While Ben Rhodes was driving 10 NASCAR Xfinity Series races with so-so results this past season for Dale Earnhart Jr.’s JR Motorsports, the Kentucky teenager learned a valuable lesson:
It’s hard to climb the NASCAR ladder in a part-time job.
“It got really frustrating,” Rhodes said.
So Rhodes, 18, was beaming Tuesday as he announced that he has a full-time ride for 2016 with one of the best teams in NASCAR’s Camping World Trucks Series, ThorSports Racing.
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Rhodes, the 2014 NASCAR K&N Pro Series East champion, will drive the No. 41 Toyota Tundra for the team owned by Duke and Rhonda Thorson. Based in Sandusky, Ohio, ThorSports Racing also employs two-time trucks series champion Matt Crafton — who won six races in 2015 — as one of its drivers.
“We’re excited to have a young man of this caliber,” Matthew J. LaNeve, ThorSports vice president of sales said of Rhodes. “We want to lead laps, win races and, ultimately, win a championship.”
In the past, Rhodes had expressed a desire to to skip the trucks series (in baseball terms, Double-A) in favor of the Xfinity Series (Triple-A) as a means of developing into a Sprint Cup driver.
Circumstances led him to change his mind, Rhodes said.
“At this moment, now, it’s just about seat time,” Rhodes said at a well-attended news conference at a Louisville motel. “You look at Xfinity Series, trucks series, there’s only a limited number of rides. So when you can get in the best equipment possible for a full season, that’s a big difference.”
In his 10 races last season for JRM, Rhodes had two top-10 finishes (Iowa, Mid-Ohio) but also had four finishes of 30th or lower.
Alpha Energy Solutions, the Rhodes’ family’s company, and Carolina Nuts will be primary sponsors on the No. 41 truck. Kevin Bellicourt, who worked as car chief for Rhodes on the K&N Pro Series, will be the crew chief.
In the trucks series, Rhodes will get to race for the first time on the iconic Superspeedways at Daytona (Feb. 19) and Talladega (Oct. 22) as well as on Tony Stewart’s dirt track at Eldora Speedway (July 20).
He will also run at Kentucky Speedway on July 7.
Addressing Rhodes directly, Kentucky Speedway General Manager Mark Simendinger said, “It’s very exciting for us to have a local driver of your talent. Selfishly, I really want you to win when you come to our place. Is that asking too much?”