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NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series

Ben Rhodes’ Repeat Championship Hopes Crushed with Overtime Ending

(Photo: Luis Torres | The Podium Finish)

AVONDALE, Ariz. — During a pre-race interview, Ben Rhodes expressed how happy he was to be in contention for the championship again this year. Playing a cool hand, he went as far as to say whatever happens happens.

The laid-back attitude that Rhodes tried to display did not disguise the need and want for the nearly impossible to obtain a repeat championship. A repeat is tough to accomplish in the Truck Series and has only been done once prior by Matt Crafton.

The race went as expected, with the top four contenders for the Championship, Ben Rhodes, Zane Smith, Chandler Smith and Ty Majeski, in the top 10 for much of the race.

However, Rhodes’s chance for a repeat performance seemed to be slipping away as he was over six seconds behind leader Zane Smith with 20 to go.

The tide seemed to change in Rhodes’s favor with 16 laps remaining as Hailie Deegan crashed and brought out a caution.

This caution was exactly what Rhodes and his crew chief Rich Lushes were hoping for. Lushes made the bold decision to only take two tires whereas the remaining three in the championship took four. This was seemingly the only choice they could make as they did not have the speed the other three championship-contending trucks had.

By way of this decision, Rhodes took the green in the 3rd position with 10 to go, starting behind Stewart Friesen and Carson Hocevar, who had elected to not make a pit stop. With six laps to go, all four championship contenders had cracked the top five. 

Moving on to five to go, Rhodes still had the lead with Friesen falling out of the top 4 allowing the championship contenders to battle amongst themselves.

(Photo: Christopher Vargas | The Podium Finish)

Rhodes fought off pesky Chandler Smith, but with four laps to go, Majeski pushed too hard, bumping Zane Smith and turning himself around, setting the field up for an overtime restart.

The caution was not what Rhodes wanted to see, having only taken the two tires on the last stop.

As the field was re-racked for what would be the final restart of the race, Rhodes was certain he wouldn’t be able to hold off Chandler Smith and Zane Smith. Over the radio, he was given words of encouragement, telling him that he had previously held them off and he could do it again

The green-white-checkered finish was a true battle to the end with the championship contenders leading the field in the first, second and third positions.

Rhodes took the inside lane with Zane Smith following, which allowed Chandler Smith to quickly take the outside pole position on the restart. Rhodes was squeezed out to the third position and it looked like the championship was going to be decided between the 18 and 38. He reached the bumper of Zane Smith as Chandler Smith fell back, but he could not quite gain enough speed to pass Zane.

Ben Rhodes ended the night by crossing the finish line in the second.

“I liked the fact that my crew chief, Rich Lushes, gives me those opportunities,” Rhodes said. “He’s bold. He makes a lot of crazy pit calls like that, and sometimes they work. We were just on the cusp of making it work. I think if that last restart had come out, we could have held them off and be really happy right now.

“If I could do it over again, I would’ve changed up my restart a little bit. I went with what I thought would have been best for me.

“But again, not having the same level of grip that those guys had, I didn’t expect them to get as big of a jump as they got. I expected them to be with me a little bit but not pretty much in front of me by Turn 1. That was a little unexpected. If I could go back, I would change that for sure.”

Rhodes’ pursuit for a second championship will have to wait until next season. He already has his sights set on a strong 2023 campaign. 

“We just fight, fight, fight no matter what and I’ve got that down,” Rhodes said. “We just have to find some more speed and get the consistency when it matters throughout the regular season. That will help make our Playoffs a little bit easier and maybe spend more time focusing on some more R&D or sim stuff.

“I’m proud of the fight that we had, the tenacity, the grit to be able to come in clutch when we need to. But I’d like to not have to come in clutch all the time.”

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