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Rhodes, Cindric Clash in Battle for Transfer Spot

AVONDALE, Ariz. – With only 20 laps to go in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Lucas Oil 150 at Phoenix Raceway, playoff contenders Ben Rhodes and Austin Cindric made contact, bringing out the red flag and ending both Rhodes and his ThorSport Racing teammate Matt Crafton‘s night.

After Josh Reaume stalled on the track, Rhodes and Austin Cindric were running bumper to bumper on the ensuing restart. Contact between the pair saw Rhodes spin out, hit the inside wall, then took Crafton with him into the outside wall going into Turn 1. While Cindric’s No. 19 Ford came out of the incident virtually unscathed, Rhodes’ No. 27 Toyota and Crafton’s No. 88 Toyota were beyond repair.

“It’s almost like last year at Homestead in the Cup Series,” Austin Cindric told FS1. “I had a good run, Ben went to block and I was there. I had to hold my line. He went to block. That wasn’t his best decision. He was having a good run there and we were hoping to race it out. Obviously, nothing intentional there. I just held my ground.”

Rhodes entered Friday night’s race fifth in the playoff standings, and was therefore even more desperate to run well in this penultimate race. The only way he could have clinched a spot in the Championship 4 was John Hunter Nemechek not winning and beating Rhodes on points, or a victory himself.

“We gave [the No. 19 team] a chance to get to our bumper and they gave us a cheap shot,” said Eddie Troconis, crew chief for the No. 27. “They want to race like that and they won’t make a single lap at Homestead.”

Crafton, on the other hand, was third in the playoff standings. Therefore, all he needed to do to clinch a Championship 4 spot was earn either 37 points with a new race winner or 32 points with a repeat race winner.

Visibly upset after exiting the care center, Crafton only had this to say about the incident, “Just wrong place, wrong time. I told Ben [Rhodes] that the 19 better not finish Homestead.”

While Crafton still managed to clinch the third spot in the Championship 4, Cindric took the fourth and final slot with his ninth-place finish. Rhodes wound up fifth, just five points behind Cindric in the standings after Friday night’s race.

“They got me calmed down there in the medical center, so we’re just going to move forward from here and finish out the season strong and show everybody that had we not get taken out here that we should be the champion,” Rhodes said following the race.

Cindric and Crafton will now battle it out for the championship next week at Homestead Miami-Speedway in the season finale.
“It’s not the perfect circumstances the way to end the race here, but we deserve it just as much as any,” Cindric said.

Vivian Meza is a POPULAR SPEED Development Journalist

EMAIL VIVIAN AT vivian.meza@popularspeed.com

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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Mistakes Prove Costly for Playoff Contenders

Entering any points battle, drivers typically harp on a single thought – don’t take yourself out of contention with a mistake. Ultimately, some contenders failed to adhere to old saying on Friday night in the Jag Metals 350 at Texas Motor Speedway, now finding themselves on the cusp of elimination.

John Hunter Nemechek entered the second event of the Round of 6 already behind, after hitting the wall at Martinsville Speedway due to no brakes. While poised for a solid top-10 to put himself on the edge of possibly being able to make it on points, he ran out of fuel with 13  laps to go and spent time stalled on pit road, finishing 19th. Now he enters next weekend sitting 39 markers behind the cut-line, ultimately in a win or bust scenario.

For Ben Rhodes, it was a pit road mistake that leaves him sitting five points behind the cut line. After making his final stop, he had to come back down due to missing a lug nut on the right front wheel. As a result, he finished 18th rather than inside the top-10 where he had run much of the night.

“We had a couple of bad pit stops, we had a loose wheel, and a pit gun broke and miscommunication on pit road, so we had to come back in so we ended up however many laps down,” Rhodes said post-race. “Just a tough night, now we’re on the outside of the Playoffs looking in, and we’ll just have to make something happen at Phoenix.”

Matt Crafton also experienced trouble on pit road with his crew jumping over the wall too soon on Lap 73, forcing him to drop from the top-10 to the tail end of the field on the restart. He fought hard to make up ground, finishing ninth. Without the penalty, he felt they could have scored a top-five.

Unlike Nemechek and Rhodes, though, Crafton is sitting pretty safe in points right now with a 24 marker cushion back to the cut line, thanks to stage points and a runner-up last week at Martinsville. 

“It hurt us, and that put us far behind right there at the end,” Crafton said. “The truck was the best it was all night there on that last run. Just a guy came over the wall too soon and had to go to the back. Just can’t pass here, it’s next to impossible right now.”

