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Entering Thursday night’s Buckle Up In Your Truck 225 at Kentucky Speedway, Ben Rhodes had back-to-back top-5 finishes in his, so far, decent rookie Camping World Truck Series season.
A thrilling fight to the checkered flag at Iowa Speedway gave the 19-year-old a fourth-place finish, while Gateway was home to Rhodes’ first career series pole en route to a runner-up finish.
Things were looking up for Rhodes and his No. 41 Thorsport Racing team, but Kentucky Speedway gave Rhodes all he could handle, as he found passing to be difficult on the newly reconfigured 1.5-mile track.
“It was a really fast racetrack. Really smooth, so those are the positives,” Rhodes said. “It’s just really tough to pass on because it is so new and so fast. Aerodynamics played a really big factor making it really hard to pass people. The groove was narrow because we didn’t have a whole lot of rubber laid down yet.”
Starting ninth, Rhodes show guts with admirable maneuvers and close three-wide moves as he fought to stay in the top 10. As the race progressed, Rhodes found himself in the mid-pack area, unable to make true ground.
“As the race went on, the groove widened out and it got better but the conditions changed a lot throughout the night when the rubber was laid down,” he said. “We had a really fast Alpha Energy Solutions Toyota. It’s a shame we couldn’t showcase it tonight because we were stuck in the sixth-ninth-place range.”
On top of tough racing conditions, Rhodes encountered slow pit stops, with the final pit stop having an odd tear-off issue, costing Rhodes precious track position.
“We had a couple bad stops and one bad stop that put us in the back,” he said. “We couldn’t get the tear-off off the windshield for some reason, it was just stuck there. It took us about seven yanks to get it off.”
With a high importance on the low lane, Rhodes witnessed “cautiously aggressive” racing on the restarts, some of which he believes caused many cautions.
“Because the groove was so narrow, you couldn’t really go anywhere to keep your momentum up,” he said. “You had to stay tucked up behind the truck in front of you. That’s what led to a lot of the wrecks early on. As it widened out, it helped keep your momentum up.
“It was just tough with track position. An example is Daniel Suarez, who led a good part of the beginning of the race and finished only two spots in front of us because it was so tough to pass.”
Finishing 13th, Rhodes still sits outside the eight-driver Chase grid with only five races remaining in the regular season.
“We’re just going to go forward from here,” he concluded. “We have a really fast Tundra, it’s just a matter of going to the track and getting to showcase it.”
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