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Trucks

ThorSport Doesn’t Miss a Beat Despite Setback

The Camping World Truck Series race at Iowa Speedway brought much-needed joy to the entire ThorSport Racing family.

Just days after a fire consumed part of their race shop, the organization put two trucks in the top five. Cameron Hayley and Ben Rhodes contended for the victory in the race’s late stages yet finished third and fourth, respectively.

Hayley fought a tight truck throughout the race, yet the No. 13 came alive after the late-race red flag.

“Our Cabinets by Hayley Tundra kind of came alive there after the red flag, and at that point, it’s whoever makes the best moves at the right time,” he said. “William Byron made the best moves at the right time, and I’m just happy to come home third.”

His career-best finish was even sweeter in light of the team’s current rebuild, which Hayley experienced first-hand early Monday morning.

“As everyone knows, it’s been a tough week at ThorSport Racing, to say the least,” Hayley said. “I was a part of that first-hand. I got the call about 5:30 Monday morning. I was there at 5:30 and probably spent upwards of 36 hours – both me and the team – cleaning the trucks, getting things ready, working out of a parking lot trying to get to this race. To come out here with a third-place finish is not just amazing for me but for the organization as a whole. We really came together as a team.”

Rhodes and his No. 41 Alpha Energy Solutions team, however, felt like there was a lot left on the table; after his run-in with Johnny Sauter at Kansas Speedway earlier this season, Rhodes admitted he ran conservatively to preserve their trucks. He had Iowa circled on his calendar as the race to go all-out, but the shop fire changed those plans. Despite that, he was able to keep up with the difficult conditions and green flag runs.

“We really needed to be on the outside to keep our momentum up,” Rhodes said. “That’s what our truck really struggled with on the bottom. It was just tough. On those long runs, we have a lot of speed, and I felt like we had the fastest truck tonight.”

Rhodes admitted the fire affected his mentality in the closing laps.

“I’m really proud of all our guys on the Alpha Energy Solutions Toyota Tundra tonight. They have worked their butts off all week after the fire. We only had two trucks tonight, and we only have two trucks for the next race so it’s really hard to try to race for a win and have that on your mind.”

“I’m really proud of all our guys on the Alpha Energy Solutions Toyota Tundra tonight,” Rhodes said. “They have worked their butts off all week after the fire. We only had two trucks tonight, and we only have two trucks for the next race so it’s really hard to try to race for a win and have that on your mind.”

In addition to Hayley and Rhodes, ThorSport Racing driver Matt Crafton grabbed an eighth-place finish. Rico Abreu, coming off a second-place finish at Texas Motor Speedway, encountered issues throughout the race. After spinning near the halfway mark, Abreu was just outside the top 10 before overheating under the red flag.

ThorSport general manager David Pepper spoke at the track and reiterated that the organization would run the schedule as previously planned and remain competitive despite the circumstances. The team is full of people that refuse to quit, and Hayley wanted to reward the team in the best way possible – with a victory.

“I wish we could’ve gotten [team owner Duke Thorson] the win,” Hayley said, adding, “But to come from where this team was on Monday to where we are now is just amazing. I just want to thank everyone for that.”

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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.

Categories
Trucks

ThorSport Rookies Looking to Close the Deal

Rookies in racing almost always struggle while learning.

It’s no exception for ThorSport Racing’s duo of Ben Rhodes and Rico Abreu, who have each faced adversity in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.

Rhodes feels his team has been performing well, despite not scoring a top-10 finish since Atlanta in February.

“We’ve had some mistakes and a lot of things that haven’t gone our way,” Rhodes told POPULAR SPEED. “But if you look back at the past couple of races and see where we were running at the time – we were running fourth at Martinsville before the accident and second at Kansas before the accident there. If we could’ve finished at those races, we’d be second in points to Crafton.

“So I feel we’ve had good performances so we’ll need to keep carrying that forward, but also stacking some finishes together to get momentum on our side.”

Abreu’s season has been similar to Rhodes’, with bad luck spoiling good days at the track. The former USAC champion had his best run of the season at Texas last week, running as high as second in the closing laps before getting into the wall and finishing ninth.

