By Brian Eberly, Contributing Writer
Saturday at Martinsville Speedway was great for Ben Rhodes and the ThorSport Racing organization.
The 21-year-old driver kicked off the day by putting the No. 41 Ford on the pole for the fourth race of the 2018 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series season. Teammates Matt Crafton and Grant Enfinger qualified second and third, respectively, to give ThorSport Racing their first 1-2-3 qualifying effort in team history.
The pole was the third of Rhodes’ career in his 54th Truck Series start and his second at the 0.526-mile track commonly referred to as the ‘Paperclip.’ More importantly, Rhodes’ had his truck at the front of the field for the race sponsored by Alpha Energy Solutions, a long-time sponsor of Rhodes that is headquartered in the driver’s hometown of Louisville, Kentucky.
The Alpha Energy Solutions 250 took the green flag as scheduled on Saturday afternoon despite the looming snowstorm. When the red flag was displayed for precipitation after just 23 laps, Rhodes had led all of them.
With snowfall on Saturday night into the early hours of Sunday, NASCAR postponed the resumption of the Truck Series race to Monday morning. Rhodes led the field back to the green flag after a red flag period of 44 hours and 40 minutes.
Rhodes was the dominant driver of the first two stages, leading five times for a race-high 134 laps. Earning two valuable playoff points for winning both the first and second stages, Rhodes was poised to earn his first grandfather clock.
The problems began under the caution that signaled the end of the second stage as Rhodes brought his No. 41 Ford to pit road for fresh Goodyear rubber and fuel. The pit crew had trouble getting the right front tire up into the fender well and the lengthy pit stop left him 15th for the start of the final stage. Rhodes was able to gain four positions before the seventh yellow flag of the race flew for debris in Turn 3.
Team radio chatter said “we didn’t come here to run 10th” and once again Rhodes brought his truck to the attention of his pit crew for fresh Goodyear rubber. Once again, there were problems with the stop and Rhodes lost three spots.
“Our No. 41 Alpha Energy Solutions Ford F-150 was dominant all day long – I think we had the fastest truck on the racetrack. We led more laps than anyone else today, but unfortunately every time we came down pit road, we lost spots,” Rhodes said after the race.
With three more cautions over the race’s final 30 laps, Rhodes was only able to gain two positions, finishing 12th. It was Rhodes’ first finish outside the top-10 in 2018, but it wasn’t his first race with problems on pit road. At Las Vegas, Rhodes drove up through the field to the fourth position before a pit stop issue put him at the tail end of the field.
With finishes of fourth at Daytona and Atlanta and seventh at Vegas, Rhodes is fourth in the championship standings. The issues on pit road must be solved if Rhodes is going to contend for the championship. Fortunately for the team, there is a break of more than a month before the next race at Dover to continue to improve their pit stops.
“We’ve had that issue in the past (on pit road), and could’ve had the championship last year had we not had issues on pit road. We’re going to move forward from here. We’re going to make sure we’re not losing any more spots – we want strong performances on the track and on pit lane. We’ve had dominant trucks all year long. We’re going to move forward – once we get this fixed, the wins should come easy.”