March 22, 2014 — race report by Managing Editor Jacob Seelman for Race Chaser Online — photo courtesy Getty Images for NASCAR — GREENVILLE, SC — Ben Rhodes said coming into this weekend’s NASCAR K&N Pro Series East (KNPSE) action he wanted to bring the journey full-circle.
Saturday night at Greenville-Pickens Speedway, the Kentucky native and Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender did just that.
Rhodes, who began a wave of career momentum at the very same Greenville track in 2013 with a pair of NASCAR WHELEN All-American Series late model triumphs, finally iced his first career KNPSE victory after a late race restart, holding off fellow rookie Ronnie Bassett Jr. for the win in just his eleventh series start.
Bassett held on to come home a career-best second, with Cameron Hayley and Jesse Little finishing in third and fourth, respectively. Two-time 2013 KNPSE winner Daniel Suarez fell back to fifth at the flag after pressuring Bassett for second late, but notched his third top five finish of the season.
Ryan Gifford finished sixth, followed by rookies Kaz Grala and Brodie Kostecki. Grala led his first career laps in the series during the second half of the event. Sergio Pena and Eddie MacDonald rounded out the top 10.
After leading 130 of 132 laps and coming away with only a sour-tasting third-place result a week ago at Bristol, this time, the driver of the No. 41 Alpha Energy Solutions Chevrolet wanted to leave no doubt who was best in class, and he did so from the start of the day, qualifying on pole over Hayley and setting up an all Turner Scott Motorsports front row.
At the onset of the event, Rhodes stormed off from pole and led the first 36 laps of the event despite heavy pressure from teammates Hayley and Grala as well as Jesse Little in the opening stint. A quick caution for a spin by Jerry Dawson slowed the field and set up a restart at Lap 41.
On that restart it was again Rhodes with the advantage before Hayley began closing the gap behind him. The two were virtually nose to tail when the second caution of the event flew at Lap 62 for a crash involving Mackena Bell and rookie Zach Bruenger and bunched the field up yet again.
After a short sprint, the field hit the ten-minute halftime break at Lap 76 with Rhodes having led every lap to that point over Jesse Little and Cameron Hayley in second and third.
Following adjustments, the field resumed and Cameron Hayley came to life, snatching the lead from Rhodes at Lap 81 and leading his first laps of the night. The Turner Scott Motorsports party continued at the front of the field at Lap 86, when 15-year-old Kaz Grala assumed the lead for the first time in his KNPSE career.
Grala maintained the lead until Lap 101, when Hayley took the top of the pylon back away from his teammate and held the point through a caution at Lap 111 for Kenzie Ruston’s spin in Turn 4.
From there, it was a duel between the two NASCAR Next drivers, but once Rhodes got back to second and gave chase, Hayley had nothing left to stop him. Rhodes reassumed the lead with 24 laps to go and never gave it up again despite two late race multi-car crashes, one for Josh Berry and Austin Hill getting together at Lap 133 and the second for a multi-car accident on the backstretch that set up a five lap dash for all the marbles.
The NASCAR K&N Pro Series East is back on track on April 25th for the Blue Ox 100 at Richmond International Raceway as a companion race to the NASCAR Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series events that same weekend.