Rhodes still in command despite win streak ending
July 11, 2014, Pat DeCola, NASCAR.com
RELATED: Little wins at Loudon | Learn about NASCAR Home Tracks
LOUDON, N.H. -- Close, but no cigar.
Not that 17-year-old, underage NASCAR Next driver Ben Rhodes could've lit the proverbial cigar, anyway, if he had been able to celebrate tying the 23-year-old NASCAR K&N Pro Series East consecutive win streak record of five.
The Louisville, Kentucky native finished a disappointing 22nd in the Granite State 100 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Friday night, snapping his win streak at four (Iowa, Winston-Salem, Pensacola, Hampton) but maintaining his series points lead.
Rhodes had qualified first after setting a track record by circling the 1.058-mile oval in 29.622 seconds, but succumbed to late race power issues and a myriad of restarts that shuffled him from the front row to the middle of the pack.
Jesse Little, another NASCAR Next driver and the son of Camping World Truck Series director Chad Little, was able to take advantage of Rhodes' struggles, driving from a starting position of second to secure his first K&N victory.
Apart from the normal feelings that come along with seeing another car celebrating in Victory Lane -- this time the No. 97 of Little -- there wasn't any disappointment from Rhodes when considering his win streak had been snapped.
"I really didn't care about the streak, to be honest," said Rhodes, who will take his still-lofty points lead over Cameron Hayley to Columbus (Ohio) Motor Speedway for a July 19 race. "I was just approaching it as a normal race, and I didn't have any pressure because of that. You just forget about everything and do what you need to do.
"And because I didn't go out there wanting to win it for the streak, I'm not disappointed because of it."
With cars beating and banging off of each other, going three- and even sometimes four-wide on several late restarts, it gave Rhodes a bitter taste of the type of all-or-nothing racing that can come along with this series.
A February 21 birthday will allow him -- should the offers come calling -- to run a full season in either the Nationwide or Camping World Truck Series next year, making the flying K&N tempers something he doesn't need to worry about much longer.
"There's no guarantee (I'll be in the Camping World Truck Series or the Nationwide Series) next year, since this sport is very uncertain, but we'll see what we can get together," Rhodes said. "I was hoping for a good finish, maybe help my odds for next year and see what I could get into, but everything that happened today wasn't really our fault.
"You can't win points and championships by driving stupid. I wish people would realize that out here in this series. They're out trying to burn their stuff up in the beginning trying to move you up out of the track in the beginning of the race when you just need to save your stuff in these cars and it's just getting a little bad, but that's part of this series and you just have to deal with it for the rest of the year. If we keep doing what we're doing, we'll have this thing."
Considering Rhodes just came off a streak where he won five of six races -- and finished runner-up in the other -- with six races left, it's likely he'll at least tie the series record of six total wins in a season set by current Nationwide driver Dylan Kwasniewski last year. But as far as Ricky Craven's consecutive wins streak set in 1991, that's still not out of the picture, either.
"We'll do it again. We'll go win four more races in a row and go make (season finale) Dover our fifth race; how about that?"