By Seth Eggert, Staff Writer
MARTINSVILLE, VA – By keeping his nose clean, Ben Rhodes advanced to the Championship 4 at Phoenix Raceway.
Although Rhodes didn’t accomplish all of his goals in the United Rentals 200 at Martinsville Speedway, he did check off his main goal. The driver of the No. 99 Bombardier Lear Jet 75 Toyota Tundra was one of just three playoff drivers to go incident free.
The ThorSport Racing driver finished the first two Stages in fourth and sixth respectively. That padded the gap Rhodes had over his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series competitors. In the chaotic caution-breeding-caution run to the finish, he climbed up to seventh by the time the race-ending caution waved.
“I was just trying to be patient all race,” explained Rhodes.” Knew it was going to get really chaotic at the end, that people were going to be dumping each other, and I knew that I didn’t want to be part of any of it. People who I didn’t think were going to get into it were getting into it. My whole plan the entire race was putting more energy into avoiding the wrecks than the energy I was putting into chasing the clock. If I was chasing the clock I was going to be a target.
“Just tried to finish top-five both stages, finish top-five at the end of the race. We didn’t finish top-five, we finished seventh, and we’re going to Phoenix. That’s what we wanted. We did everything right.”
In the 12 cautions for incidents, Rhodes had a front row seat for several of them. One of those was Austin Wayne Self’s payback on John Hunter Nemechek. After contact in Turn 2, Nemechek dove to the inside. Self retaliated by hooking the playoff driver into the Turn 3 wall. Rhodes was just ahead of the incident when it happened.
“I saw what happened to John Hunter, hated it for him,” admitted Rhodes. “It was his season going down the drain for nothing. I was like, ‘I really don’t want to be that guy.’ We don’t need to put ourselves in a pissing match with somebody. That was the plan, we followed it, stayed true to it. Let people go that wanted to beat our bumper off or said that they were going to wreck us and it paid off.”
While a lack of respect has been a recurring topic in the Truck Series in recent weeks, the issues are a bit more complex. Some drivers in the playoffs have raced expecting more give and take from their competitors not in the playoffs. However, drivers not in the playoffs are still racing for both victories and different bonuses for higher positions in points.
Rhodes noted that this sense of entitlement has been a part of the lack of respect between the two generations of drivers.
“There is a lack (of respect), but what do you do when you keep re-racking the field for cautions?” asked Rhodes. “It snowballs. Everybody knows that on these restarts that you’ve got to get it while you can. It turns into bumper cars. Some people out here race each other with a lot of respect.
“The (non-playoff drivers are) all racing their own race. A lot of people in the playoffs think they’re entitled to being raced clean. They think they’re entitled because they think that they’ve got something special going for them. To me it makes you a target, doesn’t make you entitled.
“I’ve never been one that appreciates that kind of entitlement. Not saying anyone in the playoffs is, but some people think that way. A lot of veterans think that way. I’ve always hated that. Nobody’s going to bow down and move over for you. I try to when I have too to be smart. Not a big fan of entitled attitudes.”
The seventh-place finish is Rhodes’ 15th top-10 finish this season. It is also the 75th in his Truck Series career.
Now Rhodes will fight for the 2021 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship at Phoenix Raceway with Matt Crafton, Nemechek, and Martinsville race winner Zane Smith.
Featured Photo Credit: Photo by NKP / NKP Photo