Next weekend at Phoenix, everything is on the line for these three competitors, along with Christopher Bell and Austin Cindric, as they try to join Johnny Sauter in the Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. With the pressure ramping up, the possibility for more mistakes increases as noticed at Texas, and at Martinsville with a slow pit stop for Sauter causing him valuable track position. 

While putting themselves in contention up front will be vital to gaining valuable points, avoiding making a mistake will be critical in making sure they’re not eliminated.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement

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Camping World Truck Series Playoffs Down to Six Drivers

Then there were just six drivers remaining.

Following the Fred’s 250 at Talladega Superspeedway, Chase Briscoe and Kaz Grala were eliminated from the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series drivers, leaving just six drivers to fight for the championship over the next four races.

The remaining competitors will look to perform at Martinsville Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway and Phoenix Raceway in hopes of being in the Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

So how do they stack up against each other? Let’s have a look.

1. Christopher Bell – 2195 points

Season to Date: 5 wins, 13 top-fives, 17 top-10’s. 

Of Note: The Kyle Busch Motorsports driver has finished in the top-three in his last four starts.

Martinsville: In three starts, Bell has two top-fives, including a third in April, for an average finish of 8.7

Texas: In four races, he has scored a victory and two top-10’s. The win, by the way, came this past June.

Phoenix: Bell placed seventh in his lone career appearance there last year.

Chance of Being in Final Four: Highly likely based on how he has ran all year, but mostly the past four races.

Homestead-Miami: Bell ran out of his fuel late in his first trip in 2015 to the Florida oval, placing 25th, before scoring an eighth last year.

2. Johnny Sauter – 2143 points (-52)

Season to Date: 2 wins, 9 top-fives, 15 top-10’s. 

Of Note: The GMS Racing driver has finished in the top-10 in five of his last six starts.

Martinsville: In 19 starts, Sauter has three wins and 10 top-10’s. His last two appearances have produced a victory and a runner-up.

Texas: In 18 races, he has scored three victories and 14 top-10’s. A victory last year in November propelled him to the final four en route to the championship. 

Phoenix: Although he has never won there, he has six top-10’s in eight starts.

Chance of Being in Final Four: Highly likely based on solid consistency this year, and his history at each track in the Round of 6.

Homestead-Miami: In 10 starts, he has a win and seven top-10’s, including the third last year which was enough for the title.

3. Matt Crafton – 2140 points (-55)

Season to Date: 1 wins, 4 top-fives, 13 top-10’s. 

Of Note: The ThorSport Racing driver has finished in the top-10 in the last three consecutive races.

Martinsville: In 31 starts, Crafton has two wins and 18 top-10’s. Although he won in October 2015, his best result since is a seventh. 

Texas: In 33 races, he has scored two victories and 22 top-10’s. He has finished in the top-10 in his last 12 appearances there, including both of those aforementioned wins. 

Phoenix: Although he has never won there, he has 11 top-10’s in 16 starts, including a third last year.

Chance of Being in Final Four: Highly likely based on solid consistency, and his history at each track in the Round of 6 – although Martinsville could pose a concern if he finds himself in a late race incident like he has the past couple of trips. 

Homestead-Miami: In 16 starts, he has a win (2015) and eight top-10’s – including his last three appearances.

4. Ben Rhodes – 2124 points (-71)

Season to Date: 1 wins, 6 top-fives, 11 top-10’s. 

Of Note: The ThorSport Racing driver has finished in the top-10 in five of the last six races.

Martinsville: In four starts, Rhodes has only posted one top-10.

Texas: In three races, he has scored a single top-10, which came in June with a fifth.

Phoenix: In two appearances, he has finished 14th and fifth. 

Chance of Being in Final Four: Likely, despite the past track results being concerning. This year has been about Rhodes exceeding expectations and running better than he has in previous seasons. He does not have much room to play with, being just three points ahead of the cut-off line entering the Round of 6.  

Homestead-Miami: Rhodes qualified 11th and finished 20th in his first trip to the Florida oval last year.

5. Austin Cindric – 2121 points (-74)

Season to Date: 1 wins, 6 top-fives, 12 top-10’s. 

Of Note: The Brad Keselowski Racing driver has finished in the top-10 in the last three races.

Martinsville: In two starts, Cindric has failed to post a top-20 finish. 

Texas: Cindric placed 25th in his lone appearance.

Phoenix: In two races, he has finished 14th and 15th. 

Chance of Being in Final Four: Not likely. With points to make up and a lack of strength at the tracks, it looks as though his hopes will be dashed over the next three events. However, Cindric should not be counted out as like Rhodes, he has been exceeding expectations all year. 

Homestead-Miami: He has never raced there before.

