From rolling off the starting grid in 19th place to claiming the checkered flag in first place, Ben Rhodes emerged victorious for the first time in the 2023 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series season after winning the North Carolina Education Lottery 200 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Friday, May 26.
The 2021 Truck Series champion from Louisville, Kentucky, led two times for 37 of 134 scheduled laps as he managed to reassume the lead from Carson Hocevar during a late restart with 24 laps remaining. From there, he managed to pull away from the field and beat runner-up Corey Heim by more than two seconds to win for the first time in the 2023 season and at Charlotte.
With on-track qualifying that determined the starting lineup occurring on Friday, Tanner Gray claimed his first career pole position after posting a pole-winning lap at 180.385 in 29.936 seconds. Joining him on the front row was Ty Majeski, who posted the second-best qualifying lap at 180.180 mph in 29.970 seconds.
Prior to the event, Tyler Ankrum dropped to the rear of the field due to an engine change made to his Hattori Racing Enterprises entry. Rookie Nick Sanchez also dropped to the rear of the field due to unapproved adjustments made to his Rev Racing entry.
When the green flag waved and the race commenced, Tanner Gray received a push from teammate Corey Heim on the inside lane to muscle ahead of Majeski with the lead entering Turns 1 and 2. As the field fanned out to three lanes through the backstretch and entering the frontstretch, Gray managed to fend off Majeski and Heim as he led the first lap.
During the second lap and amid a series of early on-track battles, Tanner Gray retained the lead by half a second over a side-by-side battle between Majeski and Heim while rookie Rajah Caruth closed in while running in fourth. Shortly after, Armani Williams had early on-track issues after he made contact with the wall and limped his damaged truck to pit road, but the race remained under green.
Then on the fourth lap, Heim gained a strong run beneath teammate Tanner Gray entering the frontstretch as he assumed the lead in his No. 11 Rootly Toyota Tundra TRD Pro. Entering Turn 1, Majeski attempted to overtake Gray, but he got loose beneath Gray as his truck slipped sideways, but he managed to straighten his truck entering the backstretch as Gray and Caruth overtook him for top-five spots. In the midst of the battle, Heim stretched his advantage to eight-tenths of a second.
Through the first 10 scheduled laps, Heim was leading by seven-tenths of a second over Caruth and more than a second over third-place Dean Thompson while Majeski and Tanner Gray trailed in the top five. Behind, David Gilliland was in sixth ahead of Carson Hocevar, Christian Eckes, Zane Smith and Stewart Friesen while Grant Enfinger, Bayley Currey, Taylor Gray, Lawless Alan and Chase Purdy rounded out the top 15. Meanwhile, Jack Wood was in 16th ahead of Ben Rhodes, Colby Howard, Matt DiBenedetto and Matt Crafton while rookie Nick Sanchez was up to 21st ahead of Hailie Deegan and rookie Jake Garcia.
Ten laps later, Heim continued to lead by three-tenths of a second over a hard-charging Caruth as Dean Thompson retained third while trailing by seven-tenths of a second. Behind, Majeski also retained fourth while Hocevar carved his way up to fifth. With Zane Smith moving up to sixth, Tanner Gray fell back to seventh ahead of David Gilliland while Taylor Gray cracked the top 10.
Another four laps later, Hocevar carved his way up to second place as he trailed Heim by more than a second while Caruth, Thompson and Majeski dropped a spot, but remained in the top five.
When the first stage concluded on Lap 30, Heim claimed his fourth Truck stage victory of the season after fending off Hocevar by a tenth of a second. Hocevar settled in second followed by Thompson, Caruth and Zane Smith while Majeski, Tanner Gray, Friesen, David Gilliland and Taylor Gray were scored in the top 10. By then, 29 of 36 starters were scored on the lead lap.
Under the stage break, the lead lap field led by Heim pitted and after the pit stops, Heim retained the lead after exiting pit road first ahead of Hocevar, Zane Smith, Tanner Gray, Thompson and Gilliland. Following the pit stops, Majeski pitted for a second time for repairs to his quarter panel. Caruth also made another pit stop due to a jack issue from his initial stop.
The second stage started on Lap 36 as Heim and Hocevar occupied the front row. At the start, Heim and Hocevar dueled for the lead through the first two turns amid a tight pack of competitors. Just as Hocevar tried to peek ahead on the outside lane, Heim managed to muscle ahead on the inside lane through Turns 3 and 4 as he retained the lead while teammates Tanner Gray and Thompson battled for third. Behind, Friesen was in fifth while David Gilliland carved his way to sixth ahead of Taylor Gray, Zane Smith, Eckes, Bayley Currey, Colby Howard and Matt DiBenedetto.
