Lucky break? Ben Rhodes finds early momentum after COTA's silver linings
Ben Rhodes was completing his final laps around the Circuit of The Americas when something seemed amiss. His No. 99 ThorSport Racing Ford was running third when it started showing the first signs of breakage with two laps to go during Saturday’s XPEL 225. By the 19th of 20 turns on the white-flag lap, the driveshaft gave way.
Rhodes was headed for a seemingly assured top-five finish, which would have been his third consecutive in this young NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series season. Instead, his No. 99 F-150 limped across the start/finish line in 10th place, leaving the former series champ scratching his head.
“Watching the big hill (in Turn 1) come up to me and getting slower and slower, I didn‘t think I was going to make it,” Rhodes said of his slow-speed pass under the checkered flag. “I‘m just watching trucks fly past. That was just an absolute heartbreaker, really. I know everybody on our team, we set ourselves up for a good finish with the pit stops because we knew we didn‘t have the short-run speed that the other trucks did. But the truck held on for pace really well at the end.”
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While Rhodes was lamenting the third-place result that had escaped him, No. 99 crew chief Jeriod Prince provided a contrast on the team’s radio communications after the race. He told his driver that a 10th-place finish in light of an otherwise catastrophic parts failure was close to a best-case scenario. Had the malfunction happened any earlier, Rhodes’ truck likely would have slowed to a halt before the end, dealing the team a finish outside of the top 25.
Rhodes is in his eighth season with the ThorSport group, but it’s his first year working with Prince — who was paired with Christian Eckes on the No. 98 team last season. Rhodes took special note of his crew chief’s different outlook as he searched for post-race positives.
“My team‘s had great speed, and that‘s the way that we need to take this. That‘s the absolute attitude that we need to have,” Rhodes said. “It‘s very easy to focus on the negative … I tend to do that myself, actually. The good news is that our crew chief, Jeriod, who has done a great job leading the team and keeping everybody happy, making sure that we‘re all in the right frame of mind. I think that‘s one of his strong suits. He‘ll find the silver lining.
“He already told me, ‘Good thing it busted out in the last corner.’ I said, ‘I‘m just mad it busted at all.’ He is just happy as can be that the truck ran good the whole race, and it happened at the proper timing to still get 10th. He has a good attitude. I‘ll work on mine a little bit.”
Rhodes aims to keep some of the momentum going as the Craftsman Truck Series stays in the Lone Star State this week, but with a shift back to oval-track racing at Texas Motor Speedway in Saturday’s SpeedyCash.com 250 (4:30 p.m. ET, FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). The 26-year-old driver ranks third in the series standings with three top 10s through four races so far — all with room to grow, Prince says.
“I swear, with 20 (laps) to go in every race, we’ve been top three so far this year, so that’s all you can ask for,” Prince told NASCAR.com. “We’ve had some speed, and we’ve been pretty good, just luck hasn’t seemed to fall our way. Last week in Atlanta, you know, he was going for the lead on the outside on the last lap, and we got wrecked. So, we were there. We just gotta have a little luck on our side, and I think we’ll be all right. We all have a pretty positive attitude about everything, so we’re still all happy with how things are going.”