“We’ve shown a lot of speed, but things haven’t gone our way,” Abreu said. “We have to put it together.”

The rookies have continued to learn from their mistakes on a weekly basis, even if the results don’t show it. Rhodes says he’s learning something new each week, ranging from aerodynamics to how the trucks drive.

“It’s also getting used to everyone on the team as it’s not only my first year in trucks but a lot of the guys are in new positions,” he said. “I feel we have been gaining on chemistry as a team.”

Getting used to the aerodynamics is a challenge, as the K&N Pro Series cars don’t have that in play due to only racing on short tracks. Abreu added pit stops to the list of learning, as it’s brought a new challenge as K&N used halfway breaks versus live stops.

“You have about three to four pit stops to make the truck better,” Abreu said. “I need to work on communicating with my team better to make the right adjustments to what I am comfortable with. I just tend not to want to feed them the wrong information or put it the wrong way, and out-adjust ourselves.”

Perhaps the best resource for both drivers is teammate Matt Crafton, a two-time champion in the series.

“It’s been very good for me,” Rhodes said. “It’s definitely sped up the learning curve as the first couple of races this year, I was really able to lean on him. Being the new guy, it helps to lean on their notes as well in trying to get a good baseline so we know what we can do. As we’ve gone into the season a little bit, we’ve been able to work from that and get better.”

Abreu says he spends a lot of time during the race weekend speaking with Crafton, talking about what his truck is doing and his perspective of the track.

“If I can explain to him what I am feeling, he can help me relay it to my crew chief as our crew chiefs work great together,” he said. “Doug George and Junior Joiner have a really close background.”

Coming into Iowa, both rookies are looking to finish strong, knowing the inaugural truck series Chase is looming. Sitting 17th in points, Abreu stresses his team needs to position themselves better throughout the weekend, starting with practice and qualifying.

Rhodes expects to continue to improve going forward, especially with his experience at upcoming tracks. Rhodes made his Xfinity Series debut at Iowa, finishing seventh last year for JR Motorsports. In four K&N Pro Series East starts at the Newton, Iowa short track, Rhodes has an average finish of 4.8, including a win in 2014.

“I’m really looking forward to Iowa and Gateway as short tracks are really where I grew up racing,” he said. “I feel we’ll be strong at both due to past success at Iowa and can put together two good runs.”

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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.

Categories
Trucks

Rookie Rhodes In Need of a Confidence Booster

The life of a NASCAR rookie can be laden with disappointment and Ben Rhodes is currently going through that experience.

Five races into the Camping World Truck Series season, Rhodes has wrecked four trucks with his new ThorSport Racing team. But if there’s a positive it’s that Rhodes has been fast. One thing or another, however, has kept the 2014 K&N Pro Series East champion from finishing out a race. Even when he won the pole and led 42 laps at Martinsville Speedway, late race contact took him out of contention.

“We’ve been fast this year it’s just unfortunate how some things have played out,” Rhodes told POPULAR SPEED at Dover. “We just can’t catch a break. Whether it’s Daytona, something happens, and we’re involved in it. We somehow got through all the wrecks at Daytona and ended up finishing but still a torn up truck nonetheless.

“Martinsville, passing on the outside and getting caught up in another wreck. We had a really fast truck there, and I think if we had a couple more laps or not even more laps, if we were able to just make the pass and we had that restart, I think we would have been in contention to win. Especially how Martinsville is. Then Kansas. We were in contention to win that race as well.”

Rhodes was running second on the last lap in Kansas when he attempted to charge to the inside of leader Johnny Sauter in Turn 3. But Sauter blocked and the two wrecked hard. Afterward, Sauter insulted the 19-year-old on live TV, only to take his comments back days later.

The worst of all might have happened on Friday night in Dover.

Rhodes found trouble in a new way when he collided with teammate Rico Abreu on Lap 62 in Turn 4. A heavily damaged truck kept Rhodes behind the wall for multiple laps in the JACOB Companies 200, and he was eventually credited with a 28th place finish.

