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KY Speedway wrapup: Rhodes talks about win, Smithley finishes, NKy Chamber Community Award

By Mark Hansel
KyForward managing editor

It has been an up and down year for NASCAR Camping World Truck Series(NCWTS) driver Ben Rhodes and the ThorSport Racing team, with more downs than ups recently.

Ben Rhodes talks about getting a win at his home track (photos by Mark Hansel)

All of that changed Thursday night when Rhodes, from Louisville, guided his No. 41 Ford 150 to Victory Lane in the NCWTS Buckle Up In Your Truck 225 at Kentucky Speedway.

Rhodes summed up his feelings in one word when he spoke with the Ky Forward about the win this weekend.

“Un-believable,” he said. “Not just from the sense that I won in my home state and that everyone is here, but from the sense that our season has been like junked from just bad things happening.”

Our season has had super, super stout F-150s. It was even more frustrating, Rhodes said because the team had “super stout” F-150 all season, but things kept cropping up.

“We should have won multiple times by now,” Rhodes said. “Texas, Iowa we had problems, Atlanta, – Kansas – majority of the season we’ve had issues, just out of our control. “Now we come here, stuff’s working right, we got Officer Nick Rodman on the truck, his family is here, we did this whole deal for first responders, we gave out all the tickets and everything just went right, I just couldn’t believe it.”

Louisville Metro Police Officer Nick Rodman was a Louisville Metro Police officer who was killed in the line of duty last year.

Rhodes has been disappointed with his finishes at his adopted home track, but he put it all together this year.

“You would think that this would be the race that, if something was going to go wrong, it would go wrong here, but it went wrong everywhere else and it worked out here,’ he said. “It worked out perfectly.”

With a few laps to go the fuel pressure gauge in the F-150 lit up, but Rhodes stayed silent on the radio.

“I didn’t want to tell the team about it, because they can’t do nothing about it,” Rhodes said. “I’m doing 190 (miles per hour), there’s a few laps left, I ain’t going to tell them. They’re just going to stress out and start talking to me on the radio when I need to focus, just leave me alone.”

What he didn’t know I that because of the images relayed from his visor cam, “the whole world” knew about the gauge.

“It turns out, everybody saw it,” Rhodes said. “They saw it, too, we just didn’t talk about it.”

Rhodes has described the Kentucky Speedway NCWTS race as like his Daytona 500, because of the strong local following he has here.

“This is huge for me and my family,” Rhodes said. “I’ve been coming to this race since the track re-opened and I’ve been racing since it reopened. I drove my first Legend car here, I’ve been here for go-carts, it’s just so important to me.”

Even more important is that the win assures him a spot in the NCWTS playoffs. Rhodes came into the race clinging to the eighth and final playoff spot after being as high as second earlier this year.

“I was amazed when we were second in points because we had catastrophic problems going on and with a 10 point deduction at one point at Kansas,” Rhodes said. “Then after Kansas, the catastrophic problems became overbearing and we dropped to eighth in points, I thought we would have been further back.”

Now sitting at sixth in points, and locked into the playoffs, the team can focus its resources on the playoff trucks.

Smithley getting ready for the Cup race.

“Still, anything outside of a top five, doesn’t matter what track it is, we’re not going to be happy,” Rhodes said. “But we’re not counting points anymore and we go to places like Pocono, Bristol, races that are still in the regular season, we’re still going there to win. I’ll tell you that a win at a place like that is huge for us, because it’s going to give us playoff bonus points and that’s super important, and you want that momentum going into the playoffs.”

Smithley gets first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series finish

Garrett Smithley finished in 36th place in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway Saturday.

Technically it was his second Series start, but an equipment failure knocked him out of his first start at Michigan International Speedway June 10.

“It was cool, I’ve got my first Cup race out of the books,”  I consider this my first Cup race, since last time we didn’t even get to the green flag, so I’m really happy about it.”

Smithley, a regular in the NASCAR XFINITIY Series, has strong Kentucky ties as a supporter of the apprenticeship programs at Mubea and KYFAME (Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education). He has been a frequent speaker in support of the advanced manufacturing programs in Kentucky and throughout the country.

“I guess tonight I’m kind of on an equal stage (with the regular Cup drivers0 and hopefully I’ll be racing for a long time and I can look back at this and smile really enjoy it,” Smithley said. “You want to do the best you can, but we had some issues with loose wheels and vibrations, things we’ve got to work on, but all in all, I feel like I did a good job.”

Smithley acknowledged his supporters after the race, including Victory Lane Quick Oil Change, which agreed to sponsor him after he and Mubea’s Drew Farris noticed they were expanding into the region and reached out.

“I’m just really thankful for Victory Lane Quick Oil Change coming on board, giving me a shot, making my dream come true,” he said. “I still remember watching the Cup series when I was a kid, two or three years old and, man, I just completed my first Cup race.”

NKY Chambers honor Kentucky Speedway with Community Award

Gene Kirchner, left and Brent Cooper of the NKY Chamber of Commerce presented Speedway General Manager Mark Simendinger, center, with the Chamber’s Community Award prior to Friday’s NASCAR XFINITY Series Alsco 300.

The Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce honored Kentucky Speedway and General Manager Mark Simendinger with its Community Award during the NASCAR Tripleheader Weekend.

Chamber President and CEO Brent Cooper and Senior Vice-President and COO Gene Kirchner presented the award to Simendinger, prior to Friday’s NASCAR XFINITY Series Alsco 300.

“This Award is given to businesses, organizations, or individuals that have done something special in the community,” Cooper said. “We certainly felt that the Kentucky Speedway certainly qualifies for that bringing people from all over the country to our region and really having a huge economic impact. We were thrilled to be here tonight to honor Mark and the Kentucky Speedway.”

The eyes of NASCAR fans around the world were focused on Northern Kentucky this weekend, thanks to the network broadcasts and national media attention focused on the races.

“We really appreciate being recognized by the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce for the Community Award,” Simendinger said. “Huge National events can only succeed with participation by the entire community. We also project Northern Kentucky to the country and showcase this area as a great place to live, work, or raise a family and we are thrilled to receive the award, especially on the big race weekend.”

Contact Mark Hansel at mark.hansel@nkytrib.com

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