After only running 12 races last year, Harrison Rhodes will get to be behind the wheel more this year as he’ll be running the full XFINITY Series schedule in 2017 for JD Motorsports.
Though right now, there’s just pure excitement to get back behind the wheel after having spent the last five months out of a racecar.
“I’m just excited to be back in a car,” he told POPULAR SPEED. “I raced with JD Motorsports in 2015, so I’m familiar with those guys and Johnny and the cars a little bit, so I’m excited to get back and take off from where we left in 2015, and get the year going. Getting a new number – 01 – so that’ll be cool. Going to be a whole new start. Just ready to get going.”
Last year, Rhodes ran a limited schedule – 12 races – for three different car owners, with a season-best finish of 24th at Charlotte Motor Speedway. However, he knows what it is like to run most of the schedule, having run 28 of the 33 races in 2015 with JD Motorsports.
“Anytime you’re used to working with people, it takes away some of the communication curve, and a bit of the learning curve just knowing how they work,” he said. “I know how things are at the shop, how I can help, and get used to the team. I know they’ve done some stuff when I wasn’t with them last year, and seemed as if they’ve done some good stuff as they ran even better than when I was with them in 2015. So I think this year with an add-on to that, so looking forward to working with them.”
Last year, JD Motorsports scored 33 top-20 finishes in the 33 races with their three different cars, including a 10th place finish by Ryan Preece at Darlington Raceway. With the new teams entering the frame, Rhodes says the key will be maintaining that performance this season.
“I think anytime that we can shoot for a top-20 finish is a good goal, especially with the new competition,” he said. “It’ll be even harder to get those five spots. People may be expecting that to push us back in the results, but hopefully, we can step up and beat a couple of those guys. Hopefully, we can keep knocking on the door for top-20 finishes.”
Rhodes will get his first shot at it beginning with Daytona International Speedway later on this month. He knows how to have success at the superspeedway, scoring a ninth-place finish in July 2015.
“I’ve been trying to get back there all of last year, and just couldn’t make it happen,” he said. “So I’m excited to be going back there. Daytona is just a great place for teams like us where it gives us a chance to get a top-10. I like those tracks where it evens the playing field a little bit. After finishing ninth, I want to go back there and see if I can back that up.”
In previous restrictor plate races, Rhodes wasn’t able to experience the success of running up front, though learned the key to getting a good finish is by being smart, and aggressive at the same time.
“When I first went there, I was a little timid on moves,” he said. “However last July when I went there, I was more aggressive on moves when I needed to change lanes, so I don’t think it’s the best strategy to be conservative and ride out the back. I think it’s about being smart, a little aggressiveness and running up front.”
Of course, like everybody else in the field, he’ll have to balance the new segment format in which NASCAR has implemented for all three of the top series in the sport. Rhodes feels the enhancements will make the races more exciting, working the same way segments added to the excitement of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series All-Star race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
“I know the Chase made the series more exciting, especially in the Cup series, of having the added pressure of winning to get into the Chase,” he said. “I think having the stages and knowing they’re points to gain, and the possibility of winning a stage and having that recognition, I think it’ll definitely bring excitement throughout the whole race, instead of just the beginning and the end.”
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