“We had a really fast Tundra, but just struggled on the restarts, I was getting kind of frustrated. I drove it in there pretty deep, and it stuck, but when I ‘landed,’ I got loose ad Rico started to get a run on my outside,” Rhodes said. “The combination of those two things sucked me around. It’s something I haven’t experienced yet driving these trucks, and something I’m going to learn the hard way.

“I’m really disappointed in myself. Our team works so hard on these trucks, and Rico certainly didn’t do anything wrong. We have fast trucks and we’ll be back.”

As the series shifts to Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 20, ThorSport knows all their young drivers need a confidence booster. Sophomore Cameron Hayley sits 11th in points with two top-10 finishes. Rhodes and Abreu are 17th and 18th, respectively.

While the 41 team attempted to help Rhodes shake things off, the organization was celebrating a win with two-time series champion Matt Crafton. But as general manager David Pepper partook in all the post-race festivities, he knew the hard conversations were still to come.

“All our trucks have been fast. I think you could pinpoint each and every race where one of these ThorSport trucks or several of them were leading laps, and that speaks to (all of these) drivers and the crew chiefs and the guys that work on these trucks every day and everything Duke and Rhonda (Thorson) give us to go win races,” Pepper said. “You have years like this where at the end of the race it culminates with a race victory, but you have to balance that with so many times during the course of a race different things happen and keep one of your teams from winning.

“It runs the gamut. You have a whole range of emotions because I’m very excited about the win and this is a huge victory for this company and these guys, but we also have to go back and kind of lick our wounds with the other teams and get them focused and tell them, hey, next week’s another week.”

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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 staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
Trucks

Rhodes, Sauter Clear the Air after Kansas Accident

DOVER, Del. – Ben Rhodes and Johnny Sauter are back on speaking terms after their accident last weekend at Kansas Speedway.

Rhodes got into the left rear of Sauter’s Chevrolet in Turn 3 as he attempted to make a pass for the lead on the final lap of the Toyota Tundra 250. Neither driver wound up in Victory Lane and afterward Sauter called Rhodes, a Rookie of the Year contender, a “bozo” and wondered if he could see.

But upon review, Sauter took back his comments and reached out to Rhodes this week to explain himself.

“It was a really good conversation,” Rhodes told POPULAR SPEED on Thursday at Dover International Speedway. “I talked to him for a while about what his truck was doing in the race, what my truck was doing; just small talk that drivers have. He told me his motor was cutting out, and I had a really big closing rate. It was just the right place for me to go at the time and I still believe that. We cleared the air, and it’s good going forward.”

Rookie or not, Rhodes believes when two drivers are involved in an incident they owe it to each other to hash it out afterward. Entering the Jacob Companies 200 (Friday, 5:30 p.m. ET, FS1), Rhodes is happy there is nothing hanging over his head because there is no sense in two drivers trying to go forward with the intention of tearing up trucks.

“Actually, I shared a story with him from when I was younger, when I was in first or second grade. He had a show on TV where cameras followed him around every week, and I would usually go to bed at 9:00, but I would stay up until 10 just to wait for the show to come on and I would watch it because I was all about anything NASCAR,” Rhodes said. “That’s how I got to know him at such a young age, and I told him that. So it was kind of interesting story that I’m getting to race against him now.”

In fact, Rhodes drives for the organization (ThorSport Racing) that Sauter, a veteran of the series, left after seven seasons. With just eight CWTS starts under his belt, last weekend was the first time Rhodes and Sauter crossed each other’s paths. And the move was one Rhodes felt certain in making having quickly weighed all of his options.

“It all started on the frontstretch as we got the white flag. I got a really big run, but I decided it wasn’t the right time because I couldn’t have made the pass; it would have been a really bad angle,” he explained. “Everything would have been bad. If I made the over there I basically would have just wrecked him, so I decided to go to the high side and stay full throttle all the way around the corner.”