Just past the Lap 40 mark, Heim was holding a steady advantage over Hocevar followed by Thompson, Tanner Gray and Friesen while Zane Smith, Taylor Gray, Gilliland, Rhodes and Eckes were in the top 10. Meanwhile, Colby Howard was in 11th ahead of DiBenedetto, Crafton, Sanchez, and Currey while Purdy, Deegan, Enfinger, Garcia and Caruth were running within the top 20.
Five laps later, Hocevar emerged as the third different leader of the event as he overtook Heim for the lead while third-place Thompson trailed by more than two seconds. By then, Caruth and Majeski were mired back in 18th and 20th, respectively, as Friesen and Zane Smith rounded out the top five.
At the Lap 50 mark, Hocevar extended his advantage to more than two seconds over runner-up Heim while third-place Thompson trailed by more than four seconds. Behind, Friesen and Zane Smith remained in the top five while Taylor Gray retained sixth ahead of Ben Rhodes.
When the second stage concluded on Lap 60, Hocevar claimed his second stage victory of the 2023 Truck season. Heim settled in second ahead of Thompson, Zane Smith and Friesen while Taylor Gray, Rhodes, Gilliland, Sanchez and Eckes were scored in the top 10. By then, 30 of 36 starters were scored on the lead lap.
Under the stage break, the lead lap field led by Hocevar returned to pit road. Following the pit stops, Heim managed to edge Hocevar to reassume the lead followed by Taylor Gray, Thompson, Zane Smith and Sanchez. Following the pit stops, Tanner Gray pitted for a second time with the hood up on his truck.
With 66 laps remaining, the final stage started under green as Heim and Hocevar occupied the front row. At the start, Heim and Hocevar dueled for the lead until Heim launched ahead with the lead on the inside lane through the first two turns. Heim would retain the lead through the frontstretch as Hocevar overtook Taylor Gray for second while the rest of the field fanned out and jostled for positions.
With 60 laps remaining, Heim continued to lead by a tenth of a second over Hocevar. A lap later, however, Hocevar reassumed the lead over Heim as Thompson, Rhodes and Friesen were scored in the top five.
Then with 54 laps remaining, the caution flew when Armani Williams slipped sideways and spun entering Turn 4 as his truck dipped below the apron and onto pit road, where he collided against the pit road wall and damaged his truck. Despite the incident, Williams emerged uninjured as his incident also did not involve any crew members.
Following an extensive cleanup period and while still under a caution, Hocevar led a parade of competitors to pit road with 48 laps remaining. Amid mixed strategy, Chase Purdy exited first after only opting for fuel as he was followed by Rhodes, Hocevar, Deegan, Taylor Gray and Thompson.
During the following restart with 45 laps remaining, Purdy struggled to launch on the inside lane while Rhodes received a strong push from Hocevar’s No. 42 Worldwide Express Chevrolet Silverado RST to assume the lead on the outside lane. The field then fanned out to three lanes entering Turn 1 as Hocevar quickly challenged Rhodes for the lead. Entering the frontstretch, however, the caution returned when Zane Smith got loose underneath Taylor Gray while battling for third, spun across the track and clipped the side of Hailie Deegan’s No. 13 Ford F-150 before spinning across the frontstretch grass.
With the race restarting with 38 laps remaining, Rhodes managed to launch with a strong start and retain the lead ahead of Hocevar while transitioning from the outside to the inside lane entering Turn 1. After being placed in a three-wide battle between Hocevar and Christian Eckes through the backstretch, Rhodes maintained the top spot as he gained a strong start on the outside lane and muscled away from the field. Behind, Hocevar and Eckes battled for second in front of Majeski and Taylor Gray.
With 33 laps remaining, Hocevar managed to reassume the lead from Rhodes as Eckes fell back to third ahead of Heim and Thompson. Two laps later, however, the caution returned as Tyler Ankrum and Kris Wright wrecked in the backstretch.
As the race restarted under green with 24 laps remaining, Rhodes gained a strong push from Eckes on the inside lane to pull ahead of Hocevar and reassume the lead entering the first turn. With the rest of the field jostling for positions, Rhodes retained the lead by a tenth of a second with 20 laps remaining.
With 15 laps remaining, Rhodes was leading by three-tenths of a second over Heim followed by Hocevar, Thompson and Eckes while Enfinger, Majeski, Taylor Gray, DiBenedetto and Gilliland were scored in the top 10. Behind, Caruth was in 11th ahead of Currey, Crafton, Sanchez, and Garcia while Daniel Dye, Purdy, Tanner Gray, Jack Wood and Friesen were running in the top 20.
Down to the final 10 laps of the event, Rhodes continued to lead in his No. 99 Campers Inn RV Ford F-150 by eight-tenths of a second over Heim and more than a second over Thompson while Hocevar and Enfinger were in the top five. Rhodes would retain the lead by a second over a three-truck battle between a tight three-truck battle between Heim, Thompson and Hocevar with five laps remaining.
