LOUISVILLE, KY – The first attempt at road course racing in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East for 17-year-old Louisville, Kentucky, native and NASCAR Next driver Ben Rhodes was an eventful one. The rookie of the year contender and current series points leader went for a spin early in the “Bully Hill 125” at Watkins Glen International (NY) on Friday, August 8th, spending the entire race on the 2.45-mile road course moving up from the back of the pack. At the checkered flag, he was able to work his No. 41 Alpha Energy Solutions Chevrolet with Turner Scott Motorsports to the third position for his first podium finish in his inaugural road course stock car start.
Rhodes started from the seventh position and was settling in for the 51-lap event when an early caution flew, setting up a lap seven restart. While braking going into turn one, contact from behind sent the No. 41 ride into the spin cycle. He was able to do a complete 360-degree spin and keep going, but he was at the back of the pack.
By the 10th lap, Rhodes was back up to the 17th spot, slowly passing one car at a time. On a lap 15 restart following a caution, he was 13th, and by lap 20 he was able to work his way to 10th. At the lap 27 halfway break, Rhodes was up to sixth.
Due to other competitors having left side tire issues, NASCAR allowed the teams to change the two left side tires during the halfway break for fuel. Once the halfway break was completed, under green, Rhodes worked his way to third at lap 33, but lost the position a few laps later to TSM teammate Scott Heckert. On a final restart during one attempt at a green-white-checker finish, Rhodes was able to avoid a spinning car on the final corner to pick up the third position.
Rhodes’ ninth top-three finish in 13 races to date in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East helped extend his championship points lead from 71 points to 75 with three races remaining in the 2014 season. He was also the highest-finishing rookie, helping him extend the points lead from 32 to 34 in the chase for the rookie of the year honors.
Ben Rhodes Quotes
What happened on the lap seven restart? “I lost a spot from where I started, so on the restart I was eighth and on the outside going into turn one. That is a dangerous position since it is easy for others to drive in too hard and knock you way wide in the right hand turn. I went into turn one and I think a few cars got together and I got hit. I went around in a circle, but I was able to just keep it going. I lost a lot of track position, but the car wasn’t hurt too much.”
Others had tire problems during the first half. Were you worried about your tires? “My team kept me aware of others having trouble with the left front tire, so I made sure not to abuse it. To be honest I was disappointed when they allowed everyone to change left side tires during the halfway break. It was going to be a survival race and I think we were in really good shape, but it was the right decision for safety by NASCAR.”
Do you think you could have made a move on the final restart to get the win? “On the last restart I was fourth and saw my teammate Scott Heckert going for it on the inside going into turn one. I really thought about diving it in there right behind him to try and follow him through, but it was going to be a risky move. If it would have worked I might have been able to be second behind Scott and let us battle it out for the win, but it could have gone bad too and I could have lost 15 spots. I was able to get by Cole (Custer) when he spun off the last corner to get third, so it worked out.”
Evaluate your first-career road course race in a big car. “I had a great time racing here at Watkins Glen. We had some bad luck right away, but to be honest it was fun driving back up through the field and making passes. Congratulations to Scott on winning the race. Since I couldn’t get the win, I am glad he did since he is a teammate and it is his first series win. It was also a good points day for us. We will move on to VIR and see what we can do there.”
-Ben Rhodes PR. Photo Credit: Kirby Gordan/Sunoco Racing