Ben Rhodes has turned his Alpha Energy Solutions sponsored Chevrolet into the alpha car on the race track.
The 17-year-old driver has been dominant in his first full year in the K&N Pro Series, compiling five wins in the first 11 races.
“I don’t know if the year could be going a whole lot better,” he said. “I’m kind of shocked myself.”
Rhodes and the rest of the K&N Pro Series East and West drivers return to Iowa Speedway tonight for the second of two combined races this season. The Autolite Iridium XP 150 starts at 8 p.m. Rhodes cruised to victory lane in the first race in Newton in May, which started a streak of four straight wins for the rookie.
That remarkable stretch, which ended one win shy of tying Ricky Craven’s 1991 record for most consecutive victories in one year, significantly increased Rhodes’ expectations for the season. He said he began the year hoping for four wins and has since increased that goal to eight.
For perspective, there are 16 races on the K&N Pro Series schedule.
“We won five out of 10 races earlier this season, so I feel like if we can get eight, win half of the races in the season, that would just be awesome,” Rhodes said. “With five wins right now, and five more races left, it’s not too unrealistic. It’d be one heck of a feat. We had four wins in a row, so I’m thinking it’s possible.”
Winning has been somewhat of a habit for Rhodes. In 2011, he won 43 Legends car races, more than any driver internationally.
As he advanced through his first few seasons in stock cars, his appearances in victory lane grew less frequent. He won six Late Model races in 2013, the same year he began his K&N Pro Series career. Rhodes ran seven K&N races last season without a victory, and he said that’s been a motivating force for him this season.
“Everything feeds from what happened in the past, for me at least,” he said. “That’s a step up (the K&N Pro Series), that’s when you really want to win. Now to finally get that this year, and to keep winning, that’s a really good feeling.”
Rhodes first experienced that feeling at Greenville on March 22. His first K&N Pro Series win was his first of five victories in a six-race period — he finished second at Richmond on April 26 — as well as the beginning of a balancing act juggling success and improvement.
“ I’ve talked to a lot of experienced guys who’ve raced a long time ago and are very involved in the sport today, and we all say the same thing: We wish we’d slow down and enjoy it more,” Rhodes said. “You’re always focused on the next race, the next win, when you’re going to be in victory lane again and how the car is right now. That makes it hard to slow down and appreciate what’s happening and to enjoy what’s happening. I try to focus on that aspect, but it’s hard when you’re winning these races.”
Another win tonight would make Rhodes the first driver to win back-to-back K&N Pro Series combination races at Iowa Speedway.
While it remains to be seen whether or not the Louisville, Ky., native can pick up his sixth, one thing is certain: the potential victory celebration will be limited.
His crew chief, Mark McFarland, told Rhodes over the radio not to do a burnout following his first win at Iowa in May. Three wins later, and the driver of the No. 41 car is still waiting for that signature celebration.
“That is something I’m still waiting to do,” he said. “I’ve never done a burnout before, just because it’s hard on equipment. So they made me a deal: I can do a burnout if I win the championship at Dover. So if I win the championship, I can do a burnout at Dover, and I guess I will have earned it by that point, but five wins has not earned me a doughnut yet.”
Sports writer Ben Schuffmay be contacted at (641) 792-3121, ext. 6536 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.