LAS VEGAS — It took 45 starts and a whole lot of heartbreak before the jubilation could come, but Ben Rhodes finally joined NASCAR’s fraternity of winners with a stirring drive to victory in Saturday night’s Las Vegas 350.
After nearly scoring his first NASCAR Camping World Truck Series win in May at Kansas Speedway before a blown motor derailed his hopes, Rhodes used two furious drives to hold off series points leader Christopher Bell at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, winning the second stage before later rallying back on a late-race restart with seven to go.
The restart was set up by Austin Wayne Self’s crash in Turn 2 on lap 132 of 146, after the young Texan blew a tire and pounded the outside wall to draw the sixth and final caution flag of the night.
At that point, John Hunter Nemechek was the race leader, having stayed out in hopes of stretching his fuel all the way to the finish and stealing a playoff victory to lock himself into the next round.
But Nemechek ran dry as the yellow flew, having to cede the top spot to come to pit road for a splash of gas. He eventually stalled trying to leave his stall and barely hung onto the lead lap as Bell assumed the lead for the restart.
When the green flag waved, it was Bell on the outside with Ryan Truex to his inner flank, while Rhodes was behind Truex in third and hoping for any room to shake up the running order in the final laps.
Rhodes got his chance by squeezing underneath Truex and using the apron of the track to make it three-wide going into Turn 1, shifting both Truex and Bell up the race track and taking the lead as his ThorSport Racing teammate Grant Enfinger slid into second with an equally-thrilling four-wide pass entering Turn 3.
But Bell was not done just yet, working back past Enfinger just before five to go and setting his sights back on Rhodes’ No. 27 Safelite Auto Glass Toyota.
The two danced in the draft for seven full miles, with Rhodes snaking down straightaway after straightaway trying to keep Bell behind him, and after a heart-pounding run to the finish the Kentucky young gun was finally able to celebrate a win he called, “such a long time overdue.”
“I have no idea how I was able to keep him behind me!” an exuberant Rhodes said in victory lane. “I used every play in my playbook and I knew if I could keep him close to me, he couldn’t break the bubble. Every time I would try and gap him and used a trick to get him far away, he would suck right back up to my bumper and be right there. I had to keep him within distance and that was the most nervous thing I have ever done in my life.”
Rhodes becomes the fourth driver overall to score a Truck Series win for ThorSport Racing, as well as the first driver to do so other than Matt Crafton or Johnny Sauter since Terry Cook won the team’s first race in 1998.
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