After 16 races, the final spot in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Playoffs would come down to a tiebreaker, with the best finish of the season determining who moved on and who would be left on the outside looking in.
Coming into Friday night’s race at Chicagoland Speedway, that final spot was down to two drivers, Ben Rhodes and Ryan Truex, with just seven points separating the two when the green flag flew. Though Truex had a better night overall, it was Rhodes that came out on top when the checkered flag flew, finishing sixth, while Truex finished in fourth.
Though Truex had a higher finish on the night and a stage win under his belt, the two would be tied in points and Rhodes’ runner-up finish at Pocono was just enough to give him the advantage and boost him into the Playoffs.
Even as he could breathe a sigh of relief at the end of the night, Rhodes was still in shock that they actually made it in given the trials and tribulations his No. 27 team had to endure throughout the 150-lap event.
Rhodes would start the night in 13th place and finished the first stage in third place, but on pit road during the stage break, Rhodes’ team would encounter their first misstep. A tire violation would send Rhodes to the tail end of the lead lap, putting him right back at square one for the start of the second stage.
Though Rhodes was unable to crack the top-10 by the end of Stage 2, he would restart the final stage in eighth place, but the final stage wasn’t smooth sailing either.
Contact with his Thorsport teammate Matt Crafton would cause some minor damage to Rhodes’ truck and a tire rub, but it was minimal enough that he was able to stay out on track until the next caution, which ironically was for Crafton spinning out on lap 107.
Under caution, Rhodes came down pit road for service, which looked like it had gone off without a hitch, but shortly thereafter, Rhodes would have to come back down to the attention of his crew to tighten loose lug nuts, placing him back outside the top-10 with 40 laps to go.
Rhodes was not going to be denied, climbing up to sixth place a handful of laps later, where he would stay for the remainder of the race and giving him just the finish he needed to claim his place in the Playoffs.
“Man, I still can’t believe it,” said Rhodes. “They gave me the hat and I’m like ‘Are you sure this is ours?’ They said we were tied and we got the tiebreaker. I can’t believe it. The truck, all night, we struggled, ever since we unloaded here. This has definitely been our worst performance overall. It couldn’t have come at a worse week to do it, but I mean, I’m glad we’re in and overall, everything worked out for us. Couple of pit road penalties, a truck that we struggled with all night, I’m just surprised that we’re here. Thank you Safelite, thank you Thorsport, Toyota, everybody involved at Alpha Energy Solutions. They’ve all been behind us and made it possible.”
“Now we’ve got to refocus and get a lot stronger for the Playoffs because a lot of these guys that are already in have proven that they need to be there. They belong to be there. We’ve got to get a little bit stronger because tonight was not one of our best nights.”