Rhodes breaking down door as next up-and-comer
July 08, 2014, Brad Norman, NASCAR.com
Ben Rhodes likes to race cars, and the numbers suggest he's pretty good at it. He has five wins -- including his current streak of four in a row -- and eight top-five finishes in nine NASCAR K&N Pro Series East starts this season.
A car isn't the only thing Rhodes will race, though. He drove a bed -- yes, a bed -- to victory in the Kentucky Derby Festival Great Bed Races earlier this year, upsetting the reigning five-year champion in the process. He's spending his summer in North Carolina, wearing out the seat of his go-kart at the local Go-Pro Motorplex in Mooresville. There's no reprieve from the track even when he goes to bed at night.
"I race every night in my own bed," Rhodes said last week from the Turner Scott Motorsports shop. "Just the other night I dreamed I was racing go-karts against all the Cup drivers, and I beat Kyle Busch."
"We win a race, that's fine and dandy, but we're ready to win the next one."
-- Ben Rhodes
Clearly, racing is always on Rhodes' mind. That's been the case since he hopped into go-karts at age 6 and kept advancing, both in division and in skill. And while the rising high school senior admits he's still improving, the numbers suggest he is comparable to some of the very best to come through the K&N Pro Series East -- names like Logano, Dillon, Elliott and Kwasniewski.
Heading into New Hampshire Motor Speedway, which hosts the Granite State 100 on Friday, Rhodes' five season victories are tied with Joey Logano (2007) and Corey LaJoie (2012) for the second-most in a season in series history. Dylan Kwasniewski set the record of six last year, and Rhodes has seven races remaining to equal or beat that mark.
Rhodes' eight top-five finishes have already surpassed career-best totals set by Austin Dillon and Chase Elliott, and it ties Kyle Larson's 2012 mark -- yes, the same Kyle Larson currently battling for a spot in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup as a rookie. Logano recorded 10 top-fives in 2007.
"I've heard some of those facts, but I'm so goal-oriented that I just don't look back at them," Rhodes said. "We win a race, that's fine and dandy, but we're ready to win the next one. I'm a little paranoid about looking back, so we're working harder now to stay on top than we did to get to the top."
The view from the top is spectacular. Rhodes leads the series with 393 points and has a full-race lead over second-place Cameron Hayley (322 points). He's won four consecutive races, with a lowly runner-up finish sandwiched between that streak and his first win of the season. His average finish in the previous six races is 1.2, and he's led 714 of the series' 1,309 total laps this year.
It's quite the sophomore showing from a driver who earned two top-fives in a seven-race part-time role last year. Getting that seat time in 2013 certainly aided his efforts this year, and this summer stretch allows Rhodes to spend his break away from his Louisville, Kentucky, high school at the team shop in North Carolina with crew chief Mark McFarland.
McFarland and Rhodes have bonded to the point that the crew chief has an ever-growing list of nicknames for his driver -- right now, it's "Scrappy" -- and the two chide each other about Rhodes being told not to perform a burnout following a win (so he can save the equipment).
"It's absolutely slowed down for me on the track this year," Rhodes said. "Last year, getting in the car was still an uncomfortable feeling. Now it's home for me. (McFarland and I) feel like we're starting from scratch this year and have no bad habits. All we've done is create new habits. When you start from scratch and work your way up, you don't have anything to hold you back. Last year, it was more about getting my feet wet, and we also had some bad luck. We're trying to make our own luck now."
Rhodes' success comes at an interesting time in NASCAR. He's coming into full bloom now just as his young contemporaries -- Larson in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Elliott in the NASCAR Nationwide Series -- are performing above expectations. Earlier this year, Elliott recorded a top-five at Iowa Speedway the day after he graduated high school.
Their success hasn't gone unnoticed in the K&N ranks.
"I'm kind of pulling for all the young guys, in a way, so they can open the door to other guys like me," Rhodes said. "(Their success), I think it makes us young guys as a whole look good. If you have someone young and they just start wrecking stuff, people get this idea that all young drivers would do that."
While success from other young guys may crack the door open for Rhodes, he's intent on breaking it down himself. Rhodes is already inked to five NASCAR Camping World Truck Series races this year, two of which he's already completed.
His plans for next year are undecided as Rhodes and his team seek a sponsor. Alpha Energy Solutions, which is funding his five Truck Series races this year, may be an associate sponsor next year but will not, Rhodes said, move toward a full season.
"I'd like to run trucks or Nationwide, whatever we could get a sponsor for," Rhodes said. "We'll see. Obviously, (long-term) I'd absolutely love to be in the Cup Series. I know some people take a longer time to learn, but then they're pretty good, like Joey Logano. Some guys get it right away, like Kyle Larson. I've always been kind of a quick learner. I know that's in the future, though. I feel confident in the cars I'm in now, and I feel confident in my abilities moving forward."