SPARTA, Ky. — Ben Rhodes used a late-stage restart to defend home turf and win the opening stage of Thursday night’s rain-delayed Buckle Up In Your Truck 225 at Kentucky Speedway.
Rhodes drove around Thorsport Racing teammate Grant Enfinger on a restart with four laps to go in the 35-lap stage and went on to his first stage win of the season in his No. 27 SafeLite Auto Glass Toyota.
“I think it’s going to come down to restarts,” Rhodes said of the remainder of the race. “I took a few pages from Kyle Busch back at Kansas and I’m hoping to apply them here tonight. Our Safelite Tundra’s fast, but we made some good adjustments there. I’m hoping that it’ll get us past everybody else.”
“This is just like superspeedway racing on a 1.5-mile track; it’s the wildest race I think I’m going to be a part of. I couldn’t shake the guys behind me … I was trying my best. As long as the restarts keep playing out into our favor, I’ll make some crazy moves and get up to the front and maybe get us a win in the home state for all of our supporters that came out here.”
Four Toyotas reached the green-checkered flag in the top four positions, with Ryan Truex trailing Rhodes to the line by .142 of a second, followed by Matt Crafton and Enfinger.
John Hunter Nemechek, seeking his third race win in succession, finished fifth in the opening stage.
GMS Racing’s Justin Haley and Kaz Grala were sixth and seventh, with Ross Chastain, Noah Gragson and Austin Hill completing the top 10 and the points finishers.
After a three-hour rain delay backed up the start of the race, polesitter Johnny Sauter led the field to green and paced the first 26 laps, but it was a pair of late cautions that determined the fate of the playoff point that was up for grabs.
The first one flew on lap 21 when Matt Mills popped the outside wall in Turn 4 right as the leaders were coming by below him.
That sparked a round of strategy as multiple front-runners came to pit road, including third-running Christopher Bell, Brad Keselowski Racing’s Austin Cindric and two-time season winner Kyle Busch.
Unfortunately for Bell, he restarted 23rd and quickly spun in Turn 3 on the restart with nine to go before the stage break, drawing the yellow again with Grant Enfinger in front of ThorSport Racing teammate Ben Rhodes.
That yellow sent Sauter to pit road after losing the top spot to the ThorSport duo, while a four-lap dash to the stage break saw Rhodes roll around Enfinger on the outside with a push from Matt Crafton and never look back.
However, moments after the second stage began, Rhodes was involved in a multi-truck accident in Turn 3 on lap 42 that ended his night due to crash damage.
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Jacob Seelman is the Managing Editor of Race Chaser Online and creator of the Motorsports Madness radio show, airing at 7 p.m. Eastern every Monday on the Performance Motorsports Network.
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