Momentum from the high side propelled Rhodes off Turn 2 and down the backstretch. With Sauter’s motor not running smoothly, it allowed the No. 41 to quickly close as Sauter prepared to block. But it was too late as Rhodes stuck his nose inside entering Turn 3.

“As I saw him turning right and the truck leaning over to the left to angle it back up to the top to make the arc (into the corner) I thought I had enough room o could come down to the bottom real quick and sneak past him and kind of surprise him on the bottom,” Rhodes said. “We surprised him, but as I was hoping he knew I was there – and I think he did since he tried to block – I was already inside and so deep at full throttle, sticking to the bottom, I couldn’t really let up.” 
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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 staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
Trucks

Sauter Miffed After Last Lap Crash with Rhodes

It appeared Johnny Sauter had the victory in hand when the field took the white flag in the Toyota Tundra 250 at Kansas Speedway on Saturday night. However, his fate changed when he and Ben Rhodes got together on the final lap.

The last-lap incident in Turn 3 relegated Sauter from a possible victory to a 16th-place finish. Sauter was leading the race, but Rhodes gained ground on the backstretch and had a run entering the corner. Sauter tried to defend the position and the two made contact, sending both cars into the wall and allowing William Byron to retake the lead and score the victory under caution.

After the race, Sauter was displeased with the 19-year-old Truck Series rookie.

“Just got ran over by a bozo, I guess,” Sauter said after the race in an interview with Fox Sports. “I don’t know if the kid is brain dead or he can’t see. Our truck was really good. We had to start at the back and made our way to the front. We had to come back from the back again just how the pit stops worked out. It was fun to drive, but it’s unfortunate that you can’t race like you want to.”

Sauter had to start at the rear due to an unapproved change on his truck and raced his way up through the field and into the top five. After a single truck spin set up an overtime finish, Byron didn’t get up to speed, so Sauter took over and led up until the last-lap entanglement.

The 16th-place finish is the third consecutive disappointing finish for Sauter. Since his victory at Daytona in February, the veteran driver has failed to finish inside the top 10 and has an average finish of 19.2 in 2016.

Rhodes, who was also displaced from a top-five finish, finished 18th. After starting the season with a seventh-place finish at Daytona and a sixth-place showing at Atlanta, he scored the pole at Martinsville in April, but ended up finishing 16th.

“From my perspective, Johnny (Sauter) came down the track to block me on the straightaway,” Rhodes said after the race. “So I was up high, and then he started coming back up, and left the bottom open, which the replay doesn’t do it justice from where I was sitting. He started coming back down, blocking again, and at that time I was wanting to check up, but I got on the brakes and it got a little loose on me, so I was just where I was at. I feel bad for Johnny as well.

“Rookie mistake on my part, I should have known he was going to come down and block me again. He was trying to block me on the high side, and came back down once I moved to the bottom, and I should have just stuck it on the top and run it wide open to see if I could have got a good finish. We really need the points right now. It’s just disappointing. We had a shot to win it, and I just wanted to take it because the chase format is so hard to get into, because the competition is so tough. I hate it for my guys though, I’m really disappointed with the finish.”

Both Sauter and Rhodes will return to action when the Camping World Truck Series races on Friday, May 13th at Dover International Speedway.

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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XFINITY

Rhodes: ‘Disappointed in Myself’ with Dover Mistakes

@BenRhodes rebounded from an early wreck in the Hisense 200 and appeared to be on his way to a top-10 finish before a mid-race speeding penalty derailed his day.

The 18-year-old from Louisville, Kentucky, who won last year’s NASCAR K&N Pro Series East championship, was running in the ninth position before hitting the inside frontstretch wall and bringing out the first caution Saturday afternoon at Dover International Speedway.

“I was really really loose to start the race and it was getting looser the entire race so I started getting loose coming to the exit and running it down the track trying to correct it,” Rhodes told POPULAR SPEED afterward. “You may not see it on the camera, may not look like anything but in the car it was a lot. I hit the apron and that’s when it really got out of hand.”

