BRISTOL, Tenn. – Ben Rhodes hopes to join his ThorSport Racing teammate, Matt Crafton, as a winner on a dirt surface in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.
Rhodes took a big stride toward that goal by pacing final Truck Series practice Friday evening on the dirt at Bristol Motor Speedway, setting himself up nicely for Saturday’s scheduled heat races at the .533-mile, dirt-covered high banks.
The Louisville, Ky., native turned a best lap of 20.703 seconds (86.944 mph) on Bristol’s dirt surface, more than 1.3 seconds slower than the fastest lap turned during the first practice earlier in the day.
Pleased with his truck, Rhodes is hoping some of the lessons he learned during Happy Hour on Friday will translate to race conditions when the Pinty’s Truck Race on Dirt takes the green flag Saturday night.
“Wild, it’s wild out there,” tipped Rhodes. “This is something I never expected to see in my lifetime, a truck race on dirt at Bristol. I didn’t expect the fluff … when you got pushed up high, that it’d turn into grit and there would be zero grip. In first practice, you could go up there a little bit … but during final practice you’d get up there and it was just slick, with absolutely zero grip.
“I think tires are going to be a much bigger factor, as well. I didn’t think we would see the tires chunking and wearing like they are,” he added. “We’ll just have to see what plays out tomorrow.”
Though he doesn’t have much in the way of dirt in his racing background to lean on, Rhodes does have USAC Triple Crown champion Tracy Hines – who works full time for ThorSport nowadays as the team’s competition director – for support, as well as past experience in dirt karting from his youth.
“He’s a huge asset,” said Rhodes of Hines. “He’s been coaching me through this. He was a driver and crew chief combo, so he’s got a lot of knowledge. I couldn’t think of a better person to be helping us, especially at this stage of his career. Every time he gives us something, we have to soak it all up.
“As for my go-kart days, it comes back some, but the karts were a lifetime ago for me, and the trucks are so long with the wheelbase … you almost have to have a sixth sense of where everything is. It’s like driving a big boat around here and it’s really difficult to handle. It’s been a blast, but it’s been a lot of work,” Rhodes continued. “I don’t know if my kart experience helped me, but Tracy Hines certainly has.”
Rhodes also noted that visibility was a concern during final practice from his vantage point.
“It was really, really bad when the sun was setting behind turn two; you couldn’t see anything,” Rhodes explained. “I had a sparkling clean windshield at the start of final practice; it didn’t stay that way long!
“That was really tough, but I’m beaming from ear to ear … you just can’t tell it (because of the mask).”
NASCAR Cup Series regular Ryan Newman, driving DCC Racing’s No. 39 for owner Brad Means, was second-fastest in Truck Series final practice with a lap of 20.716 seconds (86.889 mph).
Without any owner points to fall back on, Newman must qualify in through heat race action Saturday.
Tanner Gray, a past outlaw kart competitor at North Carolina’s Millbridge Speedway, was third best ahead of big-block modified ace Stewart Friesen and Matt Crafton, both of whom are past Truck Series winners on dirt at Ohio’s Eldora Speedway.
Friesen won at Eldora in 2019 and Crafton collected the track’s golden shovel trophy in 2017.
Chase Briscoe, Parker Kligerman, Tyler Ankrum, Johnny Sauter and Kevin Harvick filled out the top 10 on the speed charts after the final 50-minute practice session of the day.
Timothy Peters battled a fuel pickup problem and missed the majority of Happy Hour as a result. He only turned 10 laps and was ranked 43rd of the 44 drivers in attendance.
Heat races for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series at Bristol Motor Speedway are slated for 4:30 p.m. ET Saturday afternoon, with live television coverage on FS1.
The top 35 in combined finish and passing points from the four 15-lap heats will lock into the 40-truck starting field for the Pinty’s Truck Race on Dirt, with five provisionals based on car owner points.
To view full results from final NASCAR Camping World Truck Series practice, advance to the next page.