Ben Rhodes crossed the finish line with a comfortable lead, with the battle comfortably behind him. He took the lead of Friday night’s North Carolina Education Lottery 200 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on the final restart with 24 laps to go after climbing through the field and held on to win by 2.398 seconds.
“I didn’t qualify the best, and it came to life at night,” Rhodes said. “I guess I need to give my crew a lot more credit than I did. They knew what they were doing. The night time, they planned for it. I was worried at first and they came to us again.”
“I had a lot of work to do. We had to take it slow and methodical from 19th,” he acknowledged. “It’s not easy to pass in the Truck Series, especially here at Charlotte, but I’m so happy to get a win here.”
The win not only locks Rhodes into the Playoffs, making him the ninth winner in eleven races, but it earns him the Triple Truck Challenge bonus of $50,000. If he can also win at World Wide Technology Raceway and Nashville Superspeedway, that bonus check will increase to $500,000. But it’s the Playoffs that mean the most, since making the postseason was a looming challenge after a poor start to the season.
“I’m not gonna say I was getting worried,” Rhodes said, “but I was certainly feeling a little bit of the pressure, and it wouldn’t have been like that if it wasn’t for the last three races. We somehow found ourselves getting wrecked. We’d run the high side and get wrecked. We’d run the bottom and get wrecked.”
“Lo and behold, here we are recovering and I can’t think of a sweeter way to do it,” he added.
Even as Rhodes cruised to the checkered flag in the closing laps, the battle for second was fierce. Corey Heim ultimately triumphed over Dean Thompson and Carson Hocevar, but it took a fight.
Hocevar and Rhodes were swapping the lead before the restart, but a bad restart for Hocevar sent him back in the pack and he was left to recover for fifth in the intense three-wide battle as he complained about a possible tire issue. And though Heim led a race-high 49 laps and won the first stage, he didn’t have the speed to match Rhodes’ No. 99 truck in the final laps.
“The 99 just came along really strong,” Heim said, “and once we got to second on the restart where [Hocevar] got put in the middle there, I really thought we had a shot at it.”
“But it just proves that clean air is king here, but I feel like if I did a better job of getting by as soon as possible rather than waiting on a run, we might have had a better opportunity.”
Third place is a career best result for Dean Thompson, who came into the race disappointed by his runner-up ARCA finish just before. He says the competitiveness he showed in the Truck definitely raises his spirits in the middle of a career year.
“This is insane,” Thompson said. “This season so far has been so up and down. We’ve had good runs – in Texas and Kansas, and just end up wrecking. To have this turnaround like this is massive. Not just for me, but for my team too. This plays a lot into my confidence, so we can take it to Gateway.”
Grant Enfinger rounded out the top five behind Hocevar, while Christian Eckes, Ty Majeski, Matt DiBenedetto, Nick Sanchez, and Taylor Gray all finished in the top ten.
The Truck Series returns at the World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway, just outside St. Louis, for the Toyota 200 on June 3rd.
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