The Camping World Truck Series is about to take on Sonoma Raceway for the first time since 1998. None of the current drivers have experience at the California track, but ThorSport Racing’s Ben Rhodes is ready to conquer another new surface on June 11 (7:30 p.m. ET, FS1).
The Toyota Racing Development driver sat down with Heavy ahead of the trip to Sonoma Raceway, and he laid out his expectations for the special weekend. He noted that he doesn’t have Truck Series experience at Sonoma, but he made one Cup Series start for Spire Motorsports in 2021 and used it to learn the course. Now he is ready to embrace a new challenge.
“I wish they took us there a long time ago,” Rhodes told Heavy ahead of the trip out west. “I’m pro road course. I think road course races put on a heck of a show, not just in Truck Series, but all of NASCAR. It’s different than what most people see when you think of road course racing. NASCAR just is very unique on road courses. There’s a lot of beating and banging, it’s got a short track feel to it. I think that’s something that road courses are really good at bringing out.
“So I like Sonoma. I did my very first Cup start there last year. So I do have experience now that gives me a lot of confidence going into it. If I didn’t have that start, I would probably feel a little uneasy, maybe a little woozy, a little scared. But I feel good, I feel energized and just ready to go. And I think my team is kind of feeding off that energy.”
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Rhodes has plenty of experience on road courses in the Camping World Truck Series. He has made nine starts, and he has posted five top-10 finishes and three top-fives. He also won at the Daytona Road Course. Now he will take on Sonoma Raceway for the first time as a Truck Series driver while trying to win his 10th road course race.
Rhodes Has Conquered Other ‘New’ Additions to the Schedule
The race at Sonoma will provide Rhodes with an opportunity to continue his run of success at newer additions to the Truck Series schedule. For example, he captured the Truck Series race at Darlington Raceway in 2020, which was the first at the track since the 2011 season. Rhodes also captured the second-ever Truck Series race at the Daytona Road Course in 2021.
Rhodes continued this streak early in the 2022 Truck Series. He won the Truck Series dirt race at Bristol Motor Speedway and punched his ticket to the playoffs. He also achieved this feat after an early mistake kept him from pitting for fresh tires.
“If there was anything that was like a strength for myself and the team, I do feel like new racetracks are a strength,” Rhodes said. “I feel like we go to places before a lot of people have a lot of time to really learn and hone in on their race cars — their race trucks. We seem to be able to hit on all cylinders right off the bat. So I do think that’s like a — I wouldn’t say a superpower of our team — but it’s certainly a positive that I think that we’ve been able to shine through with.”
Rhodes Has Plenty of Information Available
The 2021 Cup Series race at Sonoma Raceway was an important trip for Rhodes. He completed his first-ever laps at the road course while gaining some experience behind the wheel of the previous Cup Series car, and he finished on the lead lap.
The time in the No. 77 won’t directly translate to Rhodes’ No. 99 ThorSport Racing Toyota Tundra, but the information he gained about the track itself will play a much bigger role during the inaugural DoorDash 250. He saw firsthand how much several portions of the track test the drivers.
“I thought that the Cup race was extremely fun,” Rhodes said. “And I think I can take pretty much everything out of it, literally. Everything I learned in the Cup race I can take with me. Pit road is tight. Getting on the entry to pit road can be tricky. You’re going through kind of two walls.
“The dangers of going into the last corner there — that hairpin — of trying to make passes, but also not letting it get out from under you. There’s a lot of elevation change in that spot that you don’t really see or think about, just whoops in the asphalt, elevation changes on the track itself. Like it’s a technical, technical track, and it’ll wear you out really quickly. So I just feel like I’ve got the world by the horns right now. I’m just ready to go.”
Rhodes, who has the points lead after 11 races, has the information and experience from his last trip to Sonoma Raceway. Now he just needs to go out and put it all together while pursuing his second win of the season. If he can run well and score stage points, he will have an opportunity to add to his points lead.