LAS VEGAS — The first career victory for Ben Rhodes kept his championship chances intact in NASCAR's Truck Series.
Rhodes earned the first national series victory of his NASCAR career Saturday night by holding off Christopher Bell in the closing laps at Las Vegas. The win earned Rhodes an automatic berth into the second round of the playoffs.
The win came in Rhodes' 45th series start and continued a run of consistency he's shown of late in his Toyota. He's finished in the top-10 a career-best five straight races and has finished an average of sixth in the last seven Truck Series races.
"This is the biggest high of my life," he said. "I never thought it would come."
Bell, who finished second, was the winner a week ago at New Hampshire and is already locked into the next round of the playoffs.
Rhodes was the winner of the second stage but didn't get a chance to race for the win until John Hunter Nemechek ran out of fuel under caution with 14 laps remaining. He headed to pit road from the lead for a disastrous stop — Nemechek stalled leaving pit road, and his crew had to push his truck back to his pit stall before Nemechek could pull away.
Although Nemechek stayed on the lead lap, he was 10th on the restart with seven laps remaining. It set up a frantic dash to the finish, there were four trucks racing side-by-side for position, and Rhodes couldn't shake Bell.
Rhodes had to use a late block on Bell to save the victory.
"I used every play in my playbook," Rhodes said. "I knew if I could keep him close to me, he couldn't break the bubble. Every time I tried to gap him, and use a trick to get him far away, he would suck right up to my bumper. I had to keep him in distance, and that was the most nervous thing I've ever done in my entire life."
Chase Briscoe finished third and was followed by Austin Cindric and Kaz Grala — all championship contenders. There are four spots remaining in the next round of the playoffs, with one race to determine the field, at Talladega Superspeedway in two weeks.
Cindric and Grala are essentially tied for the sixth and final spot in the next round, while Nemechek is six points behind them.
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