By Tom Zulewski
Iron County Today
LAS VEGAS – If it wasn’t for bad luck, Ben Rhodes may have had no luck at all in 44 previous starts in the NASC AR Camping World Truck Series.
On the 45th start last Saturday night at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Rhodes found just enough of an opportunity to let good fortune smile down on him at last.
Rhodes held off a hard-charging Christopher Bell on the race’s final laps won the Las Vegas 350 for his first career win in NASCAR’s No. 3 series. Not only was it the first checkered flag for the 20-year-old, but it also gave him an automatic spot in the Playoffs Round of 6 that starts at Martinsville Speedway on Oct. 28.
“We proved we belong in these playoffs after getting in with a tie,” Rhodes said. “The day didn’t start off the best, but we made the most of it. It was awesome.”
When Rhodes beat Bell to the line to win Stage 2 and earn a playoff point, it turned out to be a precursor of things to come over the final 76 laps. Bell, who qualified fourth and led a race-high 64 laps, held the point for 44 circuits around the 1.5-mile oval in Stage 3 until an Austin Wayne Self accident brought out the sixth and final caution of the night with 14 laps to go.
Pole-winner Ryan Truex won the race off pit road at lap 139, but it wouldn’t last long as Rhodes, who qualified sixth, squeezed through a three-wide sandwich and reclaimed the lead one lap later.
“When the night came with the shadows, the truck just came to us,” crew chief Eddie Triconis said. “It was one of those nights where everything came together, and we’re really proud of it.”
Rhodes said the final restart was a case of catching his challengers off-guard.
“I was watching the guys in front of me and thinking about psyching them out with different gearing and speed,” he said. “Once they got going, I saw a bunch of smoke in front of me and those guys were making contact. They started slowing down really quick, and that just opened the door for me. … Once we went three-wide, I got a nice push.”
Bell, who was looking for his series-leading sixth win of the season, couldn’t get by Rhodes’ blocks on the final lap and fell short by a car length. The Kyle Busch Motorsports driver has a 47-point lead over Rhodes as the series heads to Talladega SuperSpeedway on Oct. 14 for the Round of 8 elimination race.
All of the eight playoff drivers finished in the top 10. Chase Briscoe, who won Stage 1 and led the first 40 laps, finished third, followed by Austin Cindric and Kaz Grala. Matt Crafton was seventh, John Hunter Nemechek – who ran out of fuel just before the lap 133 caution, came in eighth, and Johnny Sauter was 10th, the first truck one lap down.
Cindric holds the sixth and final transfer spot in the standings and leads Grala by eight points, with Nemechek 14 off the pace.
Grant Enfinger was the only other non-playoff driver in the top 10 as he came home ninth. The average speed was 116.644 mph, and the six caution flags took up 32 total laps.