CONCORD, N.C. — Ben Rhodes passed Carson Hocevar on a restart with 25 laps to go and pulled away to win the North Carolina Education Lottery 200 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Rhodes scored his first victory of the 2023 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series campaign and Ford’s first in the series at the track. ThorSport Racing is located in Ohio, so Rhodes said it meant more taking a win from teams located just miles from the track.
“We enjoy racing here and performing good for that simple reason. It’s kind of like a pride thing,” Rhodes said after the race. “We want to come here into their backyard knowing that we travel and work so much harder because we have to go out and get our resources.”
Rhodes qualified for Friday’s race in 19th and admitted that he didn’t have the best truck in the afternoon. But as soon as the sun set and the lights turned on, his No. 99 machine came to life.
Rhodes crawled up to seventh at the end of Stage 2 and took his first lead of the night on Lap 89. Shortly after a restart 12 laps later, Carson Hocevar, who led a total of 43 laps, took the lead back before a crash on the backstretch involving Kris Wright and Tyler Ankrum.
The next restart, however, was all Rhodes. He snagged the lead on Lap 110 and drove away, eyeing the finish and hoping the race would stay green.
“On that many laps until the end you start getting a little nervous,” Rhodes said. “I just knew that if a caution came out we’d be in trouble just because the Truck Series is savage restarts. Everybody just goes so crazy. They don’t care about finishing the race. They just care about winning the race, so I was really worried about a restart, but, thankfully for us, we had really good long-run speed built into the truck.
“We were hoping for a really long green flag run and luckily we got that. The track came to us and we were able to pull away to a big lead. That made me feel better. I really only felt better once I got the white flag.”
Corey Heim, who led the most laps at 49, finished in second after winning the opening stage. He snagged his fourth top five and ninth top 10 in 11 races to maintain his driver’s points lead over Ty Majeski.
Heim said that he just lost clean air on the restart when Rhodes took the lead, resulting in a runner-up instead of a win.
“[Rhodes] just came on really strong,” Heim said. “Once we got to second on that restart when the 42 got put in the middle there, I really thought we had a shot at it. It just proves that clean air is king here. I feel like if I had done a better job of getting past him as soon as possible than waiting on a run, I might have had a better opportunity.”
Heim’s TRICON Garage teammate Dean Thompson finished third, recording his best-career Truck Series result. After finishing second in the ARCA Menards Series race just hours earlier, Thompson stayed in the hunt all evening and found himself in contention.
“TRICON put together a rocket ship – no one else could run up [in the top groove],” Thompson said. “This season so far has been so up and down. We’ve had good runs – in Texas and Kansas, and just end up wrecking. To have this turnaround like this is massive. Not just for me, but for my team too. This plays a lot into my confidence, so we can take it to Gateway.”
STAGE 1: Corey Heim, Carson Hocevar, Dean Thompson, Rajah Caruth, Zane Smith, Ty Majeski, Tanner Gray, Stewart Friesen, David Gilliland, Taylor Gray
STAGE 2: Carson Hocevar, Corey Heim, Dean Thompson, Zane Smith, Stewart Friesen, Taylor Gray, Ben Rhodes, David Gilliland, Nick Sanchez, Christian Eckes
FINAL: Ben Rhodes, Corey Heim, Dean Thompson, Carson Hocevar, Grant Enfinger, Christian Eckes, Ty Majeski, Matt DiBenedetto, Nick Sanchez, Taylor Gray