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Trucks

ThorSport Racing Partners with Ford Performance

Entering their 23rd season of NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, ThorSport Racing’s trucks will carry the blue oval as they have partnered for Ford Performance for the upcoming year and beyond.

“With 23 years in the NCWTS, we look forward to our new partnership with Ford Performance in NASCAR,” said team owner Duke Thorson. “Our pursuit of wins and championships remains at the forefront of our objectives.”

Over the past 22 years, Duke Thorson has won 16 events and scored 300 top-10’s in series competition. The team won their first championship in 2013 with Matt Crafton, and followed it up with another year later. Crafton will return for a 14th season, with continued sponsorship from Menards.

“We’re excited that ThorSport Racing has decided to switch to a F-Series truck for the 2018 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series,” said Mark Rushbrook, global director, Ford Performance Motorsports. “ThorSport is a proven championship-level team in the series, and we look forward to providing them the aero and simulation technical support that will ensure they remain at the top level of the Truck Series.”

ThorSport Racing stated that the rest of their driver and sponsor lineup will be “released in the near future.”

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Trucks

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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Trucks

Sauter, Crafton Come Away Disappointed With Last-Lap Wreck

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — NASCAR veterans Johnny Sauter and Matt Crafton are both championship drivers in the Camping World Truck Series, but their performances didn’t live up to the results they had aimed for in the season opener at Daytona International Speedway.

Sauter, the 2016 champion, won the first two stages of Friday night’s race, and Crafton’s truck came to life near the end when he led the field with the white flag waving, but it ended with him flipping his truck over and Sauter wrecking on the backstretch.

Crafton finished 14th and Sauter finished 15th.

“The first segment was pretty eventful, and the second segment was very uneventful, and the last stage was going to be uneventful until they spun and brought out the caution,” Sauter said to a small group of reporters. “Typical racing at Daytona — everyone is aggressive, and everyone wants to win, so they’re going to push and bump.”

Crafton’s opinion of the race hardly differed from his former ThorSport Racing teammate.

“The race was just crazy — just chaos all night, and there was stupidity all night,” he said. “They beat the bumpers off these trucks; I don’t know how they didn’t wreck more.”

Having won the first two stages, Sauter gained two playoff points for each stage victory. He also earned 10 regular season points for each stage win and scored a total of 42 points on the night to put him second in the drivers’ standings behind race winner and GMS Racing teammate, Kaz Grala.

Crafton, the two-time champion, had a rather quiet race. He failed to finish in the top 10 in any of the three stages and led only one lap. But it looked like he could steal the victory up until the race-ending accidents that ensued on the final lap.

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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.

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Trucks

Rhodes, Enfinger Round Out ThorSport Lineup in 2017

ThorSport Racing finalized their driver lineup on Tuesday for the 2017 Camping World Truck Series season.

Ben Rhodes and Grant Enfinger will round out ThorSport’s four truck lineup for this season, joining two-time Truck Series champion Matt Crafton and Cody Coughlin.

Returning to ThorSport for his second season in the NCWTS, Rhodes will drive the No. 27 Alpha Energy Solutions Toyota Tundra. In his first full season in the Truck Series, the Kentucky native scored two top-five finishes to go with five top-10 finishes and one pole which he won at Martinsville in April.

Eddie Troconis will serve as Rhodes’ crew chief this season. Troconis was the crew chief for Cameron Hayley last season at ThorSport.

“This is an amazing opportunity to be partnered with Toyota and ThorSport Racing again for the 2017 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series season,” said Rhodes. “The 2016 season had a lot of ups and downs, but we have put all that in the rearview mirror, and we’re focused on the year ahead. We have a new team, a new number, and great support from Toyota. With the NASCAR changes to the race and point structure, the No. 27 team will be up front contending for segment wins and race victories to get us into the playoffs and contend for the championship.”

Enfinger will pilot the No. 98 Toyota Tundra while competing for Rookie of the Year honors and the series championship.

He ran a partial schedule last season for GMS Racing in which he scored one win at Talladega in October. Enfinger also had two top-fives, and five top-10’s in just 14 starts. He will have 13-time NCWTS crew chief Jeff Hensley on top of the pit box.

Hensley returns to ThorSport Racing after crew chiefing for Spencer Gallagher last year at GMS Racing. He was atop the pit box previously at ThorSport for Johnny Sauter in 2014 and Haley in 2015.

“I’m extremely grateful to ThorSport Racing and Toyota for the opportunity to drive full time in the NASCAR Camping World truck series,” said Enfinger. “This is a dream come true, and I’m blessed to be able to share this season with some great people. I’m proud to be continuing the partnership with Champion Power Equipment, along with starting new ones with Jive Communications, RIDE TV, and Curb Records. I’m very impressed with the people, equipment, and facility that Duke and Rhonda Thorson have assembled, and I can’t wait to get to Daytona in a few weeks.”

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Coughlin to Join ThorSport Racing for 2017

ThorSport Racing added to their driver lineup for the 2017 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series season on Monday, as they announced that Cody Coughlin would drive their No. 13 Toyota Tundra full-time this season.

