Skip to content

Ben Rhodes, 17-year-old phenom, could tie Ricky Craven’s five-race K&N win streak record Friday at Loudon

Jul 9, 2014, 8:26 PM EDT

(Photo: Todd Warshaw/Getty Images) Getty Images

One of the records ESPN analyst and former NASCAR driver Ricky Craven takes pride in owning could wind up being tied Friday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

The Maine native will be on hand as 17-year-old racing phenom Ben Rhodes attempts to tie Craven’s nearly quarter-century old series record of five straight wins in the K&N East Series in the East Granite 100.

“I do think it’s impressive, certainly more impressive what Ben is doing than what I did back then,” Craven said during a Wednesday morning NASCAR teleconference. “I think it’s mostly because he’s 17 years old, and I think it deserves a lot of attention. It’s what separates him from the crowd.”

Craven won five in a row on the K&N Series during the 1991 season.

Ironically, Craven and Rhodes will meet for the first time before the race, but Craven is already wishing Rhodes well in Friday’s race.

“I’m very enthusiastic,” Craven said. “I’ll go out of my way to find him this weekend and shake hands and wish him luck, as I’m really pulling for him to not only tie the record but exceed it.

“(Holding the record for) 23 years is a long time. I never really thought at the time that winning four or five in a row was important, and I think even if this happens that Ben would probably reiterate that. As a competitor, it’s just about winning and it’s about winning a championship.”

While the two haven’t met yet, Craven has been keeping up on Rhodes’ career from a distance.

“I’ve spent some time trying to better know Ben as a race car driver, and I’m really impressed,” Craven said. “He has all the tools, the ingredients, obviously a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of talent. But the people that I’ve asked say that he races like a 17 year old but he has the sense of a 37 year old, and I think that’s a magical combination.”

Rhodes is a native of Louisville, Kentucky. In addition to going for five wins in a row, he’ll also be going for his sixth win overall in just 10 races thus far this season on the K&N Pro Series East schedule.

The five wins came at Greenville (S.C.), and the last four on the schedule at Iowa, Winston-Salem (N.C.), Pensacola (Fla.) and Hampton (Va.).

He also finished second at Richmond, third at Bristol (Tenn.) and fourth at New Smyrna (Fla.).

He’s failed to finish inside the top-five just once thus far (15th at Daytona) and also has two poles.

He’s the latest young hot shoe in a series that has seen quite a few current Sprint Car drivers essentially start their own racing careers, including Austin Dillon, Joey Logano and Kyle Larson.

“You know, it’s strange, I don’t wake up every day thinking I’m old, but watching you and seeing what you are accomplishing at such an early age, I have kids older than you, Ben, so I guess it puts everything in perspective,” Craven said. “But no, I sincerely — I want to see you tie this weekend, and I really think you’ve got a great shot, not only because of all the things that have happened recently and the momentum that goes with that, but New Hampshire is a good track in terms of if you have a fast car and you have a real good feel for the car that day, it’s big enough that you can maneuver around other drivers.  So I think it’s a good place to get that fifth in a row.”

Rhodes has obviously caught the attention of a number of individuals, not just fans and media, but team owners as well. He’s already had two starts this season in the Camping World Truck Series (eighth at Martinsville, crashed and finished 22nd at Dover).

There’s already talk about him possibly even going up to the Nationwide Series. But of course that requires sponsorship, a good team and the luck of being in the right place at the right time.

“If funding wasn’t an issue, I would like to go to Nationwide,” Rhodes said. “I think it would be an easier jump from the K&N cars to Nationwide and an easier jump from Nationwide to Sprint Cup.

“But that’s looking pretty far ahead, and I think that would be much easier because of the aero package and everything that makes it up. I know those trucks with the huge side force that they have, it would make it hard learning those things and then trying to jump in the Nationwide car.

“It obviously works and it’s a very good learning curve and definitely a good stepping-stone, but if I could just get in that and learn from the get-go, I think that would be good. It would knock out some of the learning curve, I think, going from the trucks to the Nationwide, and I think sponsors and funding is a little bit better for Nationwide Series.”

Rhodes is part of the NASCAR Next driver development program – and it’s an understatement to say his development has been like the way he drives a race car: f-a-s-t.

