Rhodes will garner a lot of attention on Saturday at Knoxville Raceway in the Clean Harbors 150. He goes into the race atop the truck series leaderboard on a weekend in which the Cup Series and Xfinity Series are on hiatus, so there’s a big opportunity to hog headlines by pulling off his second victory of the season.
Ben Rhodes is the defending NASCAR truck series champion
Ben Rhodes, 25, is a stalwart of the Camping World Truck Series, making 153 starts since 2014. The Louisville native went full-time in 2016, when he finished 14th in points. He’s won at least once in five of the six seasons once and never finished lower than ninth in points.
Last season was the culmination of those years of grinding it out. Rhodes opened the season with two victories at Daytona, the first on the oval and the latter on the road course. It briefly rocketed him into the lead in points, though 10th place in Las Vegas the next time out dropped Rhodes to second.
From that point forward, Rhodes was a study in consistency. Though he didn’t win again, Rhodes held on to that No. 2 spot for the next 12 races and never slipped below third over the remainder of the season.
The 22nd and final race was the Championship 4 in Phoenix. Though he only placed third, Rhodes finished ahead of Zane Smith (fifth), regular-season champion John Hunter Nemechek (seventh), and Matt Crafton (12th).
That earned Rhodes the first series championship of his NASCAR career.
Ben Rhodes is gunning for the regular-season title
Five victories propelled John Hunter Nemechek to the 2021 regular-season title in the truck series by a comfortable margin. With it, Nemechek snared 15 bonus points for the playoffs.
That’s a huge deal. Though the championship is decided by the best finish in Phoenix, it’s those bonus points that can pave the way for a driver to transfer through the preliminary rounds and into a position to take home the big hardware at the Championship 4.
“It’s weighed on me since Daytona,” Rhodes said this week in a NASCAR teleconference. “I’ve thought of nothing else except that regular-season championship. I want the trophy at the end of the year. But what matters to me are those 15 playoff points. That’s three race wins.”
One race in particular from last season revved up the driver’s motivation to grab maximum points.
The slip-up at Watkins Glen could have been costly
The 2021 regular season wrapped up for truck series drivers on Aug. 7 on the Watkins Glen road course. John Hunter Nemechek took an insurmountable lead in the standings into the race, meaning he was going to bag the 15 bonus playoff points. However, Ben Rhodes (520 points) was trying to fend off Austin Hill (510) for second place.
Hill won the race, and it was a bonanza. He won a stage, too, so that pulled him even with Rhodes at 11 playoff points earned for the season. Rhodes finished a distant 15th in the race, so Hill zoomed past him for second place in the standings and scored an additional 10 playoff points.
Third place garnered Rhodes eight playoff points. But letting a rival slip by on the last day of the season could have been costly. Fortunately, Rhodes’ only slip-up in the playoffs was 34th place at Darlington in the second event, which he overcame.
This season, Rhodes (444 points) is in a dogfight with Chandler Smith (439), Zane Smith (432), and Nemechek (430) in pursuit of the 15 bonus points. He’s in no mood to give away an advantage once the playoffs start July 29 in Indianapolis.
“It’s a shame that we led for so long last year and gave up the lead right before the regular-season championship,” Rhodes said. “I don’t want a repeat of that. I want to capitalize on this opportunity right now.”
All stats courtesy of Racing Reference.