When Ben Rhodes qualified 19th for Friday’s NC Education Lottery 200, many had already written the ThorSport Racing driver off, with only two prior Truck Series winners at Charlotte having come from 20th or worse.
However, in typical Ben Rhodes fashion, the 2021 NASCAR Truck Series champion was able to methodically work his way to the front of the pack, where he didn’t appear at the front of the pack until a stellar pit stop with 40 laps to go.
RELATED: NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series NC Education Lottery 200 Race Results
That single pit stop, performed exquisitely by his ThorSport Racing crew, propelled the No. 99 Ford F-150 in front of Carson Hocevar, the driver who appeared to have the fastest truck throughout the majority of the race.
Hocevar’s downfall, though, was the final restart of Friday’s 134-lap contest, where the Niece Motorsports driver was put in the middle and shuffled as far back as sixth place, with not much time to recover.
The Texas winner was presumed to be the only legitimate challenge for Rhodes, until Dean Thompson, driving the No. 5 for TRICON Garage, continued to run in his tire tracks and eventually pull a slide job on Hocevar.
Over the race’s final 15 laps, the duo of Thompson and Hocevar appeared to trade quick times back and forth, quickly closing on the top two as the race approached single-digit laps remaining.
Yet, it was the fading of Corey Heim, a fellow TRICON Garage driver, that impeded the process of Hocevar and Thompson, allowing Rhodes to pull away and secure the seventh victory of his NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series career.
Not only does Rhodes lock himself into the Playoffs with his victory at Charlotte, but he is now $50,000 richer, as the first winner of the annual Triple Truck Challenge series, which started on Friday, and continues at WWT Raceway and Nashville Superspeedway.
Corey Heim was able to hold onto the runner-up position but finished nearly 2.5 seconds behind the race’s eventual winner, Ben Rhodes. Dean Thompson secured a career-best third-place finish, after passing Carson Hocevar on the race’s final lap.
Hocevar ended up in fourth, while Grant Enfinger was able to catch the four-truck pack battling for second place in the final laps of the race, finishing in fifth, scoring top-fives in both the Truck and ARCA events at Charlotte on Friday.
Christian Eckes finished sixth after running as high as second place on the race’s final restart, while Ty Majeski, Matt DiBenedetto, Nick Sanchez, and Taylor Gray rounded out the top-10.
After running inside the top-10 for most of the evening, David Gilliland finished 14th in his return to the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, driving the No. 1 Toyota Tundra TRD Pro for TRICON Garage.
Zane Smith came home in 23rd, scoring another poor finish with Front Row Motorsports, after being involved in an accident in the race’s third stage, which also collected fellow Ford Performance driver Hailie Deegan.
Tanner Gray, who scored his first career pole earlier on Friday, led the race’s opening three laps before sliding back to the end of the top five. However, eventually, overheating issues plagued the No. 15 for TRICON Garage, relegating him to a finish of 27th.
Only two trucks, Armani Williams and Keith McGee, retired from the NC Education Lottery 200. While McGee had a mechanical issue on his No. 34 Ford F-150, Williams had an incident much more severe, spinning and hitting the inside pit wall.
The event featured a total of five cautions for 32 laps, three of which came in the final stage, and had five different drivers sit at the front of the pack – Heim, Hocevar, Rhodes, Gray, and Purdy – with a total of 12 lead changes.
Corey Heim leads the regular-season points after 12 races, sitting 26 markers ahead of ThorSport Racing’s Ty Majeski. Zane Smith, Grant Enfinger, and now Ben Rhodes complete the top five in point standings.
Leaving Charlotte, the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series continues to chug along on a grueling schedule, heading out to St. Louis for the Drivin’ for Lineman 200 at WWT Raceway.
Race Results – NC Education Lottery 200:
Race Results: NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series NC Education Lottery 200 at Charlotte
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