Column By: REID SPENCER / NASCAR – KNOXVILLE, IA – When the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series visits the Sprint Car Capital of the World on Saturday night, Ben Rhodes will be trying for a sweep of this year’s dirt races.
History, however, will weigh against the efforts of the reigning series champion in the Clean Harbors 150 at Knoxville Raceway (9 p.m. ET Saturday on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
Rhodes dominated the Pinty’s Truck Race on Dirt at Bristol Motor Speedway in April, leading 95 of the 150 laps in winning by .824 seconds over Carson Hocevar. In 2021, he finished second in that same race to NASCAR Cup Series veteran Martin Truex Jr.
In last year’s tumultuous series debut at Knoxville, Rhodes ran a respectable seventh. Based on his record, he’ll be one of the favorites to win Saturday’s race and complete a sweep of the 2022 events on dirt.
But here’s the history: the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series has raced on dirt 10 times—seven times at Eldora Speedway, twice at Bristol and once at Knoxville. Those 10 races have produced 10 different winners, so Rhodes will have to buck that trend to accomplish the sweep.
Rhodes, who drives the No. 99 ThorSport Racing Toyota, is one of only three dirt-track winners in the field this week. The list also includes Matt Crafton and Stewart Friesen, who triumphed at Eldora in 2017 and 2019, respectively.
Interestingly, Rhodes’ approach to the Knoxville race bears similarities to his mind-set in pavement races at Martinsville Speedway.
“We’re going to approach it a lot like (a Martinsville) race, as far as setup and package go, and then, as far as my driving, too, like the plan,” Rhodes said. “Martinsville is all about keeping yourself out of trouble, and I find Knoxville is similar in that regard.
“The thing about Knoxville, though, is that everybody was nose-to-tail throughout the field. At least at Martinsville you get some breaks. There’s not much room to hide at Martinsville, but you can kind of find it if you’re smart. I didn’t find any room to hide last year at Knoxville.”
When Rhodes takes to the track on Saturday, he’ll face competition not only from Truck Series regulars but also from dirt-track specialists. Foremost among them is defending USAC National Midget champion Buddy Kofoid, who will be making his second start in the series.
Kofoid was impressive in his debut at Bristol, racing from his 32nd starting position to run as high as third before his truck was damaged in an accident on Lap 139. Kofoid finished 27th but established himself as a likely contender in future dirt races.
At Knoxville, drivers will be racing on a relatively flat track banked at seven degrees versus the 16-to-19-degree gradual banking at Bristol. Nevertheless, Kofoid believes the experience he gained at Bristol will be invaluable.
“I feel like I will be even more prepared now going into Knoxville, because I think I have a good sense of the weight and power of the truck,” said Kofoid, who will be driving the No. 51 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota.
“Now that I have one race under my belt, I think I have a good sense of what to expect and am looking forward to getting back to it with (crew chief) Mardy (Lindley) and all the guys on my Mobil 1 team.”
Qualifying for the race will take place on Saturday in the form of four 15-lap heat races, with starting positions in those heats drawn at random. The field for the main event will be set according to a combination of finishing position and passing points earned in the heats.