Ben Rhodes is no slouch on road courses, winning the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race on the Daytona Road Course in February and finishing tenth at Circuit of the Americas in late May. On Sunday, he will see if this success can translate to the Cup Series when he makes his top-level début at Sonoma Raceway in the #77 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE for Spire Motorsports.
Rhodes has raced full-time in the Truck Series since 2016 with five career wins. His 2021 season got off to a roaring start when he swept the first two races on Daytona’s oval and road course, and he currently sits second in points with top tens in all but one race. His nine top tens lead all drivers.
As he has settled in the Trucks, he has not raced at a higher tier since 2015 when he ran ten Xfinity Series events for JR Motorsports. He scored two top tens with a best run of seventh in his maiden start at Iowa. Rhodes had two road races on his schedule, one of which saw him start on the pole at Road America after qualifying was rained out before misfortunes befell him in the race.
While Rhodes is not typically associated with road course prowess, he has four top tens and two top fives in seven career Truck starts on such tracks. In addition to his Daytona RC victory, he won the pole at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park in 2018 and finished third the following year. His two road races in what is now the ARCA Menards Series East in 2014 also ended with top tens with a third at Watkins Glen and tenth at Virginia International Raceway, a season that ended with him winning the championship.
“You only get to make your first Cup start once and to do it with Spire Motorsports is pretty special,” Rhodes said. “I have a fun and long history with the Spire family but we haven’t worked together in a few years so it’s nice to come full circle. It’s daunting to make my first Cup start at a road course that I have no experience at, but I’m confident the team will have the car comfortable and fast. This is pretty exciting for me, and Sonoma can’t get here quick enough.”
Spire’s #77 serves as the team’s multi-driver car. Justin Haley has comprised the bulk of the car’s schedule as he has run all but three races so far in 2021, with Jamie McMurray, Stewart Friesen, and Josh Berry making starts as well. Friesen and Berry’s one-offs also marked their Cup débuts. Incidentally, Friesen and Rhodes are both Truck regulars who race Toyotas yet recorded their first Cup starts in a Chevrolet.
While Haley ran the 2019 Sonoma race for Spire (where he finished thirty-fourth), he is unavailable for the 2021 edition as he is contesting the Xfinity race at Mid-Ohio that weekend.
“Ben Rhodes has long been a part of the Spire family and we’re thrilled to have him make his NASCAR Cup Series début in Spire Motorsports’ #77 Chevrolet,” Spire Motorsports co-owner T.J. Puchyr added. “Ben is a great kid and comes from a great family. Justin Haley will be focusing on his NASCAR Xfinity championship aspirations at Mid-Ohio so this was a great opportunity for Ben to slide in the seat. He’s a tremendous road racer and has earned this opportunity. We think a ton of Ben and we’re eager to see how he does at Sonoma.”
The #77 is currently thirty-first in owner points with McMurray holding the best finish of eighth in the opener at Daytona. Haley finished twenty-fourth on the Daytona RC and last at COTA, the latter due to a steering issue.
Rhodes will be without crew chief Kevin Bellicourt as Bellicourt was suspended due to the #77 having multiple loose lug nuts in post-race inspection at Charlotte. Peter Sospenzo, who helped Spire and Haley win their first Cup race at Daytona in 2019, will fill in.