March 15, 2014 — By Shon Sbarra, NASCAR — Getty Images for NASCAR photo — BRISTOL, Tenn. — Veteran Eddie MacDonald showed a little late-race mastery Saturday afternoon and brought home the winning trophy from Bristol Motor Speedway.
The 33-year-old driver from Rowley, Mass., took the lead on a green-white-checkered finish at the PittLite 125 and held off Gray Gaulding and Ben Rhodes to win the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East race at “The Last Great Colosseum.”
It’s MacDonald’s first win since September of 2009 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway snapping a 53-race winless streak and the seventh of his career.
“We had a really great car today right from the drop of the green,” said the driver of the No. 71 Grimm Construction/National Multiple Sclerosis Society Chevrolet. “It was a little tight at the beginning, but at the end it was perfect. I started pushing a little bit with 15 or 20 (laps) to go and got up there which gave me the thought that on another restart we might be able to win this thing.”
MacDonald qualified 13th and steadily worked his way to the front on the high-banked half-mile. He took second on Lap 120 and got past Rhodes for the lead heading into Turn 3 on the penultimate lap. Following the next-to-last restart on Lap 119 he made contact with Rhodes during a pass attempt that left Rhodes’ machine with some damage.
“I feel awful for getting into Ben there,” said MacDonald. “I drove it in there a ton and the rear end snapped around on me. With the drought we’ve had we wanted to get the win really bad.”
Gaulding also got around Rhodes on that final restart to finish second which equaled his series-best finish that was first accomplished in April 2013 at 5 Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Fla. He scored a NASCAR K&N Pro Series West victory at Phoenix International Raceway in Avondale, Ariz., last November.
“We started pretty decent, but my Krispy Kreme Chevrolet was just too tight at the end,” said the Colonial Heights, Va., driver. “It was a great day overall. It’s good to come in here and finish second at Bristol, but it just leaves (me) wondering if there was something more I could have done.”
The rookie Rhodes, 17, was looking for his first career win in his 10th start. He won the 21 Means 21 Pole Award in qualifying Thursday and led every lap Saturday up until the final restart. Like Gaulding, Rhodes matched his series-best finish of third in his No. 41 Alpha Energy Solutions Chevrolet.
“The car was really good all day until the end when it got banged up,” said the driver from Louisville, Ky. “It’s just too bad we couldn’t get the win, but we’ll head to Greenville and try to get a win there.”
Brennan Newberry and Austin Hill rounded out the top five while Patrick Staropoli finished sixth, followed by David Garbo Jr., Brandon Jones, Matt Tifft and Michael McGuire.
Daniel Suarez, who won the first two races of the season, pitted out of the top 10 late in the race for a flat tire and finished 26th. His misfortune allowed Gaulding to take the points lead by four over Suarez and six over Rhodes. In the process Gaulding becomes the youngest points leader in series history at 16 years, 1 month, 5 days. Darrell Wallace Jr. held the mark previously at 16 years, 5 months, 19 days.
The PittLite 125 will air on FOX Sports 1 on Saturday, March 22 at 11:30 a.m. ET. The NASCAR K&N Pro Series East will return to the track on Saturday, March 22 for the Kevin Whitaker Chevrolet 150 at Greenville (S.C.) Pickens Speedway.