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HAMPTON, Ga. -- The fire that forced a midseason rebuilding effort at ThorSport Racing last year impacted all of its four teams in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. From a results standpoint, ThorSport driver Ben Rhodes was not immune.
That's why Saturday's showing at Atlanta Motor Speedway gave Rhodes reason for optimism as he dives into his second full season in the series. Rhodes finished fourth in the Active Pest Control 200, finishing just behind race winner Christopher Bell of Kyle Busch Motorsports, Rhodes' ThorSport teammate, runner-up Matt Crafton and Johnny Sauter.
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The top-five effort helped soothe some of the hardships Rhodes & Co. endured over the latter part of 2016. The strength he showed in the opening nine races of the year gave way to four DNFs and just one top-10 over the final 14 events.
Saturday, things started looking up.
"I had a really tough year, so it's really encouraging that we can come out here and get a good finish like this and see that we can run strong," Rhodes said after emerging from his No. 27 Toyota. "And now that the truck's all in one piece, that's an added bonus because all last year, it seemed like no matter what we did, something would happen and we would get caught up in somebody's mess. Tire would blow, engine would blow … something would happen. So it's really, really nice to put a good finish together."
After a rookie season that held so much promise, Rhodes and his crew have made the earliest steps toward a rebirth. The 20-year-old driver has a new crew chief in Eddie Troconis, a new car number based on sponsor Safelite's preference, and a new, reconstructed shop in their Sandusky, Ohio, home.
"Ever since the shop's been rebuilt, these guys have worked their tails off over the wintertime, working 80 hours a week to get these trucks built and build some fast Tundras at that," Rhodes said. "I really think that we're going to be a contender for many, many, many wins throughout the season."
Said Troconis: "We came here and we showed that ThorSport regrouped over the offseason and worked really hard all December and January, and now we're trying to beat the KBM (Kyle Busch Motorsports) trucks. They were the dominant team last year, and we're right there with them. We showed that it's not just one truck with Crafton that has a lot of experience, but also the young rookie guns.
"So Ben's second year, we have a lot of work to do still, but I feel like definitely we're going to have a lot of potential. We're going to give a run at KBM."
Rhodes battled back from a pair of hurdles during Saturday's 200-miler. He first made progress from a 15th-place qualifying effort that left him with a midpack start. And he also found himself at a disadvantage in a series of late-race restarts, mired in the treacherous outside lane and at a higher risk of wheel spin.
The lineup shuffle for the final two restarts gave him the preferred inside lane and kept him in victory contention. Though he settled for fourth, he still managed a grin when asked about the race's possibilities.
"If a couple things play out a little bit differently, I think we could be on the frontstretch doing donuts right now," Rhodes said.