2013 A Successful Tune-Up for Ben Rhodes in NASCAR K&N Pro Series East Competition

RaceChaser Staff Carolinas Racing, Featured, NASCAR, Southeast 0 Comments

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (December 16th, 2013) Story/Photo Ben Rhodes PR – During his break-out season in NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Late Model Stock competition, driving to victory lane six times in 2013, 16-year-old Louisville, Kentucky, native Ben Rhodes strapped in to the No. 41 Alpha Energy Solutions Chevrolet Impala with Turner Scott Motorsports to race seven times in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East ahead of a full season in 2014. With a successful debut in the series opener at Bristol Motor Speedway (TN) in March, Rhodes raced his way to five top-10 finishes in his seven starts, including contending for the win in his final series appearance at Dover International Speedway (DE) in September.

In all seven races, Rhodes raced within the top 10 against tough competition, which also netted him two Coca-Cola Move of the Race awards as well as a Sunoco Rookie of the Race award.

“It was a great season overall,” said Rhodes. “Lee (McCall, crew chief) and the Turner Scott Motorsports team really had the cars fast this year which allowed me to learn the cars and the tracks quickly. I think we performed better than our finishing results showed and if things went the right way we could have picked up a few wins, but bad luck struck us a few times. It was still a great year overall for the No. 41 Alpha Energy Solutions Chevrolet.

“I have to thank Steve Turner, Harry Scott, Mike Greci and the entire Turner Scott Motorsports group for having me be a part of a great team. Also, I want to give a big congratulations to them on their championship in the series with my teammate Dylan Kwasniewski. Next year my No. 41 team is going for the Rookie of the Year as well as the championship trophy, so hopefully we can bring TSM back-to-back championships.”

March 16th – Bristol Motor Speedway (TN) – Start: 21st – Finish: 9th

Without testing or simulation racing at Bristol, Rhodes was second fastest of 43 drivers in the first practice session at the track, his first-career event in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East. Unfortunately, just moments after putting his number on top of the pylon as the fastest driver in the final practice session without doing a mock-qualifying run, another competitor’s oil tank fell off their car, dumping oil all over the track. Rhodes as well as others couldn’t avoid the large oil slick, sending his car into the wall.

The TSM No. 41 team hustled to get Rhodes’ back-up car unloaded and ready, just getting it to the qualifying line in time. Rhodes was able to qualify in to his first series event in the 21st position.

During the race, Rhodes drove up to the seventh position just past the halfway mark, but his ride started to lose power, stopping his advancement through the field. He finished his first-series start in the ninth position.

“It was a great start for us, but I think we would have had a better finish if our primary car wasn’t wrecked in practice,” said Rhodes. “Still, my team really hustled to get the back-up car ready and we got it in the race. I did lose some power towards the end of the race, but I think we still could have had a top-five finish. Ninth was still a great finish for my series debut.”

April 25th – Richmond International Raceway (VA) – Start: 25th – Finish: 35th

The Richmond event proved challenging for Rhodes as he spent the entire day going back and forth between two garages and two different cars as he was invited to compete in his second NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Late Model Stock Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown event. While he qualified fifth for the Late Model race, Rhodes clipped the apron during his qualifying laps for the K&N Pro Series East event, slowing his car and starting him well back in the field in 25th.

During his second start in the K&N Pro Series East, Rhodes slowly worked his way towards the front, and by lap 70 of 100 he was picking off positions, putting himself within the top 10 as he was just starting to make a late-race charge, but smoke coming from the car forced him to pit road and out of the race.

“Qualifying back there hurt us a bit, but I was able to save some tires for our charge to the front. But NASCAR saw some smoke and wanted us to check it out. We ended up having a small oil leak and they didn’t want us to risk dumping a lot of oil on the track and causing a wreck, so we were done for the day. Our finishing result definitely didn’t reflect what we had, but there are some things you cannot control.”

Of note, Rhodes finished third in the Short Track Showdown behind NASCAR Sprint Cup Series regulars Kyle Busch and David Ragan.

June 7th – Iowa Speedway (IA) – Start: 23rd – Finish: 3rd (East)

On the same day Rhodes was announced as one of the 13 drivers selected by NASCAR to the NASCAR Next program, an industry initiative to help spotlight NASCAR’s rising stars, the Kentucky racer was able to earn his best-career finish in the K&N Pro Series East at Iowa Speedway.

After starting deep in the field once again, Rhodes methodically worked his way towards the front, placing himself in the 12th position at the halfway break. During the second half of the event, he was able to work his way up to eighth, and on a green-white-checker finish, picked up three more positions to finish fifth overall, third among the East drivers. His strong run earned him his first Sunoco Rookie of the Race Award as well as the Coca-Cola Move of the Race Award.

“During the first practice I struggled getting used to the track, but was able to figure it out during the final practice. Since we worked on race runs, we knew we were going to start back a bit in the field. The car drove really well and I was able to get it up towards the front. It got tight at the end of the race but a fifth overall and third in the East for my first time there wasn’t too bad.”

