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In a Nutshell: After six long weeks off, the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series returned to action Friday night at Kansas Speedway. Cup Series regular Kyle Busch emerged victorious in a caution-filled Toyota Tundra 250, pulling 2.622 seconds ahead of Johnny Sauter by the finish. On paper, it sounds like another Busch beating in NASCAR’s lower series.
In reality? It was anything but. The driver of the No. 51 capitalized on Ben Rhodes‘ misfortune when his motor gave way with seven laps remaining. John Hunter Nemechek, pole sitter Christopher Bell and rookie Chase Briscoe rounded out the top-five finishers.
Who Should Have Won: Ben Rhodes chased down Kyle Busch and engaged in multiple side-by-side battles for the lead, ultimately pulling away and cruising to what appeared a certain victory. But with seven laps remaining, the driver of the No. 27 Toyota pulled to the apron, smoke billowing out of the back end as a blown engine killed his chances. Heartbroken, Rhodes ended up 23rd in his first DNF of the young season.
Heartbreak for Ben Rhodes
As the laps wound down, it looked like Rhodes’ race to lose; that is, until seven laps to go, when he lost it. That faulty engine forced him straight behind the wall and wiped out the best race of his young career.
Visibly distraught, Rhodes pounded his fists on the steering wheel as he limped his broken machine back to the garage. Needing a few moments to compose himself, the 20-year-old was clearly emotional. But, once recovered he received encouragement and support from teammates and fellow garagemates who all let him know that first win is coming. Even winning crew chief Bono Manion stopped by to share his own words of recognition.
How much did people think Rhodes had it in the bag? Race winner Kyle Busch even skipped his traditional burnout and celebratory bow, acknowledging he won only due to Rhodes’ misfortune.
“That’s one of the worst ones to swallow right there,” Busch said. “I just got the checkered flag for our group of guys and everybody at Kyle Busch Motorsports. Ben Rhodes had that race won. That one was his. I was trying everything I could to chase him back down. Just didn’t have enough speed in our Tundra tonight. His was just a little bit faster than ours was.”
Understandably, Rhodes was dejected, especially since this race marked the second consecutive one at Kansas Speedway that he had victory in sight, only to see it slip through his fingers. Last year, contact with Johnny Sauter while racing for the lead sent both trucks into the outside wall and out of contention.
“Our Safelite Tundra had speed all night long. We did everything right, but Ben Rhodes has a curse on his back or something because something always goes wrong,” he said from the garage as his team assessed the motor. “A piece of debris went through the grille, into the radiator, and blew up the motor, so it’s just tough. We ran with the best of the best. I was learning from Busch all night long. He’s got more wins than I have in total stock car starts. It’s just crazy because something always goes wrong with our team. We do everything right, we just can never pull one off.”
Certainly, Rhodes may walk away from Kansas feeling like his luck will never change. But the reality is far different. Running his second full-time season, the youngster has shown it’s only a matter of time before he breaks that Victory Lane drought.
Ryan Truex Uses New Truck to Capitalize on Second Straight Top 10
For Ryan Truex, his NASCAR career has been one of ups and downs, consistently blockaded by sponsorship. But this season, Hattori Racing Enterprises has the entire season already sold. There are no questions as to whether his next race will have the financial backing to move forward.
So, coming into this weekend, Truex and the No. 16 team had a brand new truck that was built during the downtime between Martinsville and this race. Before qualifying, the 25-year-old was full of optimism about the speed the truck had shown throughout practice Thursday.
Fast forward to Friday, and he started fifth, a career best. As the race began, that momentum continued and was evident throughout the night. Truex ran with the leaders for most of the race, bringing home a sixth-place result.
“I feel like we have finally gotten to where we deserved to run where we ran. We could’ve finished top five,” Truex said with a smile on his face. “Had about a fifth to seventh-place truck, so we finished right around where we should have. Restarts were just huge. This Gibbs engine and this body and everything these guys have done to make this truck fast – it makes my job so much easier on restarts. I can actually make things happen on restarts. We made a few mistakes. I made a big mistake on pit road and stalled it. Luckily, the truck was fast enough. The restarts played in our favor.”
Overall, Truex has quite a bit of optimism for this season, especially since he ran so well last year before sponsorship sidelined his efforts with HRE. Add in the new equipment and the notes the team has to help build speed, and he’s full of hope the team can run consistently inside the top 10. Once there, they’ll progress right into the top five if they just keep working hard on it.
Headed into another mile-and-a-half track next weekend at Charlotte, Truex should once again run well. I expect him to eventually turn HRE into a team that can compete for top-five finishes and even wins.
Truck Rookie Report
2017 Rookie of the Year Candidates
No. 13 Cody Coughlin
No. 18 Noah Gragson
No. 19 Austin Cindric
No. 24 Justin Haley
No. 29 Chase Briscoe
No. 33 Kaz Grala
No. 49 Wendell Chavous
No. 52 Stewart Friesen
No. of rookies to finish in the top 10: 3; Chase Briscoe, finished fifth; Justin Haley, finished ninth; Austin Cindric, finished 10th
Rookie of the Race: Chase Briscoe, finished fifth
Points Update: Johnny Sauter’s four-point lead shrank to two over Christopher Bell, but he’s still on top of the points. Matt Crafton sits third, followed by rookie Chase Briscoe, who used his fifth-place finish to jump three spots. Timothy Peters, who dropped three positions, rounds out the top five in points.
Next up is Kaz Grala, who won the season-opener at Daytona, followed by Rhodes. Grant Enfinger, Brett Moffitt and Regan Smith round out the top 10. Don’t see your favorite? Don’t worry. There’s still plenty of racing left to go in this young season.
“From where we practiced yesterday and kind of the sun in the morning session – or early afternoon session – to when the lights turned on tonight, you know our truck was really good. It was really fast. The things that we did overnight were really a positive for us, but the way the track kind of came to us, I really like running here at night. It kind of just feeds me a little bit, I think. You know that might be trouble for the rest of them tomorrow.” Race winner Kyle Busch on whether running the Truck race brought an advantage for the Cup race
“We weren’t quite good enough as soon as Kyle (Busch) got around us there at the beginning of the race. We just kind of were stalled there, couldn’t make enough speed there to get back by him. Obviously, we kind of got caught behind the eight ball there with pit strategy whenever we tried to short pit. Still got back up to fourth, which is kind of where we had been running. We were definitely better than the trucks in front of us, but we just weren’t quite where we needed to be.” Christopher Bell
— John Hunter Nemechek (@JHNemechek) May 13, 2017
Overall a good night for our team, had really good speed and we know we had a better truck than fith, ready to head to Charlotte!
— Chase Briscoe (@ChaseBriscoe5) May 13, 2017
— Ryan Truex (@Ryan_Truex) May 13, 2017
Hard fought 7th place tonight didn't have the best truck but our @RedHorseRacing team stepped up to the plate and executed when it counts 💪
— Brett Moffitt (@Brett_Moffitt) May 13, 2017
What a crazy night that was! Got caught up in someone else's crash early on but fought to overcome it all and ended up with a Top 20 👊🏻
— Jordan Anderson (@j66anderson) May 13, 2017
— Noah Gragson (@NoahGragson) May 13, 2017
So unbelievably proud of my #50 boys, we overcame a mountain, God put his hand on us all
— Cody Ware (@CodyShaneWare) May 13, 2017
Up Next: The Camping World Truck Series heads back to Charlotte Motor Speedway Friday night. Coverage for the North Carolina Education Lottery 200 begins at 8:30 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1.