Race Weekend Central

Kyle Busch Burned by Caution, Ben Rhodes Breaks Driveshaft at Finish of COTA Truck Race

AUSTIN, Texas — It was Zane Smith who emerged with back-to-back NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series wins at Circuit of the Americas after 42 laps of action on Saturday (March 25).

But while Smith is enjoying the second win of his championship defense, COTA left both Kyle Busch and Ben Rhodes asking what could’ve been.

See also
Zane Smith Scores 2nd Straight COTA Truck Series Win

Busch qualified second behind Ross Chastain on Friday (March 24) and he backed up the strong qualifying effort with winning race speed. Busch was the dominant driver of stage two, as he led both Smith and Chastain by multiple seconds as the laps clicked off.

But it was pit strategy that foiled Busch’s day. The No. 51 truck led 12 of the first 27 laps, but by staying out longer than anyone, Busch risked dropping to the middle of the pack if a caution were to come.

And indeed, that caution came out with 15 to go when Parker Kligerman‘s truck slowed and smoked to a stop on the track. The race marked the first Truck race since 2015 without scheduled cautions, but Kligerman stopping on track effectively served as one, as he crawled to the stage two finish in fifth before coming to a stop.

The rest of the race ran green and Busch restarted 16th for a 13-lap dash to the end. He quickly made his way up to third, but it was too little, too late, as he finished five seconds back of Smith in second.

“Yeah, we were playing the long game there,” Busch said. “Typically, anytime I play the short game it always bites me. I always get trapped a lap down or get on pit road or something with a yellow. I guess here at a road course, you got to remember that that’s different and you don’t really get trapped a lap down, but we should’ve pitted.

“[Brian] Pattie (crew chief) wanted to come in with three laps before that yellow, we should’ve come in at least one lap after. Like, I said, ‘can we go one more?’ and then we decided to try and play the long game because we had such a gap. It bit us.”

Despite quickly making up ground on the restart, Busch’s progress came to a standstill when he approached the top of the scoring pylon.

“Had to work hard to get up to second, burned my stuff up before I even got to second, trying to get [Rhodes]. There was just nothing left after that,” Busch said.

Despite losing second, Rhodes still looked poised for a career-best COTA finish of third. Until his truck lost a driveshaft in the final set of turns, that is.

A surefire third-place finish for Rhodes was dashed and he helplessly watched as trucks passed him left and right before limping to the line; the No. 99 came to rest shortly after taking the checkered flag.

“Not a whole lot of good at the moment,” Rhodes said. “Driveshaft just came out in turn 19 on the last lap. Thankful it happened there, or we may not have even finished. But still a bummer.”

Rhodes ultimately lost seven spots to finish in 10th. While disappointed with the result, he also felt fortunate to finish; the No. 99 would’ve been scored in 29th if it had failed to make it back.

“Yeah, I was really worried actually, watching the big hill come up to me and just getting slower and slower, I didn’t think I was going to make it.” Rhodes said. “And I’m just watching trucks fly past. I mean, that was just an absolute heartbreaker, really …

“The truck held on for pace really well at the end, so the bummer is that we finished ninth and ninth for stage points. We gave up those stage points to try and get a good finish and then it just completely bites us and turns into a bad points day overall.”

Rhodes wasn’t the only one to deal with mechanical problems at the end of the event, however. While celebrating his second win at COTA and the ninth of his Truck career, Smith’s truck caught on fire while performing celebratory burnouts.

About the author

Stephen Stumpf is the NASCAR Content Director for Frontstretch, and his weekly columns include “Stat Sheet” and “4 Burning Questions.” Stephen also writes commentary, contributes weekly to the “Bringing the Heat” podcast and is frequently at the track for on-site coverage. A native of Texas, Stephen began following NASCAR at age 9 after attending his first race at Texas Motor Speedway.

Follow on Twitter @stephen_stumpf.

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