NASCAR: Ben Rhodes wins K&N East championship, then does pre-calculus homework

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17-year-old Ben Rhodes’ dominant season in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East culminated with him clinching the series title last night with a fourth-place finish at Greenville Pickens Speedway.

Rhodes seized the points lead thanks to his inaugural series win at GPS in March. He then went on to claim four more wins (those four coming in succession), and now holds an insurmountable 62-point lead going into the season finale on Sept. 26 at Dover International Speedway.

But earning a championship in one of NASCAR’s top minor leagues did not earn Rhodes a “get out of homework” pass. Rhodes is a senior student at Holy Cross High School in Louisville, Kentucky, and one day after his big moment at GPS, he’s back to hitting the books:

As for last night’s race, Rhodes needed a finish of 13th or better to clinch the title. But in the opening moments of the Kevin Whitaker Chevrolet 140, he was hit with a drive-through penalty for jumping the start from pole position.

However, Rhodes was able to stay on the lead lap and had driven up to seventh by the halfway break at Lap 70. He would get as high as P2 in the second half of the race before dropping a few spots in the last restart of the night with 12 laps to go.

“I was really mad at myself for [the mistake at the start], but I had to refocus and get back to the front,” Rhodes said in a post-race release. “Once I got up there, I thought about racing for the win again, but the car wasn’t as good during the second half as it was during the first.

“When the caution came out at the end of the race and I had to restart on the outside lane, I knew I needed to just protect the points.”

Austin Hill won the race ahead of Cameron Hayley, Gray Gaulding, Rhodes, and Nick Drake. Hayley will look to secure second in the championship later this month at Dover; he holds that spot by 20 points over Brandon Jones, who finished seventh in the race.

Helio Castroneves ‘hustling’ for IndyCar, IMSA rides; talking with four to five teams

Helio Castroneves IMSA IndyCar
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As his season gathers steam, Helio Castroneves said his prospects for finding new rides for 2021 in IMSA and IndyCar also are gaining momentum.

The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner said Monday he is optimistic about landing in either or perhaps a combination of both series when Team Penske and Acura end their DPi partnership after this season.

“A lot of people I spoke with, four to five teams, are interested,” Castroneves said. “Whether it’s doing Indy 500 only, whether it’s pushing to do full time or do the sports cars as well. It’s been a very nice conversation.

LOOKING AHEADTeam Penske drivers seeking new rides for 2021

“I have a lot of respect for all the teams that have been talking, and I feel the same feedback. We just have to wait for their (sponsor) connections, and I’m also looking for some connections on my side as well, so hopefully we’ll be able to put this together and get something very soon.”

Given two decades of success with Penske in IndyCar and IMSA, Castroneves’ resume hardly needs burnishing. But the Brazilian has combined with co-driver Ricky Taylor in the No. 7 Acura DPi to win the past two overall victories at Road America and Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.

But Castroneves, who doesn’t have a manager, said he has been working the phones hard rather than wait for the strong results to bring in the calls.

“At this point, I feel like I’m the one who needs to be talking to them because people need to know I want to continue racing and understand my desire,” Castroneves, 45, said. “There is opportunity, no question, in both (IndyCar and IMSA), which I’m really happy about it. However, because of the COVID-19, a lot of things sometimes have to be a little delayed. But I’m excited. Whatever the opportunity and whatever destiny guides me, whether IndyCar or sports cars, trust me I’ll be as happy as it could be and doing my 100 percent like I always did.

“It’s like politics, you need to be out there, good news or bad news. People have to make notice of your presence. I’m hustling. I want to continue to keep it going. Hopefully, we’ll have good news very soon.”

The news has been all good lately on track for Castroneves and Taylor, who hope to continue their run Sunday at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

The No. 6 duo has surged to sixth in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship standings, 10 points out of the lead with four races remaining. After thinking there was “no hope” to be competitive after opening the season with three consecutive poor finishes, Taylor now sees an opportunity for a happy ending.

“With the program going away, Helio has won all the big races and given so much back to the team and left such a mark, he’s really part of Penske history,” Taylor said. “For me, it’s been an opportunity of a lifetime to be a part of it. I’d like to leave my little mark as well. Helio has won everything except for a championship.

“Obviously, we’ve won races already together, but we can win a championship now. I think if both of us can do that together and both win our first championship for ‘The Captain,’ that would be an absolute dream come true, and we can tie a bow on it and be happy.”