GREENVILLE, S.C. — official release — Getty Images for NASCAR photo — Ben Rhodes entered the Kevin Whitaker Chevrolet 140 needing to finish at least 13th to clinch his first NASCAR K&N Pro Series East crown, he did nine spots better.
The 17-year-old Louisville, Kentucky, native earned his 11th top-five finish of the season, crossing the Greenville Pickens Speedway finish line fourth and clinching his first series title in the process. Fellow NASCAR Next driver Austin Hill earned his first victory of the season and second of his career.
Hill led the last 58 laps and edged Cameron Hayley, Rhodes’ nearest championship challenger, for the checkered flag.
For Hayley, it’s his fifth runner-up finish and seventh top five of the season.
Gray Gaulding crossed the line third, followed by Rhodes and Nick Drake.
Rhodes picked up his first K&N Pro East win at Greenville in March, the first of five wins — including four in a row — that gave him an insurmountable points lead.
He won his sixth 21 Means 21 Pole Award presented by Coors Light Saturday afternoon, but a miscue at the start of the race nearly cost him dearly. Rhodes was black-flagged for jumping the race’s initial start and instructed to serve a pass through penalty. He barely came out in front of the leaders to stay on the lead lap. He quickly began to work his way back to the front on the flat half-mile track.
Brennan Newberry, Brandon Jones, Ryan Gifford, Jesse Little and Will Burns rounded out the top 10.
Rhodes holds a 62-point lead over Hayley heading into the season finale. Jones is third, 20 points behind Hayley and just two points ahead of Gaulding and four points ahead of Little.
The NASCAR K&N Pro Series East will wrap-up its 2014 season at Dover (Delaware) International Speedway on Friday, Sept. 26, for the Drive Sober 150.