Coughlin will compete for Rookie of the Year honors as well as the series championship with JEGS and RIDE TV serving as primary sponsors.

Michael Shelton will serve as crew chief for Coughlin this season. Shelton, who has been a crew chief in the Truck Series since 2009, is no stranger to success as he guided James Buescher to the 2012 series championship.

“ThorSport Racing is a great team, one I’ve always admired at the race track,” said Coughlin. “Their professionalism, the speed they display, and their record, speaks for itself. Considering the team and I are both based in Ohio, it makes for a great fit, and I’m proud to be part of this championship-caliber organization.
 
“Matt Crafton and I became good friends last year,” Coughlin continued. “His insight and help with driving these Toyota Tundra’s at all of the different tracks has been a valuable asset, and to be his teammate this year, takes it to the next level.”
Coughlin has made 12 career starts in the NCWTS with a best finish of 12th coming at Texas Motor Speedway in June 2016. He also made history last season as he became the first driver to win both the ACRA/CRA Super Series and JEGS/CRA All-Stars Tour Championship in the same season.

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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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Trucks

Abreu Will Not Return to NASCAR Competition in 2017

NASCAR’s silly season continued on Wednesday as it was announced Rico Abreu would not return to competition in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series this season.

According to a report from motorsport.com, the 25-year-old Helena, CA native had been working with ThorSport Racing to get a deal done for this season; however, sponsorship couldn’t be found.

“I wish things could have worked out,” Abreu told motorsport.com on Wednesday at the Chili Bowl in Tulsa. “The way sponsorship goes, sometimes things change. That’s just the way things go. 

“I’m not going to give up on it. I’m just going to take a step back.” 

 Abreu competed as a rookie last year in the Camping World Truck Series for ThorSport, earning two top-five finishes (Eldora and Talladega), to go with five top-10 finishes to finish 13th in points.

It’s worth noting Abreu’s season was rocky at times, including a string of back-to-back wrecks in the middle of the season. Many people will also remember the contact he made with ThorSport teammate Cameron Hayley at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park, resulting in heavy damage to both trucks.

Abreu may not to be sole to blame for his struggles, though, as the team suffered through a shop fire mid-season.

Without a full-time effort in the Truck Series to focus on this season, Abreu will turn his attention back to dirt, where he excels as one of the best sprint car racers in the world. Abreu is back in Tulsa, OK this weekend looking for his third consecutive victory in the Chili Bowl Nationals.

Although his presence may not felt at the race track this season, don’t look for Abreu to stay gone very long as he has proven he can win in NASCAR as he won at Columbus Speedway in the K&N Pro Series East in 2015. As one of the most talented drivers in motorsports, it will be no surprise to see Abreu back in one of NASCAR’s top series before long.

As for ThorSport Racing, the organization has only confirmed that Matt Crafton will be back for the 2017 season, having yet to update the status surrounding Hayley or Ben Rhodes. Hayley has remained quiet through the off-season, while Rhodes has been entertaining the idea of moving up to the XFINITY Series.

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Triangle Somewhat Tricky for Abreu

LONG POND, Pa. — ThorSport Racing driver Rico Abreu faced a new challenge in his rookie season in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series on Saturday — a 60-lap dash at the unique, high-speed Pocono Raceway.

Abreu, a two-time Chili Bowl Nationals winner, made a name for himself as a successful USAC Midget Car racer. He grew up racing on oval tracks shorter than a half-mile but proved he can be fast on one of NASCAR’s largest and toughest tracks.

The two-and-a-half-mile circuit — often difficult even for Sprint Cup Series veterans — was feasible for Abreu in the Pocono Mountains 150. The accomplished open-wheel dirt racer, running his first full season in one of NASCAR’s national series, finished sixth at the Tricky Triangle and scored his second consecutive top 10.

Abreu started the race 17th and had it not been for two late-race cautions, the ThorSport driver likely would have finished in the top five. He was running third with less than 20 laps remaining but got shuffled back on the ensuing restarts.

“[Our race] was really good, we only had one pit stop, and I told the guys to leave it alone because it felt good but we got tight at the end of the race,” Abreu told POPULAR SPEED. “We had speed — I just needed some of the restarts to go my way. I wish I could have been in the outside lane on that final restart.”

Abreu has adjusted well to racing on paved tracks as the season reaches the halfway mark. Last month at Texas Motor Speedway, he had a late-race battle with Kyle Busch Motorsports rookie William Byron, but contact with the outside wall dropped him to a ninth-place result.

At Eldora, he rallied for a third-place finish after early struggles, a career best for the 24-year-old. But entering Pocono, he knew that the three distinct turns would be a challenge as corner entries at the track are different than what he is accustomed to on dirt.

“You have to back your corners up a lot here,” Abreu said. “You can’t overcharge the corners, which I tended to do.”

Abreu is 13th in the standings behind ThorSport teammate Ben Rhodes and 33 points outside the eighth-place Chase cutoff, currently occupied in a tie between GMS Racing’s Ben Kennedy and ThorSport’s Cameron Hayley, with four races left until the playoffs begin. He feels confident going into the next few races and has shown improvement on the paved surfaces by not driving as hard into the turns as he did earlier in the season.