6. John Hunter Nemechek – 2107 points (-88)

Season to Date: 2 wins, 7 top-fives, 10 top-10’s. 

Of Note: The NEMCO Motorsports enters the Round of 6 after back-to-back eighth-place finishes.

Martinsville: In eight starts, he has three top-fives – with those coming in his last four appearances. 

Texas: In four races, he has a single top-10, placing seventh in June 2016.

Phoenix: While he placed 21st in his debut, he has finished in the top-10 in the three races since, including a runner-up in November 2015.

Chance of Being in Final Four: Not likely. He has a lot of ground to make up, and has not shown the speed to contend for top-fives over the past month. 

Homestead-Miami: In a pair of starts, he has placed second and 11th.

Photos Courtesy of Nigel Kinrade Photography

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement

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A Well-Timed Victory for Rhodes

A driver’s ability to elevate their performance in the Playoffs is critical to success in NASCAR.

Ben Rhodes did so in Saturday night’s NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway as he captured his first career victory.

While the ThorSport Racing driver has come close to winning numerous times in his young career, he often fell short but having that first victory under his belt changes his outlook.

“Just the pressure to get the first win off was huge,” Rhodes said. “Now that that’s off, I feel like they’re going to come a lot easier now.”

The win is even more meaningful in the post-season picture. After barely making the Playoff field, he has locked up a spot in the Round of 6.

“We proved tonight that we belong in the Playoffs after coming so close to getting into it a couple of different times from wins and something goes wrong, and we didn’t make it in,” Rhodes said. “Now we got in by a tie, and we’re proving that we belong here and we’re going to the Round of 6.”

It also removes the unknown factor of Talladega Superspeedway as the first round elimination race. Although Rhodes felt confident about his chances, he will no longer need to worry about how it will impact his title hopes. 

“I never really felt the pressure for Talladega like a lot of people do in the series,” Rhodes said. “I was trying to let everyone else feel the pressure. I just saw it as a great opportunity.”

The No. 27 team’s focus now shifts to the Round of 6 that will determine who competes for the championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Rhodes has typically performed best at 1.5-mile tracks on the schedule after dominating at Kansas in May before blowing an engine late while leading and winning at Las Vegas.

With two mile-and-a-half races remaining this season at Texas Motor Speedway and Homestead-Miami Speedway, two additional victories would propel him to the title.

While he did top Christopher Bell on Saturday, the Kyle Busch Motorsports driver remains the championship favorite, and has dominated at the intermediate venues this season with three victories and hasn’t shown any signs of slowing up.

Bell remains stout, but Rhodes could give him a run for his money if both competitors make the season finale.

Rhodes believes that there is no doubt that he will be one of four drivers contending for the title.

“This is going to help catapult us into Homestead,” Rhodes said.

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Ben Rhodes Claims First Truck Win in Thrilling Race at Las Vegas

LAS VEGAS, Nev. – Ben Rhodes took the lead on the final restart and held off Christopher Bell to capture his first NASCAR Camping World Truck Series career win in Saturday night’s Las Vegas 350 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Rhodes, who earlier in the season lost what appeared to be a sure victory at Kansas Speedway when a piece of debris punctured his Toyota’s radiator, blocked Bell’s last-gasp effort by going all the way to the track’s apron to take the checkered flag.

Rhodes, who drives for ThorSport Racing, started sixth in the 28-truck field to become the 1.5-mile speedway’s 10th consecutive different winner. He joins Bell to advance to the Round of 6 in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Playoffs.

“I used every play in my playbook,” said Rhodes of the final laps battle. “I knew if I could keep him close to me, he couldn’t break the (air) bubble. This is the biggest high of my life.

“So many things have gone wrong and now here I am in Victory Lane.”

Rhodes’ victory came in his 45th series start. His official victory margin over Bell was 0.066 seconds.

Bell, who led three times for 64 laps and dominated much of the 146-lap race in his Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota, blamed himself for coming up short in his quest for a sixth season victory.

“I just didn’t get it done there on the last restart (at Lap 140),” he said. “He’s (Rhodes) been long overdue for that win and he earned it tonight.”

Chase Briscoe finished third in his Brad Keselowski Racing Ford, followed by BKR teammate Austin Cindric, who overcame an early-race accident. Kaz Grala, who started 14th, also battled back from an early incident, was the top-finishing Chevrolet in fifth.

Pole sitter Ryan Truex was unable to lead the opening lap but had put his Toyota in position for a solid top-10 finish. A brush with the wall in the closing laps while battling Briscoe and Grant Enfinger for third sent his Toyota to pit road, where he lost two laps and finished 12th.

