By Seth Eggert, Staff Writer
Multiple obstacles couldn’t keep Ben Rhodes from scoring his second consecutive fourth-place finish. Rhodes ran into engine trouble and a pit road penalty, but somehow managed to claw his way back into the top-five in the Active Pest Control 200 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
On the final restart, Rhodes’s No. 41 Alpha Energy Solutions Ford F-150 jumped into the chaotic scramble. As eventual race winner Brett Moffitt drove away, Rhodes was mired in the middle of a three-wide battle. Luckily, he was able to wrestle his way into the top-five by the time the overtime finish was over, the checkered flag waving.
Rhodes’ NT1 Spec Engine went sour early. Intermittently, the motor would lose horsepower. Rhodes’ Ford F-150 would suddenly coast down the straightaway or through the corner. His competitors easily cruised by while the motor mysteriously came back to life.
“That was a miracle I guess,” Rhodes laughed. “Looking back at it, our Ford F-150 had incredible speed all day long. I think we had the fastest truck on the racetrack. The problem with it all is that we had no horsepower. Something was going on with the motor. Normally you would never go below 6200 (RPMs) in the corners. I was at 5200, 5000 RPMs at times, just sputtering. I would go a second and a half without power sometimes. I had six, seven cylinders going down the straightaways sometimes.”
To compound the problems, during a pit stop in which the team went under the hood, NASCAR officials penalized Rhodes for having too many men over the wall. His crew chief, Eddie Troconis pleaded with an official to no avail. Rhodes lost two laps while serving the penalty. He fought his way back to the lead lap by using the lucky dog and wave around procedures.
“I don’t know how we finished in the top-five,” Rhodes exclaimed. “It’s crazy, just shows how strong our trucks are out of ThorSport Racing. It’s a championship team and a championship run this season, and we’re not going to let it hold us back. We’re not going to let a penalty from Daytona hold us back. We’ll overcome all of this.”
Rhodes’ team was penalized 10 Championship and Driver points after Daytona for failing post-race tech inspection. Troconis was to be suspended for one points race, his appearance at Atlanta indicates that the team is appealing the penalty.
The fourth-place finish puts Rhodes sixth in the Championship Points Standings. Following a climb up from 13th in the standings, he is now 45 points behind Points Leader Johnny Sauter. Rhodes is also one of six drivers that have finished both races on the lead lap.
Now Rhodes and his entire ThorSport Racing team will prepare for the Stratosphere 200 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Friday, March 2.