At just 25 years old, Ben Rhodes has already reached the peak of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.
Last year, he finished highest among the Championship 4 drivers, earning his first Truck Series title despite not winning the season finale at Phoenix Raceway. Even though he has a championship on his resume, Rhodes said he‘s determined to earn this year‘s regular-season title.
“It‘s weighed on me since Daytona,” Rhodes said Wednesday in a Zoom teleconference. “I‘ve thought of nothing else except that regular-season championship. I want the trophy at the end of the year but what matters to me are those 15 playoff points. That‘s three race wins.”
RELATED: 2022 Truck Series standings
Rhodes took an unorthodox route to last year‘s Truck championship with his only wins that season coming during the first two races at the Daytona International Superspeedway oval and road-course layouts.
Despite finishing second in the 2021 regular-season standings, Rhodes said he was disappointed not being at the top of the board entering the playoffs.
“It‘s a shame that we led for so long last year and gave up the lead right before the regular-season championship,” Rhodes said. “I don‘t want a repeat of that. I want to capitalize on this opportunity right now.”
While wins haven‘t come at a high rate over the past two years, Rhodes has managed to be consistent dating back to 2021‘s opener at Daytona.
On his way to the 2021 Truck Series title, Rhodes racked up 16 top-10 finishes in the 22-race season and never sustained a DNF. He also finished on the lead lap in all but three races — Atlanta Motor Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway and Darlington Raceway. The trend has continued and this season has played out in a similar fashion for Rhodes, scoring a top 10 in eight of 12 races and finishing on the lead lap at every race except for Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Darlington.
Rhodes currently sits atop the regular-season standings heading into Knoxville Raceway this weekend. He is in a white-knuckle battle with Chandler Smith, Zane Smith and John Hunter Nemechek, with the four separated by just 14 points.
“People ask all the time ‘is this the closest you think the Truck Series field has ever been,‘ and I do,” Rhodes said. “The last seven years I‘ve been doing it, I feel like this is the toughest and closest. You just have to find a way to navigate it and set out your season with an ‘X‘ amount of races to finish and an ‘X‘ amount you‘re going to set aside for being wrecked.”
But recently, Rhodes has hit a roller-coaster stretch over the last six races, accumulating three top 10s and three finishes outside the top 15.
Heading toward the regular-season finale at Pocono Raceway, the series travels to — what could be — wild-card weekends with just the second annual event at Knoxville and a trip to Nashville Superspeedway after the 1.33-mile oval returned to the circuit last season. And two weeks before the regular-season finale at Pocono, the Truck Series will make its debut at the Mid-Ohio Sports Course.
Rhodes has found success on road courses in his last five starts as he holds an average finish of 9.6. This includes a win at the Daytona Road Course, two top 10s at Circuit of The Americas and an 18th-place result last Saturday at Sonoma Raceway.
While Rhodes said he wants to win as many races as possible, he also wants to play it smart with the tracks coming up.
“Unfortunately, the past few races we‘ve been giving up some points,” Rhodes said. “I know we are going to Knoxville and that the racing is going to be very chaotic, so I‘m prepared to be as elbows-up as I have to.”
With a regular-season championship in reach, Rhodes seeks to begin the postseason with a big advantage rather than having to fight his way to the top on the road to Phoenix.
“I‘m going to do everything I can to hold on to the regular-season title,” Rhodes said. “It would be a huge kick in the shorts to lose it so close to the end.”