When the white flag waved and the final lap started, Rhodes remained as the leader by more than two seconds over Heim with Hocevar, Thompson and Enfinger scored in the top five. With Heim unable to narrow the deficit for a final lap and with Rhodes having a clear view in front of him, the Kentucky native was able to cycle his way back to the frontstretch for his first elusive checkered flag of the 2023 campaign.
With the victory, Rhodes became the ninth different winner of the 2023 Truck season and the sixth series regular to place himself in contention to make the 2023 Truck Playoffs. In addition to scoring his seventh series career victory and the second of the season for ThorSport Racing, Rhodes notched the first Truck victory at Charlotte for himself and the Ford nameplate as he claimed the first $50,000 bonus for winning the first Triple Truck Challenge event.
“I didn’t think we were that good in practice,” Rhodes said on FS1. “I didn’t qualify the best, and here, [the truck] came to life at night. Oh, man, I had so much fun. This is so much fun. Charlotte is a track that we come to. ThorSport Racing, we’re based in Sandusky, Ohio. We come to the North Carolina guys’ house and we like to win.”
“I’ll take the championship right now,” Rhodes added. “The whole season is so hard to put together. It’s unbelievably hard and it’s only gotten more difficult over the years. I started running this series in 2016 and I’ll tell you, I keep getting better every year and so does the competition. The harder I try, the harder it is to win a race, so a championship, being locked [into the Playoffs], I’ll take that. The last three races have been so unbelievably hard on my team. We’ve been wrecked in the last three and haven’t had any good showings because of it. I’ll take the points. Thank you.”
Heim, who led four times for a race-high 49 laps, settled in second place for the second time this season but managed to extend his lead in the regular-season standings with five regular-season events remaining on the schedule.
“Me and [Hocevar] and [Thompson] were probably the best trucks,” Heim said. “[Rhodes] just came along really strong, and once we got to second on the restart, where [Hocevar] got put in the middle there, I really thought we had a shot at it. It just proves that clean air is king here, but I feel like if I did a better job of getting by as soon as possible rather than waiting on a run, we might have had a better opportunity.”
Dean Thompson, Heim’s teammate at TRICON Garage who qualified seventh, had a career night as he claimed third-place results in both stages before settling a career-best third-place in the final running order for his first top-five result in the series.
“This season, so far, has been so up and down,” Thompson said. “We’ve had such good runs. We had [good runs at] Texas, Kansas, and it just ends up wrecking. To have this turned around like this is just massive. Not just for me, but for my team too. This plays a lot in my confidence so we can carry it to Gateway.”
Hocevar, who led five times for 43 laps, came home in fourth place followed by Grant Enfinger while Eckes, Majeski, DiBenedetto, Sanchez and Taylor Gray finished in the top 10.
There were 12 lead changes for five different leaders. The race featured five cautions for 32 laps. In total, 26 of 36 starters finished on the lead lap.
Following the 11th event of the 2023 Craftsman Truck Series season, Corey Heim continues to lead the regular-season standings by 26 points over Ty Majeski, 43 over Zane Smith, 63 over Grant Enfinger and 76 over Ben Rhodes.
1. Ben Rhodes, 37 laps led
2. Corey Heim, 49 laps led, Stage 1 winner
3. Dean Thompson
4. Carson Hocevar, 43 laps led, Stage 2 winner
5. Grant Enfinger
6. Christian Eckes
7. Ty Majeski
8. Matt DiBenedetto
9. Nick Sanchez
10. Taylor Gray
11. Rajah Caruth
12. Matt Crafton
13. Bayley Currey
14. David Gilliland
15. Jake Garcia
16. Chase Purdy, two laps led
17. Lawless Alan
18. Jack Wood
19. Daniel Dye
20. Colby Howard
21. Bret Holmes
22. Stewart Friesen
23. Zane Smith
24. Tyler Hill
25. Mason Maggio
26. Ryan Vargas
27. Tanner Gray, one lap down, three laps led
28. Tyler Ankrum, two laps down
29. Josh Reaume, three laps down
30. Matt Mills, three laps down
31. Spencer Boyd, three laps down
32. Kris Wright, four laps down
33. Hailie Deegan six laps down
34. Justin Carroll, 12 laps down
35. Armani Williams – OUT, Accident
36. Keith McGee – OUT, Fuel pump
Next on the 2023 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series season is the series’ annual visit to Gateway’s World Wide Technology Raceway in Madison, Illinois, which will serve as the second site of this year’s Triple Truck Challenge program. The event is scheduled to occur next Saturday, June 3, at 1:30 p.m. ET on FS1.