NASCAR: Will Ben Rhodes make history at Las Vegas?

Ben Rhodes, ThorSport Racing, NASCAR, Truck Series (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)
Ben Rhodes, ThorSport Racing, NASCAR, Truck Series (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images) /

Ben Rhodes won the first two races of the 2021 NASCAR Truck Series season. Can he make history by winning the first three races?

Daytona International Speedway was the site of the first two races of the 2021 NASCAR Truck Series races, and ThorSport Racing’s Ben Rhodes emerged victorious both times.

He won the season opener on the four-turn, 2.5-mile (4.023-kilometer) oval. He followed suit by winning the caution-filled and seemingly never-ending second race of the season on the 14-turn, 3.61-mile (5.810-kilometer) road course. Will Rhodes make it three straight victories to open the season, making NASCAR history?

Only twice in Truck Series history has a driver won the first two races of the season. Mark Martin won the first two races to open the 2006 season at Daytona International Speedway and Auto Club Speedway. In the third race of that season, he led 97 of the 135 laps at Atlanta Motor Speedway but finished in second place, 0.354 seconds behind Todd Bodine.

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Seven years later, Johnny Sauter, who is coincidentally now one of Rhodes’s ThorSport Racing teammates, won the first two races at Daytona International Speedway and Martinsville Speedway. In the third race of the season at Rockingham Speedway, he led one lap en route to a fourth place finish.

So history is not in Rhodes’s favor to win the third race of this season and go three for three to start the year at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. However, he should still be considered one of the favorites to win the Bucked Up 200 there.

Rhodes has made eight Truck Series starts at the four-turn, 1.5-mile (2.414-kilometer) oval in Las Vegas, Nevada. In those eight starts, he has one win, three top five finishes and five top 10 finishes.

In the 2017 Las Vegas 350, Rhodes led 20 laps, including the final seven, to capture his first career Truck Series victory. His average finishing position at the track is 10.6, so he knows how to wheel his #99 ThorSport Racing Toyota there.

Which of his fellow competitors have the best odds to deny him a third straight victory?

At the top of that list is Kyle Busch. The all-time winningest driver in Truck Series history, Busch has fared extremely well at his home track Las Vegas Motor Speedway. He has won three times in a row there and has finished inside the top 10 in all four of his Truck Series starts at the track, with his worst finish of ninth place coming 20 years ago in 2001.

Busch’s victory in the first Truck Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway last February in what turned out to be the final race before a three-month hiatus caused by the coronavirus pandemic led to the creation of the bounty. The Bucked Up 200 will be the first of Busch’s five scheduled Truck Series starts of the 2021 season.

Other former winners at Las Vegas Motor Speedway who are set to compete in the Bucked Up 200 are two-time winner Austin Hill, Grant Enfinger, Timothy Peters and Sauter.

Enfinger will drive the #9 CR7 Motorsports Chevrolet, which is normally driven by Codie Rohrbaugh.

Hill won the most recent Truck Series race there, the playoff race last year. He will also debut a new paint scheme on his #16 Hattori Racing Enterprises Toyota.

Another driver to keep an eye on is Sheldon Creed. The reigning Truck Series champion finished the most recent race at the Daytona International Speedway road course in second place after leading a race-high 17 laps.

In his four Truck Series starts at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Creed has two top five finishes and four top 10 finishes. In the most recent Truck Series race there, Creed led a race-high 89 laps, won the first two stages and then finished runner-up by 0.546 seconds behind Hill.

After driving a blank #2 Chevrolet at the Daytona International Speedway Road Course race, Creed now has Camping World backing and is one of many drivers with sponsorship thanks to Marcus Lemonis.

Creed’s GMS Racing teammate Zane Smith could also be a force to be reckoned with in the Bucked Up 200. Smith finished in sixth and seventh place in the two Truck Series races at Las Vegas Motor Speedway last year. After finishing last in the most recent Truck Series race, he is eager for redemption.

In addition to team owner Kyle Busch, Kyle Busch Motorsports rookie Chandler Smith could also factor into the mix for the Bucked Up 200 victory. Smith is seeking his first career Truck Series win. In his first trip to Las Vegas Motor Speedway in the playoff race there last year, Smith started and finished in fifth place.

He currently sits in fourth place in the championship standings; a win in the Bucked Up 200 would certainly continue his hot start to the season.

It is difficult to win back-to-back races in the Truck Series. The last time it happened prior to Rhodes’s current run was in 2019 when Brett Moffitt won the first two round of 10 playoff races.

To win three straight races is an even more daunting task. Kyle Busch won four straight races in 2019 en route to his perfect Truck Series slate that year, but he is a full-time Cup Series driver.

Before Busch, who also achieved the feat in 2014, the last driver to win three straight races was Kevin Harvick, also a full-time Cup Series driver, in 2011. Winning three straight Truck Series races is incredibly hard to do, especially to start a season, when it has never been done. Will Rhodes accomplish the feat? We’ll find out this Friday night.

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The Bucked Up 200 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway is set to be broadcast live on Fox Sports 1 beginning at 9:00 p.m. ET on Friday, March 5.