“We’re just working together as a team,” Abreu said. “We’ve been building some fast trucks and we have some new trucks for the upcoming races before the Chase.”

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Rhodes Salvages 11th at Pocono After Wreck

LONG POND, Pa. — The No. 41 Toyota of Ben Rhodes looked like the fastest ThorSport Racing truck at the start of Saturday’s Pocono Mountains 150 but had to settle for an 11th-place finish after an on-track incident with Jordan Anderson.

Anderson, in the No. 66 Chevrolet and Rhodes got tangled up on Lap 39 in the middle of Turn 1. Rhodes had the bottom line, and Anderson was trying to close the gap on him. The two spun, bringing out the seventh caution of the race. Both drivers were flirting with the top 10 before the wreck, with Rhodes running as high as second on the day.

“We had really good speed in the truck, and I think we had something to contend for the win today,” Rhodes told POPULAR SPEED. “We ran second behind William [Byron] in the beginning for a good part of the race, and we were gapping the guys behind us.”

During the fourth caution, Rhodes was penalized on pit road for too many men over the wall. He restarted from the tail of the field and wasn’t able to climb into the top five after. While racing mid-pack, he and Anderson got too close, and neither could save their trucks from getting sideways.

“We came down pit road and had a penalty,” Rhodes said. “Then when we got back out, we got collected with the 66 — he pinched us down too much, and he took the air away. We still salvaged the day with an 11th-place finish, but we’re not points racing — we’re trying to get wins.”

While Rhodes wasn’t happy with the outcome of the race, he knew the skirmish with Anderson wasn’t intentional. But he made a point of what knowledge a driver can learn from running around fellow competitors throughout the season

“I know it was a racing deal, and he didn’t mean to do it, but I’m still really disappointed with the situation,” Rhodes said. “We had a second-place truck, and he knew we had a really good truck, and he chopped us down to the bottom. We definitely had the spot, and he just held me too close to my right side. You don’t have to touch people at such fast tracks to wreck him, just get near him.

“You have to know who you can race around in this series. People have opinions of me, and I have opinions of other people. You just collect facts and take notes and learn who you can race around and what their driving styles are.”

Rhodes sits 12 in the standings, 18 points behind the eighth-place Chase cutoff — currently tied between Cameron Hayley and Ben Kennedy. Anderson, who ran as high as eighth at the Tricky Triangle, finished 14th and is 22nd in points.

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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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ThorSport GM Thankful, Making Plans to Move Forward

Even with a fire burning down 40% of their shop this week, ThorSport Racing was near the top of the speed charts on Friday at Iowa Speedway.

Over Sunday night, a fire broke out in the basement of their 100,000-square foot shop located in Sandusky, Ohio. Firefighters responded immediately on the scene, getting the fire under control by noon Monday afternoon. Officials were finally able to extinguish the fire completely by 4:45m EST with the help of 19 fire units from four communities.

After checking out the damage, the organization believes they’ve completely lost or severely damaged their fabrication department, suspension department, and the paint and body department, while the rest of the shop suffered lots of water and smoke damage.

General Manager David Pepper was very thankful the firefighters’ service in not only helping to put out the fire but salvaging trucks.

“They were literally pushing race trucks out,” he said. “They’re big race fans. They know us. They’re putting a fire out, and they’re in full fire gear asking us what trucks do they need to push out to us so we can be here at Iowa this week. They were in there pushing them to the door and then we’d take them the rest of the way. We would not be here racing without those guys.”

Just 72 hours since checking out the damage, Pepper said the team has a plan and has already begun moving forward. They cannot use their shop right now, but currently are using 40 percent of the Pegasus Race Trailers’ building, as well as a race shop across the street.

In attempting to move forward, Pepper was thankful of the over 400 text messages he got within the first 24 hours after the fire with various Camping World Truck Series and Sprint Cup Series teams offering their help.

Eventually in time, the organization plans to return to their home building, possibly in six to 10 weeks. The process has already begun as Pepper says they’ve flushed the water out, put in temporarily lighting and have already started rebuilding and renovating.

Even though they’re out of their home, the team has maintained their approach all week they will run the full Camping World Truck Series schedule with each of their four trucks as originally planned. While each of the four teams’ trucks suffered smoke or water damage, the organization plans to share vehicles amongst the drivers to keep moving forward. Pepper notes it’ll just take hard work and going back old school in working on trucks in the parking lot.

“Some of the young guys were pretty amazed that we used to build these things out in parking lots in between races out on the West Coast,” Pepper said.

Through everything, he’s most proud of how the team came together over the past week.

“It just makes me proud of them – proud of the organization we have — the crew chiefs, the car chiefs, the leadership we have,” he said. “Duke and Rhonda (Thorson, team owners) have allowed us to put together and given us everything we need to build a great race team and it really shined through that afternoon on Monday when you saw everybody getting the equipment out. Obviously, we’re behind the eight-ball a little bit. We need to come here and have a good, solid performance. That will help keep the moral 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 other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.