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August 13, 2022

Brake issues hamper Ben Rhodes at Richmond; playoff points buffer shrinks

RICHMOND, Va. – Ben Rhodes tried to take a measure of relief in the small consolations after a rocky Saturday night at Richmond Raceway. His title defense in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series was still intact, and so was his No. 99 ThorSport Racing Toyota – the one with a championship pedigree.

Nine of the first 11 finishers in Saturday’s Worldwide Express 250 were playoff-eligible drivers, led by race winner Chandler Smith. The lone outlier among the postseason field was Rhodes, who struggled to an 18th-place finish, two laps off the pace.

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“We just got to go home and take solace in the fact that the truck’s in one piece,” said Rhodes, who started 14th and made little headway from the drop of the green flag. “This is our Phoenix truck from last year that won the championship, so the truck isn’t the problem. It’s a fast truck. We just had some issues with components and pieces that were on it tonight. Brake issues plagued us from the time we unloaded, and I knew from the first corner on the track that I didn’t like it, but there’s nothing you can really do at that point, you can’t really change all your brakes out, you don’t really want to go to the backup. We just had no clue it would be this bad. So we’re just gonna diagnose it and see what happened.”

Rhodes finished out of the top 10 at both stage breaks, then went one lap down on Lap 132. Smith lapped Rhodes again with 65 laps remaining as the No. 99 Toyota continued to fade.

Crew chief Rich Lushes, in his second season paired with Rhodes, confirmed that a new brake package for the 0.75-mile Richmond track was the culprit.

“We fought a brake issue all night, and I just feel like that was a source of all of our issues,” Lushes said. “Obviously, you can’t get into a corner, you can’t finish the corner, so we’ll go back and assess what we did. We have a pretty good idea what we did, tried something a little different tonight. I guess playoffs isn’t the time to try something, but we’ll see. We’ll go on to Kansas and still got a good cushion right now. So we’ll go to Kansas, have a good race and move on to the next round.”

That points buffer took a bit of a dent entering the playoff-opening Round of 10’s final race, scheduled Sept. 9 at Kansas Speedway. Two drivers will be eliminated from the 10-driver field at Kansas, and Rhodes ranks seventh in the pecking order with a 21-point edge over the cutoff line.

“I’ve been there before, so I’m not scared,” Rhodes said, smiling through the disappointment. “I mean, we can run like a bag of (expletive) again next week and, you know, we should have enough points to make it through. This is about as terrible as I’ve ever ran before. I told them at one point, I can’t repeat what I said. It was a terrible truck at that one point in the race, and we could run just as bad. I can take solace knowing that we can run just as bad — we should never run this bad — but we have enough points to make it in as long as we don’t do anything stupid.

“The problem is, when you do run this bad, you run around people that make a lot of bad decisions, and you can easily get caught up in something that you shouldn’t even be a part of. So again, we’ve just got to go back and find out what happened. There’s no excuse for running this terrible.”