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Happy Rhodes Ends Skid

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, September 8 2020

Ben Rhodes took the checkers at Darlington over the weekend.

DARLINGTON, S.C. – Sheldon Creed and Brett Moffitt led all but seven laps in Sunday’s South Carolina Education Lottery 200 at Darlington Raceway, but it was Ben Rhodes who stole the victory from them in the final laps of the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series race.

“I haven’t been this happy in a long time,” an exuberant Rhodes said. “I feel like I can breathe now. I feel like a big burden is off my shoulders.”   

 With Rhodes’ victory, the 23-year-old Kentucky native snapped a two-year winless streak and provided his ThorSport team with a stress-free trip to Richmond to end the Truck Series regular season. The 10-driver field kicks off that series playoffs at Bristol. 

“We need to start doing some R&D now that we’re in the playoffs,” Rhodes said. “As soon as we get past Richmond and go into Bristol, we’re going to have to reset back to what we’ve been doing and that’s worrying about big picture, racing for points and making sure we don’t do anything wrong and letting everyone else wreck themselves out of the playoffs. 

“At Richmond, we’re going to do something different with our setup that we’ve been working towards that we think has speed, but we don’t know until we try it. We’re going to go to Richmond with something that could be fast, could be mediocre, or could be slow. It sounds like it doesn’t make a difference, but it really does. That’s going to give us an idea as to what to do in the playoffs. It’s going to give us something to go into Bristol with as well. Hopefully, it goes good because it could bode well for the early stages of the playoffs for us. We just have got to worry about being consistent.”     

  In Sunday’s race, Rhodes was fourth with two laps to go when a three-truck accident on the backstretch brought out the seventh and final caution flag. At the time, Creed possessed more than a second lead over point leader Austin Hill. Moffitt sat third. Immediately, the question became whether to pit for fresh rubber since tire wear is always critical on the rough 1.366-mile track. 

“We figured if the 2 (Creed) and the 23 (Moffitt) pitted with us that it would bring some other guys down pit road,” Hill said. “We kinda figured the guys that are on the bubble for the playoffs would probably stay out or guys that need a win would definitely stay out, but we were kinda surprised at 10 or 11 of them stayed out. It’s one of those things, damn if you do, damn if you don’t type deals.”  

When the first three drivers dove onto pit road, Rhodes’ gut told him to remain on the track. He was glad crew chief Matt Noyce agreed. The decision left Rhodes in the lead with Christian Eckes second and Derek Kraus third. Upon their return to the track, Hill found himself in 12th, Moffitt was in 13th and Creed was in 20th.

For the overtime restart, Rhodes and Eckes elected the outside lane while Kraus took the inside. Rhodes possessed a plan, but had to quickly change it when Kraus’ Toyota nearly spun in turn two.

“I was actually setting up to pass him on the bottom,” Rhodes revealed. “I had a huge, huge run coming down the hill and I was going to clip the apron, pass him on the bottom going down the backstretch and slide-job him into (turns) three and four.  

“It was a quick decision on my part to go back high because he started going down low. I saw him getting loose, but if he was going to block me it was too late. I would have hooked him. So he moved out and gave me the preferred groove, which was an accident on his part. I know he was loose. He was doing all he could to save it.”   

  Kraus’ second-place finish leaves him and Todd Gilliland in contention for the final playoff spot to be determined at Richmond. Ten points currently separate the two. Tyler Ankrum is ninth, just four points ahead of Gilliland. In addition to Hill and Rhodes, those who already have secured a berth in the playoffs via a victory are Zane Smith, Creed, Matt Crafton and Grant Enfinger. 

The Truck Series regular season finale is scheduled for Thursday at 8 p.m. at the three-quarter-mile Richmond track. 

 

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, September 8 2020
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