Seven different drivers traded the lead 11 times. There were six cautions consuming 32 laps.

Briscoe won the race’s first stage by 1.25 seconds over Johnny Sauter. Sauter clawed his way back to 10th-place finish, a lap behind, after cutting a tire and twice speeding on pit road.

Rhodes claimed Stage 2 by 0.419 seconds over Bell in a preview of the final stage finish.

While both Rhodes and Bell are guaranteed to move into the Round of 6 in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Playoffs, the final four spots remain up for grabs at Talladega Superspeedway on Oct. 14. Crafton is best placed, followed by Sauter and Briscoe while Grala and John H. Nemechek are currently below the cutoff point.

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Ryan Truex Exceeding Expectations Despite Missing Playoffs

When smaller teams compete in NASCAR, they define success differently than the top organizations.

Winning is the ultimate goal, but those with smaller budgets are working towards finishing in the top-five, leading laps, and competing for victories.

Ryan Truex and Hattori Racing Enterprises have accomplished these objectives so far in 2017.

The 25-year-old captured six top-fives, ten top-10’s, and led 86 laps in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series regular season. He’s also consistently raced up front and contended for wins on numerous occasions.

He had one of his best performances yet during Friday night’s TheHouse.com 225 at Chicagoland Speedway after winning the pole and dominating Stage 1 before ultimately settling for fourth-place.

A night like this in any other race would have marked another impressive run for the No. 16 team. However, with a spot in the Playoffs on the line, he came up one position short.

Truex ended the night tied with Ben Rhodes for the final spot, but because Rhodes had a better season-best finish with a second-place at Pocono, he won the tiebreaker.

Racing often comes down to the smallest margins on the track, and when Rhodes finished second, he beat Truex by a quarter of an inch.

While that finish in August ultimately decided Truex’s Playoff fate, it won’t define how his season has unfolded.

Before Truex began competing for Hattori Racing Enterprises, they weren’t very well-known after making limited starts in the sport with numerous drivers. 

The team has made significant strides with Truex behind the wheel and experienced crew chief Scott Zipadelli in charge, placing the organization in the conversation.

Truex admitted that they might not have the same speed as the top trucks; however, being able to run with them says a lot about the No. 16 team. 

Missing the Playoffs isn’t something to dwell in the team’s first full-time season. A victory is well within reach and winning one of the final seven races would be a fitting way to end a breakout year for Hattori and Truex.

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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Pocono Shakes Up Trucks Playoff Picture

After an exciting Overton’s 150 at Pocono Raceway, only four races remain till the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series playoffs, and it’s anybody’s guess who will make the field. While there may be some uncertainty, it’s clear after Saturday’s 60-lap event that some are in better shape than others.

With five different winners and an 88-point cushion for Chase Briscoe, the battle to keep an eye on revolves around the seventh and eighth seed, currently held by Ben Rhodes and Ryan Truex. Although they may be in preferred position now, entering the weekend, it was a different story, with both failing to place in the top-20 in their previous three starts.

That wouldn’t be the case Saturday, as the pair collected points in both Stages, and finished second and third, respectively. The runner-up allows Rhodes to improve to five points over ninth, and brings Truex into the playoff field, after being outside entering the day.

With Truex moving in, who falls to ninth? Grant Enfinger, who now sits four points out after finishing 13th. While he seemingly had a top-10 truck, the driver of the No. 98 only collected one point during the first two stages and was plagued with mechanical issues in the race’s final stretch. When the Camping World Truck Series heads to Michigan International Speedway in two weeks, he will likely need to improve upon his eighth-place finish from his only previous start at the 2-mile oval if he wants to make up for lost ground.

Enfinger didn’t have the worst day as far playoff contenders go. That distinction would go to Noah Gragson, who finished 24th after being involved in an accident with Kaz Grala. The 19-year-old who was riding the momentum of seven straight top-10 finishes and entered Pocono only eight points outside the bubble, now sits 41 behind. The DNF essentially puts him in a must-win situation, which is a tall order for a rookie who hasn’t run a truck at any of the remaining four tracks.

Now, nothing is secure, and anything can happen. However, the question should be asked. How will this race overall impact the playoffs? Will the positive performance of Rhodes and Truex provide a bit of insurance in points? Will the points Enfinger loss not finishing top-10 end up costing him big?  Only time will tell.

Mitchell Breuer is a POPULAR SPEED Development Journalist

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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Improvement Needed Before Rhodes Takes Next Career Step

It was a promising yet ultimately disappointing Thursday night at Kentucky Speedway for Ben Rhodes in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Buckle Up In Your Truck 225.

