NASCAR: K&N East champ Ben Rhodes gets 10 XFINITY races for JR Motorsports in ’15

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One of NASCAR’s top young prospects will be teaming up with XFINITY Series champions JR Motorsports in 2015.

Ben Rhodes, who won the 2014 NASCAR K&N Pro Series East title, has been signed to drive JRM’s No. 88 Chevrolet in 10 XFINITY events next season with backing from commercial/industrial mechanical services provider Alpha Energy Solutions.

With the announcement, Rhodes will be part of a stellar lineup for the No. 88 car that includes team co-owner Dale Earnhardt Jr., new Sprint Cup champion Kevin Harvick, and Kasey Kahne in select events. The No. 88 car will contest the entire 33-race XFINITY Series schedule in 2015.

As for Rhodes, his 10-race schedule for JRM will feature appearances in: Both events at Iowa (May 17 and Aug. 1), Chicagoland (June 20), New Hampshire (July 18), Watkins Glen (Aug. 8), Mid-Ohio (Aug. 15), Road America (Aug. 29), Kentucky (Sept. 26), Dover (Oct. 3), and the season finale at Homestead-Miami (Nov. 21).

Dave Elenz, a former engineer for both Dale Jr. and Jimmie Johnson at Hendrick Motorsports, will serve as the No. 88 team’s crew chief.

“I’m thrilled to be joining one of the top teams in NASCAR for the 2015 season,” Rhodes said in a team release. “It’s been my goal to compete in NASCAR’s top tiers, and this is a tremendous opportunity with JR Motorsports and Alpha Energy Solutions to race in the XFINITY Series.

“I couldn’t think of a better group of people to surround myself with to continue my growth in the sport.  I am looking forward to working with crew chief Dave Elenz, driving the No. 88 Chevrolet with Dale Jr., Kevin Harvick and Kasey Kahne, as well as sharing the track with my teammates Chase Elliott and Regan Smith.”

Rhodes, a native of Louisville, Kentucky and a member of the NASCAR Next development class, captured this year’s K&N East crown as a rookie with five victories – four of which came in succession. He clinched in the penultimate race of the season with a fourth at Greenville-Pickens Speedway.

Additionally, Rhodes ran in four Camping World Truck Series events this year, and picked up one Top-5 and three Top-10s. His best Truck finish was a fifth in November at Phoenix.

“Ben is one of the rising talents in NASCAR,” JR Motorsports general manager Kelley Earnhardt Miller said in her own thoughts. “As a company, JRM takes pride in cultivating young drivers, and together with Alpha Energy Solutions, we’re thrilled to give Ben a platform to further develop his skills at the next level. I’m excited to see what this coming year will bring for him and the 88 team.”

Toyota No. 8 car wins the 24 Hours of Le Mans for third consecutive year

24 Hours of Le Mans
JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER/AFP via Getty Images
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LE MANS, France — Toyota Gazoo’s No. 8 car comfortably won the 24 Hours of Le Mans by five laps Sunday to secure a third straight victory in the prestigious endurance race.

It was also a third consecutive win for Swiss driver Sebastien Buemi and Japan’s Kazuki Nakajima driving. Brendon Hartley was the other driver, having replaced two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso.

Buemi and Hartley sat on the side of the car as Nakajima drove toward the podium. Hartley won for a second time after tasting success with the Porsche LMP Team in 2017 before an unhappy season in Formula One.

The Swiss team’s Rebellion No. 1 featured American driver Gustavo Menezes and Brazilian Bruno Senna – the nephew of late F1 great Ayrton Senna.

It finished one lap ahead of Toyota Gazoo’s No. 7, with Rebellion’s No. 3 finishing in fourth place.

For much of the race it looked like Toyota’s No. 7 would win after leading comfortably from pole position. But late into the night the car encountered an engine problem and the 30-minute stop in the stands proved costly.

The race was first held in 1923. A total of 252,500 spectators attended in 2019, but there were none this year when the race started three months late because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“We miss the fans,” New Zealander Hartley said. “I look forward to seeing all the fans again.”

In other divisions:

United Autosports won the LMP2 division with the entry of Filipe Albuquerque, Paul Di Resta and Phil Hanson.

–In LMGTE Pro, the victory was claimed by Aston Martin Vantage AMR of Maxime Martin, Alex Lynn and Harry Tincknell (who drives for Mazda in the DPi division of IMSA).

–TF Sport won the LMGTE Am class.

The Toyota No. 7 took pole after former F1 driver Kamui Kobayashi narrowly edged out the Rebellion No. 1 team in qualifying.

In damp and humid conditions Mike Conway got away cleanly from the start, while Senna held off Buemi.

After nearly seven hours, Toyota’s No. 8 fell back after a 10-minute stop in the stands to fix a brake-cooling problem on Kazuki Nakajima’s car. Rebellion’s No. 1, driven by Frenchman Norman Nato, took advantage to move into second place behind Toyota’s No. 7.

Then came the decisive moment at 2:40 a.m. as the No. 7 – also featuring Argentine Jose Maria Lopez – encountered a turbo problem. When the car came back out it was back in fourth.

“We had a few problems early in the race,” Nakajima said. “Later they had a bigger issue than us.”

Rebellion’s No. 1 encountered a problem on the hood at around 9 a.m. and the change took six minutes, allowing the Rebellion No. 3 (Nathanael Berthon-Louis Deletraz-Romain Dumas) to close the gap.

It was becoming a tight battle between the two Rebellion cars behind Toyota’s No. 8.

At 12 p.m. Rebellion No. 3 with Dumas behind the wheel was only one second ahead of No. 1 driven by Menezes. Then both cars came in for a driver change with Deletraz swapping for Dumas on a lengthy stop, and Nato for Menezes as Rebellion No. 1 suddenly moved ahead of its team rival.

Dumas, a winner in 2016 with Porsche, appeared unhappy at the strategy decision to bring his car in first and the length of the stop. There were tense explanations in the team garage.

Colombian Tatiana Calderon, an F1 test driver with Alfa Romeo, was in the Richard Mille Racing Team in the LMP2 category. She was joined by German Sophia Florsch – an F3 driver – and Dutchwoman Beitske Visser. They placed ninth out of 24 in their category.