Following the incident, Rhodes raced his way back up inside the top-10 when the caution came out at Lap 113 for a two car incident involving Cale Conley and Stanton Barrett, which not only changed the complexion of the race, but also Rhodes’ finish. As the leaders came to pit road for their final stops – just before the race was halted for a brief rain shower – Rhodes was penalized for speeding on exit.

“That penalty surprised me,” Rhodes explained. “I thought I was in the good all the way down pit road. I was conservative getting in and I raced [Kyle] Larson off of pit road but I was still pretty conservative on my lights running two red. Usually three is the max you want to go.

“So that kind of surprised me. Maybe I shortcut the corner, maybe I was just running too fast but, all in all, I think if I took better care of our car once again, we would have had a decent finish.”

When the race resumed, Rhodes again raced back through the field and managed to climb to 13th at the checkered flag. It is his career-best Dover finish in any series.

“Obviously, our teammates were really fast. The track was changing a lot on us and later in the run I was going to stay ahead of the track. This is the first time in an XFINITY Series car here,” Rhodes said. “With no practice, it was difficult for me to say the least. I’m kind of disappointed in myself for the mistakes that I made.

“I know I can do a lot better. I know the team deserves a lot better for all the hard work they put into it. I was just trying so hard because I want to do good and last in this sport. There are a lot of people who come and go and I don’t want to be one of those.”

While Rhodes has not had success at Dover, concrete tracks have been good to him in the past. He has scored a top-10 finish at Bristol Motor Speedway in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, a top-five finish in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East at Bristol in 2014 and scored his first career Late Model Stock Car victory at the 3/8-mile concrete Kingsport Speedway bullring in 2013.

Prior to Saturday’s NASCAR XFINITY Series race, the JR Motorsports driver was unable to log any lap in his Alpha Energy Solutions Chevrolet as rain washed away practice and qualifying. Rhodes quickly discovered during the duration of the race that the XFINITY Series cars reacted much differently to the K&N Series cars at the 1.0-mile concrete surface.

“The K&N cars don’t do you any justice as far as the rubber build-up on the track goes, so that was a totally new experience for me on managing rubber build up on the track. Trying to find ways around it,” Rhodes commented. “Then, just the temperature dropping the way that it did changed the track a lot, making it looser. I just got to log that in my notes for next time and do a better job keeping care of the car.”

Rhodes has one more race with JR Motorsports this season, the season-finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 21.

POPULAR SPEED’s Kelly Crandall contributed to this report.

Categories
XFINITY

Rhodes Finishes Seventh in XFINITY Debut

Cap & gown or firesuit?

@benrhodes chose the latter to make his debut in Sunday’s NASCAR XFINITY Series 3M 250, capturing a seventh place finish when the checkered flag waved at Iowa Speedway.

Prior to strapping in his No. 88 Alpha Energy Solutions Chevrolet and rolling off the grid 14th, Rhodes received his high school diploma during driver introductions at the track. When the green flag dropped, it didn’t take too long for the young driver to crack the top-10.

On Lap 15, he was running in the ninth position; however, Rhodes would fall between the top-15 and top-20 for most of the event beginning at lap 30. He also had to overcome a speeding penalty, while exiting the pits, just 60 laps into competition. Prior to the final restart, the Louisville, Kentucky native took four tires enabling him to drive from 12th to seventh where he would finish the race.

How did the 18-year-old rookie rate his day?

“I think it was a good day overall. I was learning a lot early on and as the race went on, I was able to get a little more aggressive in the Alpha Energy Solutions Chevy – maybe a little too aggressive at times as I hit the wall a little bit. I was trying to find as much grip as I could, changing my lines and moving around. We had a pretty decent setup today,” Rhodes said.

He felt that his car worked better on longer runs and that’s how he was able to stay in contention to grab his great finish. Additionally, Rhodes was able to make up ground on his competitors because of great restarts throughout the day.

“Our car worked well on longer runs as other cars slowed down; I think we were able to stay with them then. On the restarts was where we made up all of our ground. I was praying for restarts – every time there was a restart and I could be on the high side, or even the low side on that last restart, it worked out really well for us and we were able to pick up some spots,” he said.

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