Rhodes ran up front early, won Stage 1 for his first stage victory and playoff point of the season.

However, a crash in Stage 2 after making a daring three-wide move into Turn 3 on a restart ended the No. 27 team’s night. 

“A big mistake on my part,” Rhodes said.

Mistakes and bad luck have often plagued the ThorSport Racing driver’s strong performances.

In 2016 at Kansas, Rhodes dove into Turn 3 underneath leader Johnny Sauter on the final lap, taking both trucks out of contention and handing the win to William Byron. Rhodes went from running second in the final two corners to finishing 18th after making the costly mistake. 

A blown engine late at Kansas this past May ended his night following a dominant run. While engine failures are unpredictable, this event added to the frustration he has experienced when a solid finish is taken away late.

After showing strength early at Kentucky, Rhodes placed himself in an unnecessarily dangerous spot when he wrecked. While a slick and recently repaved surface made track position critical, putting his truck in a precarious situation to gain a couple of spots at that point in the race didn’t seem worth it in the overall picture.

There’s a fine line between aggressive and over-aggressive driving in NASCAR. While driving hard is admired as drivers push the limits behind the wheel to succeed, being too aggressive has its drawbacks.

Rhodes often tests this limit and pushing it has hurt him through the early years of his career.

While he has shown improvement this season by already matching the number of top-10’s he posted throughout 2016 with five through nine races, Kentucky proved that there’s room for improvement.

With many young drivers rising through the sport’s ranks, it often takes many standout runs in the lower series to earn the opportunity to climb the ladder.

Rhodes has time to turn his performance around, but it must be done relatively soon and in commanding fashion. A victory would go a long way towards solidifying his status as a rising star in the sport and putting him in a position to take the next step in his career.

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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Gateway Success Provides Rhodes Another Opportunity for First Win

Over the past three years, young drivers have had great success in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series at Gateway Motorsports Park.

 Darrell Wallace Jr. scored the victory in 2014 in his sophomore campaign, followed by Cole Custer with his second career win in his 11th start in 2015. Last year, it was Christopher Bell with the victory in his first full season. 

The series has seen youngsters run up front all year, including Kaz Grala with his first trip to victory lane in the season-opener at Daytona. This weekend we could very well see Ben Rhodes grab his first NCWTS win.

“We have been knocking down the door for a win the whole year, so it’s only a matter of time,” he said. “Since I have a good track record at Gateway, it looks like it could be a great weekend for us. This year we will put ourselves in a better position with pit strategy, and build on the speed we’ve had. Gateway is a close track to home for me, so winning with the family there would be an awesome feeling.”

Rhodes has proven he can contend for victories, leading late at Kansas Speedway until his engine blew with seven laps to go, and pacing 71 laps at Dover before finishing fourth.

On the heels of a second straight top-five, Gateway is the perfect location for everything to come together. Last year, he started on the pole and led four laps en route to a runner-up finish.

A victory would huge for Rhodes, as well as ThorSport Racing. Although recognized as one of the top three teams in the series, their last win came at Charlotte in May 2016, courtesy of Matt Crafton

With only nine events are left to secure a spot in the Chase, a victory for Rhodes would be very timely and give ThorSport Racing a chance for a third championship.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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RHODES: “We Ran With the Best Tonight”

Ben Rhodes has come within a single digit number of laps away from victory in each of his two NASCAR Camping World Truck Series starts at Kansas Speedway, only to leave with disappointing finishes.

While racing with Johnny Sauter for the win last year, Rhodes made one final effort to make a move inside of Sauter heading into Turn 3 on the final lap, but the two trucks made contact, crashed, and handed the trophy to William Byron.

A much stronger and more patient performance from Rhodes placed him in a battle with Kyle Busch on Friday night. Through the numerous restarts early, Rhodes learned from the veteran and was able to use what he picked up to keep pace later in the race, take the lead, and set sail.

Rhodes began pulling away from Busch and developed a one-second lead before trouble struck with eight laps remaining. A piece of debris penetrated his No. 27 Toyota Tundra’s grill and went into the radiator, ultimately blowing the engine which handed him a 23rd-place finish.

The Toyota Tundra 250 marked the best performance of Rhodes’ career as he kept up with and had the upper hand over Busch. However, losing the race late seems to attest to the No. 27 Toyota team’s fortune.

We ran with the best of the best,” Rhodes said. “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.”

Rhodes will have another opportunity to battle Busch for a win at a 1.5-mile venue next Friday night as the series heads to Charlotte Motor Speedway, another place where Busch has dominated in the past, but Rhodes could again give Busch a run for his money.

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.