HAMPTON, Va. — Race report by Race Chaser Online correspondent Marshall Gabell — Getty Images for NASCAR photo — Unstoppable.
That’s what Ben Rhodes has been, and he proved to the entire NASCAR K&N Pro Series East exactly why Saturday night at Langley Speedway.
Rhodes led 162 laps of the 175 laps in the Visit Hampton VA 175 en route to a flawless victory at the 0.396-mile, slightly banked oval. The win marks his fifth K&N East triumph this season and his fourth straight, leaving him just one shy of the series record for most consecutive wins in series history, an honor that Ricky Craven has held the past 23-years.
“Turner-Scott Motorsports, I can’t say enough about these guys,” Rhodes explained in victory lane following the dominating win. “All of our guys, not just me and my crew chief (Mark McFarland), complement each other very well.”
“Every three laps (during practice) we came in and made a change, because this car was not where we needed it. Their hard work is why we’re standing here.”
The win allowed Rhodes to extend his commanding points lead to 71 markers and further cements his status as the favorite in the quest towards the championship.
Now, after another triumph, Rhodes has decided on a name for his Turner Scott Motorsports organization, a quite appropriate one.
“They’re the ‘Dream Team’; that’s what I call them anyway,” Rhodes explained. “I’m just the fortunate one to put my butt in the seat.”
Cameron Hayley finished a career-best second in the event as Turner Scott Motorsports placed five cars in the top six positions.
The finish handed Hayley the runner-up spot in the points standings, a spot that’s still up for grabs behind Rhodes’ remarkable advantage.
“It was a tough race,” Hayley commented. “As much as the fans don’t see it, this place is a circle and circles are really hard with these big, heavy cars. It’s really hard on tires, and if you’re off (a little) you just can’t win this race. We were a little bit tight tonight. Overall this (Chevrolet) was amazing.”
Kenzie Ruston capped an impressive performance on the evening by tying her career-best finish of third; which matches her mark of the highest finish posted by a female driver in series history.
“Our car was pretty good,” Ruston expressed. “We struggled at the beginning of practice, but the guys worked hard and (crew chief) Mike Fritts gave me a good car. It wasn’t quite a winning car. It just got too tight there at the end. I just can’t thank everyone at Ben Kennedy Racing and his family (enough) for giving me this opportunity.”
Polesitter Scott Heckert came home in fourth and rookie Kaz Grala notched his career-best on the night as well, finishing in the fifth position. Brandon Jones ended the night sixth and now finds himself a single point out of third place in the championship standings.
Rookie Nick Drake, veteran Eddie MacDonald, NASCAR NEXT inductee Jesse Little and two-time 2014 winner Daniel Suarez rounded out the top-10 positions.
Rhodes, who qualified second, paced himself when the event began, allowing teammate and pole-sitter Heckert to build an advantage until Lap 7 when Jones, Mackena Bell and Mason Massey, who was making his K&N East Series debut, got tangled up causing a melee in Turn One.
Fortunately, Bell and Jones were able to driver away from the incident, but Massey was unable to continue and ended up completing his night in the garage area.
On the ensuing restart Rhodes utilized the high line to take the lead and built his advantage.
During the long run, machines began taking a beating, with attrition forcing several drivers to pull behind the wall. Gray Gaulding, Ronnie Bassett Jr. and Ryan Gifford all had mechanical or braking issues forcing them to be either sidelined for multiple laps or retired from the event.
Lap 78 marked the next break in the action when Chuck Buchanan Jr. looped around causing the field to be regrouped for the restart, but Rhodes maintained his lead on the jam-packed restart and rebuilt his advantage until Lap 90, when Brandon Gdovic got into Jay Beasley and sent him spinning; officials gave Gdovic a two-lap penalty for the incident.
The action then became calmer until ten to go, when Brennan Newberry’s No. 24 NTS Motorsports machine went for a spin and drew the night’s final caution.
The race-deciding restart came with five laps to go, but despite the field’s best efforts, Rhodes simply controlled the race lead and soared into victory circle.
Due to Gaulding’s struggles, the part-time NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver has fallen to third in the championship, 77 points behind Rhodes.
The K&N East Pro Series next heads north for the Granite State 100 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on July 11th.
The Visit Hampton VA 175 will air on FOX Sports 1 on Friday, June 27 at noon.