“The success has been great,” Rhodes said. “We’ve already been trying to focus on some plans for next year and trying to get stuff together. But as you know and everybody knows in racing, it’s a difficult sport. A lot of stuff can be done at last minute and get it all together, so we’re still figuring out our plans, but it’s definitely been helping. It’s definitely been opening up some doors and bringing some attention to us. I’ve felt like we’ve had this in us all the time, it’s just finally coming together.”

To be compared to someone like Craven “gives me a lot of confidence,” Rhodes said. “Just to be able to talk to people that have been around the sport for a long time, and they obviously know way more than I do, and just to try to tap into that knowledge and hear what they have to say is always great.

“You know, I’m hearing what (Craven) says, and it gives me a big boost of confidence. Going into these races, it’s funny how I can relate to what he’s saying from way back then to what I’m feeling now. He’s talking about not throwing down and focusing on that championship, and that’s exactly what I’m doing. I’m not really looking at each race. Winning each race is great, but our focus is the next one. I don’t even look back. You come in every day and you see the trophy is there anyway, but you look at them, admire them for a second, good job, pat on the back, and we’re right back to work ready to win the next one.

“I’m seeing a lot of similarities, and it’s cool to see that, and it definitely gives me a boost of confidence being in the same conversation as him and hearing what he has to say.”

Added Craven, “What Ben has accomplished already at such an early age, it doesn’t happen by mistake, so it speaks to his talent and it speaks to his focus. When you look at the young drivers in the series that have rolled out of it very quickly, Joey Logano and Kyle Larson, the latest example, and even if you take it a step further and look at the prospects of the sport, Chase Elliott, who graduates, has success, I think that benefits into that mold. Again, I’ve not watched him race. The numbers don’t lie.  They are very impressive. And listening to him, he just seems like he’s ahead of his years.”

As the teleconference ended, Craven had one last bit of encouragement to Rhodes: “I look forward to seeing you and look forward to pulling for you. You’ve given me a reason to watch the race. Have a great weekend.”

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

Latest Posts
  1. Marussia also set to miss United States GP

    Oct 25, 2014, 5:48 AM EDT

    AUTO-PRIX-RUS-PRACTICE Getty Images

    Bernie Ecclestone claims that there will be just 18 cars racing in Austin.

  2. Jimmie Johnson: ‘That day is out there’ when he’ll split with crew chief Chad Knaus

    Oct 24, 2014, 11:50 PM EDT

    (Patrick Smith/Getty Images) Getty Images

    In a surprisingly candid admission, six-time Sprint Cup champ Jimmie Johnson says that while nothing is imminent, the day is coming when he and crew chief Chad Knaus will go their separate ways.

  3. ‘Hey, I’m Kevin (Harvick), welcome to Outback. Can I get you a table?’ (with video)

    Oct 24, 2014, 11:32 PM EDT

    (Photo courtesy Outback Steakhouse) (Photo courtesy Outback Steakhouse)

    In a bemusing video released Thursday, NASCAR star Kevin Harvick spent one of his recent off nights working the room at an Outback Steakhouse.

  4. Jeff Gordon delivers 1 millionth meal for Drive To End Hunger to 89-year-old race fan

    Oct 24, 2014, 10:30 PM EDT

    (Photo courtesy WFMYnews2.com) (Photo courtesy WFMYnews2.com)

    On Thursday, Jeff Gordon delivered the one millionth meal served by one of Gordon’s key sponsors, the Drive To End Hunger.

  5. Ex-John Force crew chief Jimmy Prock hired by rival Don Schumacher Racing

    Oct 24, 2014, 10:26 PM EDT

    Crew chief Jimmy Prock. (Photo courtesy John Force Racing) Crew chief Jimmy Prock. (Photo courtesy John Force Racing)

    Jimmy Prock, who resigned earlier this week as crew chief for 16-time Funny Car champ John Force, has been hired by rival Don Schumacher Racing.

  6. Jeff Gordon would love to return to Saturday Night Live — and wants to bring Ricky Funck with him (video)

    Oct 24, 2014, 7:59 PM EDT

    (Photo courtesy NBC/Saturday Night Live) (Photo courtesy NBC/Saturday Night Live)

    Jeff Gordon said Friday he wants to return to host Saturday Night Live for a second time — and he wants to reprise the hysterical “Ricky Funck” character.

