For 22 years, former NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Ricky Craven’s record of five consecutive NASCAR K&N Pro Series East victories has remained unchallenged. On Friday afternoon at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, the current ESPN NASCAR analyst will be watching on enthusiastically during the Granite State 100 as 17-year-old Ben Rhodes attempts to be the first driver to tie his long-standing record.
On Wednesday afternoon the two drivers got together on the phone to discuss Rhodes’ attempt at breaking Craven’s record. The 1991 NASCAR K&N Pro Series East champion told Rhodes that he is looking forward to watching him attempt to tie the record, ironically, at Craven’s home track for the big leagues of NASCAR, NHMS.
“I’m very enthusiastic,” said Craven on Rhodes attempt at breaking the record. “I haven’t met Ben, but I will. I’ll go out of my way to find him this weekend and shake hands and wish him luck. I’m really pulling for him to not only tie the record, but exceed it. 22 years is a long time.”
“That means a lot coming from such a legend of the sport,” said Rhodes. “I’ll have to see you there in New Hampshire as well. You’re not going to be crossing your fingers behind your back, are you?”
Craven, of course, assured Rhodes that he would be pulling for him as he watched the race live from Loudon, New Hampshire on Friday afternoon.
Although the pair will not meet in person until this weekend, Craven has spent some time trying to better know Rhodes as a race car driver. So far he is very impressed with the teenager’s resume and believes the future is bright for the young NASCAR Next driver.
“He has all the tools and ingredients,” said Craven. “He has a lot of enthusiasm and obviously a lot of talent. The people that I’ve asked say that he races like a 17-year-old, but that he has the sense of a 37-year-old. I think that’s a magical combination.”
After talking with Craven on Wednesday, Rhodes - who is coming off of consecutive wins at Iowa Speedway, Bowman Gray Stadium (NC), Five Flags Speedway (FL), and Langley Speedway (VA) – sees a number of similarities between himself and Craven at this stage of his career. Rhodes looks at the number of similarities and the fact that he is in the same conversation as Craven as a huge confidence booster as he attempts to make his way up the NASCAR ladder.
“I’m hearing what (Ricky) says and it gives me a huge boost of confidence,” Rhodes told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “He’s talking about not slowing down and focusing on the championship and that is exactly what I’m doing. Winning each race is great, but my focus is always on the next one. I don’t’ even look back. I’m seeing a lot of similarities between us. It’s cool to see that and it definitely gives me a boost of confidence to be in the same conversation.”
With drivers like Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott, and Ty Dillon coming thru the K&N East Series ranks, it comes as a shock to Craven that it has taken 22 years for one of NASCAR’s future stars to challenge his record.
Following in the footsteps of NASCAR K&N Pro Series East drivers such as Larson, Elliott and Joey Logano, Craven believes that Rhodes fits right into that mold of driver’s who will soon be taking their talents to a higher level.
“First off, what Ben’s accomplished already at such an early age does not happen by mistake. He has talent and it speaks to his focus. When you look at the young drivers in the series that have climbed the ladder very quickly, Joey Logano and Kyle Larson, I think that Ben fits into that mold. I have not watched him race, but numbers don’t lie. They’re very impressive.”
In just two season’s competing on the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East circuit, Rhodes has five wins, 10 top-five, and 13 top-10 finishes on his resume. The 17-year-old hopes that similar to the way the series opened up future doors for Craven, his success in the series will lead to more opportunities in the near future.
“The success has been great,” said Rhodes. “We’ve already been focusing on plans for next year and trying to get stuff together. As everybody knows in racing, it’s a difficult sport. A lot of the stuff can be done at the last minute, so we’re still figuring out our plans. It’s definitely been helping. It’s definitely going to open up some doors and bring some attention to us. I feel like we’ve had this in us all the time, but now it’s finally coming together.”
Looking back on his success in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East, Craven remembers the series being the prefect venue to display his abilities at that time in his career. Whether he ends up holding onto the record or not, the Maine native is very proud to be a part of the history of the series.
“It was the perfect venue at the perfect time,” Craven told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “You can have all the tools and enthusiasm, but there is a percentage of this that is timing. I think it’s a great series and I’m very glad to be part of the heritage and the history of the series.”
Rhodes will look to etch his name into the record books next to Craven on Friday afternoon when the Granite State 100 gets the green flag at 6pm ET at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
By Brandon Paul @Brandon_Paul51 - Northeast Editor for Speed51.com