DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – By John Tejada, NASCAR — Getty Images for NASCAR photo — Two words have been synonymous with the 2014 NASCAR K&N Pro Series East season: Ben Rhodes.
To say that the 17-year-old Louisville, Kentucky, native has been on a roll this year would be an understatement. Through nine events, Rhodes has five wins, eight top fives and eight top 10s. His average finish is 3.2, and if you remove the second race of the season at the UNOH Battle at the Beach at Daytona, his average finish becomes 1.6.
“I don’t ever think about the stats,” responded Rhodes when asked whether he thinks about the numbers he’s put up so far this year. “If I look at the stats, I start putting pressure on myself to perform and live up to those expectations. I just try and forget about it all and do my best. My best is my best. I’ve got to forget about the rest.”
Rhodes heads to New Hampshire Motor Speedway for the Granite State 100 for the series’ annual stop in Loudon with a chance to tie two former champions. His four-race win streak leaves him one shy of tying 1991 champion Ricky Craven for most consecutive series wins in a season. Rhodes is also one victory away from tying Dylan Kwasniewski for most wins in a season, set last year by the NASCAR Nationwide Series Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender.
The strategy heading into the weekend for Rhodes is simple, avoid hitting the wall.
“I didn’t have the best race last year,” said Rhodes, who left New Hampshire with a top-five finish in 2013. “We hit the wall but ended up with a top five because we had a really good restart. We had a really fast car, but I made a mistake, so for this year, patience is going to be really big at this track.”
The NASCAR Next standout will look to build on his 71-point lead over Turner Scott Motorsport teammate Cameron Hayley this weekend, but don’t expect Rhodes to be thinking about that as he races around the 1.058-mile oval.
“I just go out there and do my thing. I can’t change things I have no control over. My best is my best and I’ve got to forget about the rest.”
The Race: The Granite State 100 will be the 10th of 16 races on the 2014 NASCAR K&N Pro Series East schedule and the lone trip to New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
The Procedure: The starting field is 36 cars, including provisionals. The first 32 cars will qualify through two-lap time trials. The remaining four spots will be awarded through the provisional process. The race will be 100 laps (105.8 miles) with a 10-minute break at or near the conclusion of Lap 50. The tire change rule is two tires, any position.
The Track: NHMS, a 1.058-mile slightly-banked asphalt oval, is the largest track the K&N Pro Series East races at. NHMS has played host to the K&N Pro Series East in each year of the track’s existence and has held more races than any other facility in the series’ 28-year history.
Race Winners: There have been 27 different winners in 58 all-time stand-alone races at NHMS. New Hampshire native Brad Leighton has the most series wins at the “Magic Mile” with eight while Eddie MacDonald is the active leader with three.
Pole Winners: Of the 30 different drivers to earn a Coors Light Pole Award at NHMS, Kelly Moore has the most in K&N Pro Series East history with six. Brett Moffitt set the track qualifying record at 29.648 seconds (128.467 mph) in 2012 for his third “Magic Mile” pole.
NEW HAMPSHIRE RACE NOTES:
NASCAR Prospects Shine at NHMS: Since the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East evolved into a developmental series, many of NASCAR’s bright young stars have found success in the series at the “Magic Mile.” Joey Logano, who has two wins this year in the NASCAR Sprint Cup, won both K&N Pro Series East races at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in 2007, a feat matched by another NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Ryan Truex in 2010. NASCAR Camping World Truck Series competitor Max Gresham won an East race at NHMS in 2011, while leading 2014 Sprint Cup Series Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender Kyle Larson won at the track in 2012 while running for Rev Racing and NASCAR Drive for Diversity. Other current national series drivers that have turned in top-five K&N Pro Series East finishes in recent seasons at NHMS include: Austin and Ty Dillon, Chase Elliott, Dylan Kwasniewski, Miguel Paludo, Kevin Swindell, Darrell Wallace Jr. and Cole Whitt.
MacDonald on Double Duty: Two days after competing in the Granite State 100, Eddie MacDonald will make his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series debut in the Camping World RV Sales 301. The Rowley, Massachusetts, native will drive the No. 32 Go FAS Racing Ford Fusion co-owned by long-time NASCAR crew chief and NBC analyst Frank Stoddard and Archie St. Hilaire. MacDonald will hope that his K&N Pro Series East success at the track, three wins, four top fives and 12 top 10s in 25 starts, will translate to the Sprint Cup Series. The veteran has seven career K&N East wins, with his most recent victory coming at Bristol Motor Speedway earlier this year.
Grala Building Momentum: Kaz Grala is coming off his first top-five finish with the K&N Pro Series East, a fifth-place effort at Langley Speedway in Hampton, Virginia, in the Visit Hampton VA 175. Grala, from Westborough, Massachusetts, is the youngest driver running full-time in the series this season and will race at his local track for the first time in the Granite State 100. In addition to his best series finish, the Turner Scott Motorsport rookie also picked up his first NASCAR Whelen All-American Series victory of the season, winning in the Rusty Harper Memorial at Caraway Speedway in Sophia, North Carolina, on July 4. Grala beat out two-time defending national champion Lee Pullium in the 171-lap event.
NASCAR Night at Lowell Spinners: The Lowell Spinners – the Class A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox – will hold their annual “NASCAR Night” at LeLacheur Park on Wednesday, July 9 in Lowell, Massachusetts. Rhodes, Cameron Hayley, Scott Heckert, Grala and Brandon Jones will join NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour drivers Ryan Preece and Woody Pitkat for the promotional night.
New Date: The last two years, this race has been held during the September NASCAR Sprint Cup Series weekend. This will be the first time the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East has run the summer date since 2011.
LAST TIME OUT: Langley
The 9th event of the 2014 NASCAR K&N Pro Series East season took place at Langley Speedway on June 21. Here are some highlights from the Visit Hampton VA 175:
• Ben Rhodes continued his roll by winning his fourth consecutive event and fifth of 2014, extending his lead in the championship standings to 71 points.
• Turner Scott Motorsports placed all five of its drivers in the top six with Rhodes, Cameron Hayley, Scott Heckert, Kaz Grala and Brandon Jones finishing first, second, fourth, fifth and sixth respectively.
• Kenzie Ruston tied her career best finish with a third-place effort, her second top-five finish of the season.
NEXT TIME OUT: Columbus
Following the Granite State 100, the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East will return to action on Saturday, July 19 with the JEGS 150 at Columbus (Ohio) Motor Speedway. It will be the fourth all-time event at the track for the K&N Pro Series East has visited the track. Daniel Suárez is the defending race winner, beating out Cale Conley by .378 seconds for his first series victory.