LAS VEGAS – Ben Rhodes found out last season just how important winning at Las Vegas Motor Speedway can be, as he found victory lane at the 1.5-mile Sin City oval and advanced to the next round of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series playoffs as a result.
Entering this weekend’s World of Westgate 200 and the series’ annual fall trip to Las Vegas, Rhodes is hopeful of recapturing that prior success and again propelling himself forward in the championship fight.
Rhodes, who will pilot the No. 41 Carolina Nut Co. Ford F-150 on Friday night, enters the second race in the Round of 8 seventh in the playoff standings, one point below the cut line to advance to the next round and in need of some of the same magic that he carried into the state of Nevada a year ago.
In last year’s fall Las Vegas Truck Series race, Rhodes led 20 of 146 laps – including the final seven – and held off a hard-charging Christopher Bell to capture what was, at the time, his first Truck Series victory.
That was a race in which all eight playoff-eligible drivers finished inside the top 10. Rhodes knows that with that level of competition, it will be difficult to make up points on his rivals, meaning a win is the only sure bet for continuing his hunt for a championship.
“This race will be just as important this year as it was last (year),” noted Rhodes. “Coming back (as) the defending winner is a really good boost of confidence for my team, considering the spring race was nothing like we had seen. There was a lot of drafting and we saw a very, very fast pace.
“I’m hoping that the 100-degree temperatures coming back here in the fall are really going to change up the racing. It’ll take grip away from our competitors and make it really racy, with a lot of sliding around.”
Rhodes appeared to be set up for success during the playoff opener at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park last month, qualifying on pole at the technical road course, but had several incidents during the event that relegated him to a disappointing 14th-place finish.
That means, with two races left before the reset and first elimination of the playoffs, Rhodes’ only mission is surviving and advancing.
“Right now, we’re solely focused on the Round of 6,” Rhodes said. “If we could make that happen with a win this weekend in Las Vegas, it would mean the world to myself and the No. 41 Carolina Nut Ford F-150 team.
“Last year’s win was super special, with it being our first win as a team and my first win in the Truck Series. Doing it again would be just as special, especially since it would punch our ticket to the next round.”