but was caught up in a late-race accident with just six laps to go. The Louisville, Kentucky native salvaged a 16th place finish. At Kansas Speedway in May, he and Johnny Sauter crashed on the last lap, battling for the race lead and the win. Rhodes finished 18th.
“It has been an up and down season,” Rhodes said. “This year, it started out really well with a seventh at Daytona and a sixth at Atlanta, and then we even got the pole at Martinsville. At Martinsville, we were charging back through the field after a different pit strategy than Kyle Busch, who led most of the race. We were charging back through the field, and we were fourth at that time. We had fresher tires than anybody. We had the fastest truck I felt like and ended up getting wrecked there, so not a good finish at Martinsville, and then we go on to Kansas, and we’re racing for the win. We had a really fast truck in the race, and that truck ended up getting wrecked as well.”
The Monster Mile certainly wasn’t kind to Rhodes and his team either. Rhodes was caught up in an accident involving his teammate, Rico Abreu, and the effort resulted in a disappointing 28th place finish. With two 1.5-mile tracks on the horizon, Rhodes just wanted to get through and survive the races at Charlotte Motor Speedway and Texas Motor Speedway, and he did. At Charlotte, he captured a solid top-20 finish after crossing the line in 17th, and at Texas, he finished just outside of the top-10 in 11th.
“Then we go to Dover, and we bring an okay truck there, but we didn’t run too well in traffic,” Rhodes said. “We had another incident there, so it was just two bad races, and we were kind of scrap for all of our good trucks. So we go to Charlotte and Texas, we’re just like alright, we’re just going to finish these races. We’re going to bring an okay truck here, but we’re going to rebuild all of ours in the meantime. All of our good ones. We’re going to make Texas the turning point. So Charlotte and Texas, it’s just surviving the races and getting all of our really good truck rebuilt. Texas was the turning point.”
Unfortunately, just three days later following the race at Texas Motor Speedway is when the fire destroyed a good portion of the 100,000 square foot shop located in Sandusky, Ohio that not only houses Rhodes trucks but also the trucks of Rico Abreu, Matt Crafton and Cameron Hayley. The teamwork that went into just getting the trucks ready and to Iowa Speedway would be an insurmountable task for many teams. However, ThorSport Racing was able to get the job done by working in a parking lot.
Rhodes said that Iowa Speedway and Gateway Motorsports Park had been circled on the team’s calendar for quite some time. In Iowa, Rhodes earned the team’s first top-five of the season with a fourth place finish, and at Gateway, Rhodes sat on the pole for the second time this season. In the closing laps at Gateway, Rhodes had a chance to rough up race winner, Christopher Bell, but Rhodes settled for a very impressive runner-up finish, his best of his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series career.
“We definitely had the chance to do it,” said Rhodes about the second place run at Gateway Motorsports Park. “It was kind of funny running up front. I caught Christopher Bell on the last lap. I was running hard, and on the last restart down into Turn One, I was on his outside, and he kind of came up to try to pinch me and block me around. That way he could get the spot. He got it. I caught him on the last lap.
“I get to his bumper in Turns Three and Four as we’re going to come to the checkered, and I ran up to his bumper, and then I said ‘no, no, I’m going to hit the brakes’. I wasn’t going to take the chance of spinning him or wrecking him or something happening and creating an enemy on the racetrack. We had a great points day. It feels really good to be able to race up at the front like that. It’s definitely a lot more fun to race up at the front for wins even though you’re getting second, then it is to have a bad day in the back of the pack.”
Now that the team has two very solid top-five finishes, they head to Kentucky for the Buckle Up In Your Truck 225 on Thursday, July 7. The one major challenge is that the original truck that was brand new and scheduled to compete at Kentucky Speedway, was damaged in the June 13 fire. Now the team will compete with the truck that was heavily damaged at Dover International Speedway back in May. It’s not an ideal situation by any means, but it is what it is, and the team is eager to make a strong appearance in Rhodes’ home state.
“We actually lost one good truck in the fire,” Rhodes said. “Our original truck, it was a brand new truck, a brand new body purpose-built for Kentucky Speedway, and it was caught up in the fire, so that one is being all cut apart right now and trying to be fixed, and we just had to go to another truck that was being fixed at the same time. We’re taking the other one now, the sister truck to it. It’s not brand new, but it has been raced quite a bit. I actually raced it at Dover this year, but it has a brand new body on it, and we’re hoping that it will do us good at Kentucky.”
Rhodes has yet to win in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. He’s the 2014 NASCAR K&N Pro Series East champion, and ThorSport Racing is an experienced winning team. However, even with the past success and the top-notch tools to win races, Rhodes said that he wouldn’t know how to describe his emotions if he won the race at Kentucky Speedway on Thursday night. But one thing is for sure, he and his team are absolutely amped about the recent success over the last two race weekends.
There’s also another huge reason why a win at Kentucky would be even more special. It would solidify Rhodes and his team a spot in this year’s Chase and would give them an opportunity to battle for a series championship. Only eight drivers qualify for the Chase, and right now, Rhodes sits 10th in the championship standings, just 10 points back from Brad Keselowski Racing’s Tyler Reddick, who holds the ever so important eighth position. If Rhodes can’t pull off the victory in front of the home crowd and the thousands of Alpha Energy Solutions sponsor ticket holders, he still has until Chicagoland Speedway in mid-September to do so.
“We just want to get a win in our hands,” Rhodes said. “We want to be able to be in the Chase and relax a little bit more and know that we have that in our back pocket. But a win at Kentucky Speedway would just be incredible, especially with this momentum that we have.”
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