AVONDALE, AZ – Despite a damaged truck late in the race, the 2021 Truck Series champion Ben Rhodes was able to hold off a hard-charging Championship 4 contender Grant Enfinger and finished one spot ahead of him to become a two-time series champion following four overtime restarts.
“Oh, just as good,” Rhodes said while celebrating a second Truck Series championship. “Look, the first one wasn’t relief because I was down and out, and we somehow made it back on a green flag run. Now I was just stressing for 25 laps in overtime, messed up the hood, transmission not shifting properly, wheels knocked out of whack, and here comes Grant on new tires.
“Thanks to him for racing me clean. I think we all raced each other very well tonight. I just love it. This is great. Thank you to Duke and Rhonda Thorson, ThorSport Racing. This is a fantastic organization. We’ve got Kubota; we’ve got Campers Inn RV, Farm Paint. We’ve got so many great partners on this team. Not to mention Ford Performance, not to forget them. They’re awesome.
“We’ve built a heck of a program, or Duke and Rhonda have over the years, I guess. It’s been around longer than I’ve been around, so I’m just proud to be a part of it.”
The race wasn’t as easy for Rhodes as one might’ve seen on television. Despite qualifying sixth and being the second-best of the Championship 4 contenders, the Kentucky native was able to move up to third early on. The truck was strong as he was able to keep up with the other championship contender Corey Heim who led the majority of the first stage. Rhodes maintained a top-five running truck and managed to finish fourth at the end of Stage 1.
During the stage break, he radioed into the team they needed to take “the right-rear rubber out and make an air pressure adjustment to help the conditions of his truck while being neutral on entry into the turns.” Meanwhile, Rhodes was told he was just a tenth off of Heim during the first run. Unfortunately, during the first stop, he was checked up coming out of his box, which forced him to lose valuable track position. He would restart the second stage in the 10th spot.
The second stage was almost a flip-flop for the now two-time champion. The ThorSport racing driver fell to 13th on the restart and was having trouble in dirty air to make up ground. A caution on Lap 76 allowed a little strategy to come into play as other drivers pitted, Rhodes stayed out and ultimately finished the stage in the sixth position. Once the stage concluded, he reported: “he was a sitting duck in dirty air and needed another air pressure adjustment.”
For the final stage, he would restart in the 19th position and knew it was go time. Rhodes made up some ground thanks to a few cautions, especially a significant one with 30 laps to go when Championship 4 contenders, Carson Hocevar and Corey Heim got into each other. On this caution, he came down pit road for adjustments and restarted ninth for the next restart.
Eventually, with 15 laps to go, Rhodes found himself in a great position behind race leaders Zane Smith and Christian Eckes. At the time, he was the highest running championship contender. While things were looking good in his favor, Rhodes was passed by Enfinger and was not making any ground up, as he ran fourth and Enfinger ran third. Thankfully, a late race caution came with three laps to go which forced the race to go into an overtime restart and give him another chance.
Going into the first overtime, Rhodes restarted in the fourth position, but another crash set the race into the second overtime. The second overtime restart was a pivotal one for the eventual champion, as he received right front damage after race leader Smith missed the shift and Rhodes plowed into the back of him. Worried about the damage and the potential for a tire rub, spotter Frank Deiny reminded him of the bigger picture and attempted to calm Rhodes down.
After two more restarts and an additional 30 laps into overtime, Rhodes placed fifth in the final running order, which was good enough to collect his second Truck Series championship of his career.
Thanks to an early season win at Charlotte Motor Speedway back in May, Rhodes locked himself into the playoffs for another year. He opened up the playoffs with a couple of bad finishes of 16th twice at Indianapolis Raceway Park and Milwaukee. Kansas wasn’t good to him either as he finished 25th. However, thanks to a strong run of seventh at Bristol and some strategy play to finish second in Homestead, the finishes propelled him to another appearance in Championship 4 and the ultimate championship.
By winning another championship, Rhodes is now tied with Todd Bodine who also has two series championships. Additionally, ThorSport Racing now has five championships with those being Matt Crafton in 2013, 2015, and 2019, and Ben Rhodes in 2021 and 2023.
“I ain’t got that far yet,” Rhodes said when asked about his legacy. “I’m just trying to go and win races. I don’t know. I was going to say call on the audience. They can speak more eloquently than me, but I don’t have a good answer for that yet. I’m just excited to be racing in the Truck Series. I love the Truck Series. It’s fast, it’s crazy, the races are short. We’ve got young guys that are full of exuberance and they do crazy things, and then you’ve got guys like — well, I guess me, Grant Enfinger and Matt Crafton, and Johnny is not here but I feel like Johnny Sauter is here in spirit.”