  7. Kevin Harvick facing long climb from 33rd on grid Sunday at Martinsville

    Oct 24, 2014, 6:37 PM EDT

    Goody's Headache Relief Shot 500 - Practice Getty Images

    A loose car and two brushes with the wall has put Kevin Harvick in a deep hole at the start of Sunday’s Eliminator Round opener.

  8. 2-for-1: Jamie McMurray wins Martinsville pole, sets track record

    Oct 24, 2014, 6:06 PM EDT

    (Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images) Getty Images

    If racing at Martinsville Speedway was like buying an ice cream cone, Jamie McMurray double-dipped during Friday’s Sprint Cup qualifying, earning the pole and setting a new track speed record (99.905 mph) in the process.

  9. Ryan Blaney, “Bubba” Wallace top Truck Series practices at Martinsville

    Oct 24, 2014, 5:19 PM EDT

    Kroger 200 - Practice Getty Images

    Both Blaney and Wallace are within 30 points of championship leader Matt Crafton going into tomorrow’s Camping World Truck Series race at Martinsville.

  10. Denny Hamlin raring to go for Chase’s Eliminator Round

    Oct 24, 2014, 4:30 PM EDT

    Goody's Headache Relief Shot 500 - Practice Getty Images

    A fifth win at Martinsville would put Hamlin into the Sprint Cup Championship Race at Homestead.

  11. Danica Patrick says she’s “open-minded” about crew chief swap

    Oct 24, 2014, 3:25 PM EDT

    Kurt Busch, Jeff Gordon AP

    Danica, who will swap CCs with teammate Kurt Busch starting next week at Texas, says she’s looking forward to working with the engineering-based Daniel Knost.

  12. PWC officially confirms GT/GTS split races

    Oct 24, 2014, 2:15 PM EDT

    Photo: Pirelli World Challenge Photo: Pirelli World Challenge

    GT/GTS races confirmed for split in 2015 by the Pirelli World Challenge series.

  13. Jeff Gordon fastest in first Martinsville Sprint Cup practice

    Oct 24, 2014, 1:40 PM EDT

    Goody's Headache Relief Shot 500 - Practice Getty Images

    Gordon leads group of four Chasers in Top 5 speeds; all 8 remaining Chasers within Top 15.

  14. Lotus to evaluate new nose design in Austin

    Oct 24, 2014, 1:30 PM EDT

    F1 Grand Prix of Italy Getty Images

    Formula 1’s new technical regulations prompted Lotus to use a twin-tusk nose for 2014, but this could be scrapped for next season.

  15. Caterham given dispensation to miss Austin and Brazil

    Oct 24, 2014, 12:50 PM EDT

    Caterham Getty Images

    Bernie Ecclestone allows the team to miss the next two races as it searches for a buyer.

  16. Lotus close to confirming Romain Grosjean for 2015

    Oct 24, 2014, 12:30 PM EDT

    Canadian F1 Grand Prix - Practice Getty Images

    Deputy team boss Federico Gastaldi says the team is close to finalizing its drive line-up, with Grosjean in pole position for the seat.

  17. Matt Kenseth looking for “career highlight” win this weekend at Martinsville

    Oct 24, 2014, 12:07 PM EDT

    GEICO 500 - Qualifying Getty Images

    A win for Kenseth this Sunday would also put him into the Sprint Cup Championship Race at Homestead next month.

  18. Emerson Fittipaldi to be in attendance at Austin for fan event

    Oct 24, 2014, 11:45 AM EDT

    2013 Laureus World Sports Awards Nominations Getty Images

    Two-time Formula One World Champion Emerson Fittipaldi will make an appearance at Austin’s Circuit of the Americas next week as part of a COTA fan experience.

  19. Ricciardo: United States GP my favorite race of the season

    Oct 24, 2014, 11:30 AM EDT

    F1 Grand Prix of Russia - Previews Getty Images

    Ricciardo full of praise for Austin and the Circuit of the Americas ahead of next weekend’s race.

Video from NASCAR America

Remembering the Hendrick Motorsports plane crash
Top 10 NASCAR Driver Searches
  1. R. Preece (1891)
  2. K. Busch (1637)
  3. M. Kenseth (1432)
  4. R. Newman (1377)
  5. L. Cassill (1277)
  1. D. Coby (1238)
  2. W. Pitkat (1163)
  3. B. Keselowski (1153)
  4. K. Kahne (1139)
  5. R. Rovelo (1118)