SPARTA, Ky. - The Bluegrass State's own JR Motorsports competitor Ben Rhodes will have busy homecoming next weekend when he makes his NASCAR XFINITY Series (NXS) debut at our track in the VisitMyrtleBeach.com 300 Saturday after serving as the grand marshal for Friday's ARCA Racing Series Crosley Brands 150.

The 18-year-old driver from Louisville will make the eighth of his 10 scheduled NXS starts this season Saturday on one of NASCAR's toughest tracks to master.

He's collected two top-10 finishes during his part-time rookie initiative, including a series-best seventh-place result at Iowa Speedway May 17. He shares time in the No. 88 with NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) stalwarts Kevin Harvick, Kasey Kahne and owner Dale Earnhardt Jr.

"Those guys have been huge in my career so far, giving me advice and pointers just from their years of experience. It's sped up my learning curve," Rhodes said.

"I'm really happy with how the season is going considering how much there is to learn. It's a huge step up from where I came from in the K&N Pro Series up to the XFINITY Series. I'm definitely a rookie, I've made a lot of mistakes this year. I've done a lot of bad stuff, but I'm learning from it.

"I'm going to get all the mistakes knocked out in these 10 races so, hopefully, next year, if I can get a full-time deal together, or maybe another part-time deal, and I'll be ready and I'll make the most of that. This year's about  the opportunity and learning."  

Rhodes earned the opportunity to wheel the No. 88 this season by banking five race victories and the 2014 NASCAR K&N Pro Series East championship. He also brought home series Rookie of the Year and Most Popular Driver honors. 

"That kind of put us on the map, if you will, when it comes to JR Motorsports," Rhodes said. "They called us. I was actually out practicing a go-kart I use as a training tool for road courses. I saw I had a missed phone call. I returned the phone call and it was, 'we'd love to have to have you come over here.' It was a shocker for me, nonetheless. From that point on, we developed a great relationship. One thing led to another an here I am driving the No. 88."

He gained valuable Kentucky Speedway experience last season in a 150-mile ARS affair for which he qualified fifth before leading 26 of 100 race laps. His car was collected in a Lap 86 incident which ended a promising performance with a 27th-place showing.

"That was my first time on a mile-and-a-half and, I've got to say, I was flying around that place. It's so fast," Rhodes said. "I've gotten a little better with it, I'm a little more used to it. The track is rough, it has character. You hear it on the commercials, you hear it all the time from all the drivers, but it's great.

"I don't want them to change surface because if go around the track and you have have to work your passes around the bumps, you have to work your car around the bumps, that gives you something to work for, that gives you a goal.

"If you can outfox the other guy on the bumps, that's pretty cool."      

Crosley Brands named Rhodes its grand marshal just last week.

He'll will deliver the ceremonial command for drivers to start their engines to open a busy weekend in his home commonwealth that includes his competitive NXS Kentucky Speedway debut.  

"I am thrilled to be named the grand marshal of the Crosley 150 ARCA race," Rhodes said. "Crosley has some great products, such as their really cool jukeboxes. The great thing is the company is based in my hometown of Louisville, same as my sponsor Alpha Energy Solutions. I have never been grand marshal before, so I am happy to represent Crosley, Alpha and Louisville at our home track."

Crosley Brands is one of Kentucky Speedway's newest long-term corporate partners. Along with investing in the venue's ARS race sponsorship, the company is awarding its signature jukeboxes to each of Kentucky Speedway's five 2015 race winners. In July, NSCS winner Kyle Busch, NXS winner Brad Keselowski and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series victor Matt Crafton each hauled away a classic-styled jukebox. 

"We are really excited to have Ben be Crosley Brands 150 grand marshal," Bo LeMastus, chairman and CEO of Crosley Brands, said.

"Kentucky Speedway will combine Ben and Crosley Brands to create a Bluegrass State flavor for a fine motorsports weekend that's a perfect fit for all Kentucky race fans. We'll be cheering Ben on toward winning our VistiMyrtleBeach.com 300 jukebox Saturday night."

KYS Inside Groove