Home / Beth Lunkenheimer / Tracking the Trucks: Ben Rhodes Scores Hometown Win in Kentucky
(Photo: Zach Catanzareti)

Tracking the Trucks: Ben Rhodes Scores Hometown Win in Kentucky

In a Nutshell: Ben Rhodes scored ThorSport Racing’s first victory since switching manufacturers in Thursday night’s Buckle Up in Your Truck 225 at Kentucky Speedway. Rhodes capitalized on a 74-lap green flag run and a late pit road call for fuel only to score his first win of the 2018 season over Stewart Friesen.

“This is amazing – a dream come true. It’s a long-time coming. These guys deserve this so much,” Rhodes said. “They’ve been working their butts off, and we’ve had such bad luck this year. It’s so special to have Officer Nick Rodman on our truck – this race is a tribute to him. Everybody was feeling good about it tonight. We’ve had trucks like this all year long and finally, we can showcase it, and I’m just so thrilled for my team. This is exactly what we needed.”

Matt Crafton, who started 30th after a very loose run during qualifying, ended up third, followed by Brandon Jones. John Hunter Nemechek rounded out the top five.

Aside from the two stage-ending cautions, the race was slowed by a single yellow flag that flew on the first lap of the race. Tyler Matthews found himself in the middle of a three-wide battle with Matt Crafton and John Hunter Nemechek, and it didn’t end well. Nemechek clipped Matthews’ left rear, sending him spinning into the outside wall. The damage proved terminal and he finished dead last.

Who Should Have Won: Though he didn’t lead the most laps (that honor goes to Noah Gragson), Rhodes was able to erase a more than two-second lead to chase down Gragson and take the victory for stage one. And while he didn’t manage to win stage two, he took the top spot when it counted the most. Pit road strategy, combined with a small mistake on Friesen’s part allowed Rhodes just the edge he needed to secure his spot in this year’s playoff field.

Race Rundown

Loose Wheel Derails Noah Gragson’s Run

Noah Gragson led the first 27 laps and wasted little time getting to the front once again once the second stage began. But a loose wheel during stage two proved to be costly for the No. 18 team. During the caution between stages two and three, Gragson spent extra time on pit road while his tire changer added a wheel spacer to the right front tire.

“He felt a vibration right away. The tire changer thought he had it tight, but he had a couple lug nuts loose,” crew chief Rudy Fugle told Fox Sports 1. “When he got over there he saw space on three of the lug nuts, so we knew we didn’t want to have more problems. We put the wheel spacer on so it would space out and get on fresh threads. Right now the threads are torn up so you’d never get them tightened back up.”

Mired in dirty air, Gragson struggled with the handling on his No. 18 Toyota and was unable to fight his way back through the field to the lead. He was eighth when the checkered flag flew.

“Yeah, we got a loose wheel there after the first pit stop putting on right side tires and had a vibration,” Gragson explained “I wasn’t sure how bad it was going to get since I just haven’t had very many wheel vibrations, so a loose wheel. Just stayed out there and ended up winning the stage, came in and put four tires on. Just got shuffled back in the pack putting a wheel spacer on because the studs were messed up a little bit.

“I felt like King Kong there at the beginning in my Safelite AutoGlass Toyota Tundra when I was out front. It’s when you get back in the pack, it just makes it so difficult, so we’re just going to keep plugging away. I’ve got all the faith in the world in my team and my crew chief Rudy Fugle.”

Stewart Friesen Scores Runner-Up Finish From Rear of Field

After qualifying 14th, Stewart Friesen was forced to drop to the rear of the field when the green flag flew over Thursday night’s race. Facing an engine problem, the No. 52 team, with the help of multiple GMS Racing crew members, changed out the motor within about an hour prior to lining up on the grid.

But despite the less-than-ideal starting spot, Friesen pulled his Chevrolet inside the top 10 by the end of stage one and into the top five by the end of stage two. Restarting on the front row for stage three, he and Parker Kligerman engaged in a side-by-side battle for the lead early.

Once Friesen secured the top spot, he held it until a round of green-flag pit stops and even pulled out to a more than four-second advantage for a while. But just as he was pulling away from his pit stall, he stalled the truck briefly, which was just what eventual winner Rhodes needed to get ahead of the driver of the No. 52.

Despite charging at Rhodes and erasing a more than one-second deficit, Friesen couldn’t overcome tight handling, was unable to mount a serious charge for the win and ultimately had to settle for a second-place finish.

The result marks his fourth top five this season, just days ahead of the series’ annual visit to Eldora Speedway where many consider Friesen a favorite. Last season, he started on the pole and led 93 laps en route to a runner-up finish to eventual winner Matt Crafton.

Quick Hits:

  • Parker Kligerman utilized pit road strategy and a two-tire call at the end of stage two to move from 14th to the lead and was able to hold it for 12 laps until Friesen ran him down and took the top spot. After his green flag pit stop late in the race, the deck lid cover came loose on the No. 75 truck, and that ultimately sent him to the garage and out of the race. FS1 didn’t cover the damage very clearly at all, but as it turns out, it was related to a brush with the wall early in stage one. Kligerman wound up 27th.

  • For just the second time this season, Johnny Sauter finished outside the top 10. Unable to even sniff the lead all night, Sauter got pegged for speeding on his green flag pit stop, and to make matters worse, he had to make a third trip down pit road to serve a commitment line violation penalty. He ended up 15th, two laps down.

Truck Rookie Report

2018 Rookie of the Year Candidates
No. 4 Todd Gilliland
No. 13 Myatt Snider
No. 25 Dalton Sargeant
No. 45 Justin Fontaine
No. 54 Bo LeMastus

No. of rookies in the race: 5

No. of rookies to finish in the top 10: 2; Todd Gilliland, finished seventh; Dalton Sargeant, finished ninth

Rookie of the Race: Gilliland

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Up Next: The Camping World Truck Series has a short week before it heads to Eldora Speedway next Wednesday night. Coverage for the Eldora Dirt Derby begins at 9 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1; the race can also be heard on your local MRN affiliate or SiriusXM NASCAR Channel 90.

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About Beth Lunkenheimer

Beth Lunkenheimer
Content Director Beth heads up management of our 30-person staff, acting as Tom’s main assistant with technology and personnel while working as Frontstretch’s Truck Series expert. The author of Truckin’ Thursdays and the coordinator of the site’s pre and post-race coverage, she also runs a periodic charity column that spotlights when NASCAR gives back. A childhood transplant to Texas, Beth is a 13-year writing veteran who has contributed content to BRANDT and Athlon Sports, among other outlets.

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