August 2nd – Iowa Speedway (IA) – Start: 15th – Finish: 8th (East)

Rhodes was excited to return to Iowa Speedway in August, looking to better his finish from June and possibly race for the victory. Even though he was fifth fast in the final practice session, a mistake cost him some positions during qualifying as Rhodes turned the 15th-fastest time in qualifying.

When the green flag flew, Rhodes rocketed through the field, moving into the fourth position just after the 40th lap of the 150-lap race. After the halfway point, Rhodes worked his way to second, but an issue during the weekend with tire stagger from the tire manufacturer randomly bit multiple drivers, and unfortunately bit Rhodes late in the race, costing him several positions. He crossed the finish line in 10th, eighth among the East drivers in the East-West combo event.

“We had a long caution delay late in the race that affected the tires and caused a dramatic change in the way the car handled. A lot of drivers had problems and once we got heat back in the tires we were running faster lap times at the end than the leaders, but we lost too many positions waiting for the tires to come back around to us. It was frustrating, but overall we did great for what we had.”

September 2nd – Greenville Pickens Speedway (SC) – Start: 19th – Finish: 6th

On a hot, slick day in South Carolina, Rhodes and the other K&N Pro Series East racers struggled to find grip. Overdriving his car during qualifying, Rhodes timed in 19th fast and was not happy starting that far back in the field.

Knowing he would have to keep some good on the tires for the end of the race, Rhodes stayed outside the top 15 until there were less than 50 laps remaining. Pressing forward at the end of the race, Rhodes worked his way to sixth, earning his second Coca-Cola Move of the Race Award.

“Qualifying that far back hurt us, but the race was a strange one. Usually some drivers save tires for the end and others just go at the start, so there is a lot of movement after the halfway point of the race. But it seemed like everyone went into tire conservation mode early as the pace of the race was really slow. That hurt us trying to move up at the end of the race. I think if we would have had about 10 more laps we could have ended up fourth or third.”

September 21st – New Hampshire Motor Speedway (NH) – Start: 13th – Finish: 4th

When Rockingham Speedway (NC) was removed from the schedule, it allowed Rhodes to race the New Hampshire event as he could only race up to seven events in 2013 to keep his rookie status for 2014. His excitement showed in practice as he spent most of the day on top of the time chart and ended up with the second-best 10-lap (consecutive) average.

Starting 13th, Rhodes took the green flag looking to move forward, but another car stuck their nose outside of his car exiting turn two at the last moment on the first lap with the end result damaging his car. After several pit stops and working his way back up to 11th at the halfway break, Rhodes started the second half moving forward one position at a time. On a green-white-checker finish he picked up a few more spots, finishing fourth.

“The damage to the car widened out our track bar mount, so the bar we had in there was moving all around. During the halfway break we changed to a longer bar to fit in another hole, so the handling was different. Lee and the guys adjusted the car to compensate and we were still able to get up to fourth at the end of the race. It wasn’t pretty, but it just shows how my TSM team never gives up.”

September 27th – Dover International Speedway (DE) – Start: 10th – Finish: 26th

The high-banked corners at Dover had Rhodes excited for his final series start of the 2013 season where he hoped to end up in victory lane prior to the 2014 season. With two practice sessions in the books, Rhodes qualified 10th, his career-best in the series.

Rhodes took the green flag and wasted no time working his way to the front. He was third by the 24th lap, and after a lap 42 restart he worked his way to second as the fastest car on the track. However, on two-consecutive restarts, his car appeared to shut off, with the second one costing him dearly as the entire field passed by him before his car started to go once again.

Compensating for the issues by revving his engine prior to the green flag dropping on restarts, he was able to work his way from outside the top 20 back to third with just 25 laps remaining. While running laps four-tenths faster than the leader, Rhodes ran over debris, gashing his tire and sending him into the wall hard. He was OK, but the car was done for the race.

“We had some sort of fuel pick-up problem. I worked the car back and forth before the restarts, but that didn’t cure the issue. I had to rev it up all the way until the green flag flew to keep it running on restarts. I think we still could have won the race with it like that, but a car hit the wall a lap before me and must have put debris on the track. I ran over it the next time I came around and it sliced the tire and put me into the wall.

“I really wanted to take the Miles the Monster trophy home from Dover, but it just wasn’t meant to be. It was still a great race day and the performance of my Turner Scott Motorsports team was awesome in our final 2013 race. It has me even more pumped up for the start of the 2014 season. We are going to Florida in February looking for two victories.”

In 2013, Rhodes was sponsored by Alpha Energy Solutions, Kentucky National Guard, Park Community Federal Credit Union, Alliance Comfort Systems and Refrigerant Rescue.

Rhodes will test during the off-season months before heading to Florida for the first-two points events in the 2014 NASCAR K&N Pro Series East season at New Smyrna Speedway on February 16th and Daytona International Speedway on February 18th.

For more information on Ben Rhodes, including media availability, contact Jason “Stix” Buckley of STIX FX Entertainment at (704) 519-5528 or stix@stixfx.com, and make sure to keep up to date on his racing career at www.benrhodes.com, like him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/benrhodesinc, and follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/benrhodes as well as Instagram at www.instagram.com/benrhodes.

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