LOUISVILLE, KY – The “Granite State 100” at New Hampshire Motor Speedway (NH) on Friday, July 11th, marked the 10th race in the 16-race NASCAR K&N Pro Series East season. 17-year-old Louisville, Kentucky, native and championship points leader Ben Rhodes headed into the event looking to add a sixth victory to his season as well as his fifth win in a row to tie Ricky Craven’s 23-year-old record of consecutive wins in the series. However, after starting on the pole with a new track record, contact from another competitor as well as a power problem and a late-race restart penalty took the No. 41 Alpha Energy Solutions Chevrolet with Turner Scott Motorsports out of contention, finishing 22nd.
On Thursday, Rhodes, a member of the NASCAR Next program, was fast in the first-two practice sessions, timing in second and first respectively. That translated over to qualifying where he turned a lap of 29.622 seconds, beating the old track record of 29.648 set in 2012 by Brett Moffitt. The pole was his fifth of the season as well as his ninth front-row starting position in the first 10 races of 2014.
At the start of the race Friday evening, Rhodes led 18 of the first 25 laps before settling in second. However, when coming to take the green flag for a restart at lap 24, contact by a competitor caused significant left front fender damage and a tire rub. Rhodes made it to the halfway break in the third position where his TSM crew tended to the damage.
During the second half of the race, Rhodes experienced power issues on restarts, which put him back in three and four-wide battles for positions. On a restart with five laps to go, Rhodes was running in the ninth position, but when a car in front of him didn’t go, he swerved to the left. NASCAR penalized him for passing to the left before the start/finish line, forcing him to pit road for a pass-through penalty. He was able to stay on the lead lap, finishing 22nd.
Despite his worst finishing position of the season, Rhodes maintains the championship point standings lead by 62 points. He also leads the rookie of the year standings.
Ben Rhodes Quotes
Talk about your fifth pole and NHMS track record in qualifying. “Last year I put a lot of pressure on myself during qualifying and it ended up hurting me. This year I am driving the car the way it wants and it has paid off in qualifying. I was a little disappointed with the time because we were faster in the final practice, but it is cool to have the track record and get our fifth pole of 2014.”
Explain the final restart and the penalty by NASCAR. “Early in the race I noticed the car didn’t have the power it should. It showed up a lot on the first few laps after a restart, which got me back in the pack a bit behind slower cars driving three and four wide. Even though the left front fender damage hurt my car, I was still faster than the drivers ahead of me.
“On the final restart when everyone went the No. 22 (Austin Hill) didn’t go in front of me. I had three options – run into the back of him and wreck him, hit my brakes and get run into and wreck, or swerve to the left and go. I thought the third option was the best so I went. The rule by NASCAR is a judgment call based on circumstances and I guess they decided I made the wrong decision. I do not agree with the penalty, but it is their decision to make.”
Are you disappointed you didn’t tie Ricky Craven’s five wins in a row record? “I am disappointed I didn’t win the race. I think we had a great shot at winning, but the damage to my car, the power problem, and the penalty took away the option to tie Ricky’s record.
“I was able to finally meet Ricky right before the race and we talked for a little bit. He gave me some valuable advice about racing there. He gets to keep that record for a little while longer, but he shouldn’t get too comfortable with it. We have six races left this year, so even though it is reset back to zero, I am going to try and win the rest of the races this year and beat it!”