DOVER, Del. — Recap by Managing Editor Jacob Seelman for Race Chaser Online — Audio courtesy NASCAR media — Getty Images for NASCAR photo — Until Friday night, only Brett Moffitt had been able to tame the Monster Mile more than once in NASCAR K&N Pro Series East (NKNPSE) competition.
Now, you can add NASCAR Next star Austin Hill’s name to that short but illustrious list.
Hill, the Winston, Georgia native who ran a partial schedule on the East tour in 2013, blasted past 2014 series champion Ben Rhodes with 32 laps to go in Friday’s Drive Sober 150 at Dover International Speedway and, in his own words, “never looked back” en route to his second straight K&N East victory and second straight triumph at the Monster Mile.
The win was Hill’s third career NKNPSE victory after also winning at Greenville-Pickens Speedway last time the series was on track. Hill also becomes the first driver since 1997 to close out the series season with back-to-back wins.
“I’d say Dover’s my favorite track after this one,” a jubilant Hill expressed in Victory Lane. “Wow, this is pretty incredible. We’re a little one-car operation — we’re not Turner Scott or NTS, just a couple good old boys just trying to make it in racing. To be able to win two in a row here and to win at Greenville, I think that shows a lot about our team going into next year.”
Hill mounted a remarkable comeback after the valve stem was knocked off his left rear tire at lap 93 when Brennan Newberry made contact with the No. 22 Ford trying to dive for the lead in turn one.
“I got really nervous when we had that contact with the 24 (of Newberry); I don’t even know how we saved it, but somehow we survived. We had to come in and change the tire but once we went back green, I realized how good of a car we really had and I was able to run the top lane, keep it going and come back through there. What an awesome day!”
Kaz Grala held on for a runner-up result at the checkered flag, the best car out of the potent Turner Scott Motorsports stable after an attrition-filled event.
“That was just amazing, to end the year like this. To start fifth; that was my best-ever qualifying effort and then to finish second and not just that but to do it on a big, crazy fast track like (Dover), it’s just amazing to end the year like this,” Grala expressed after his career-best finish in the K&N Pro Series East. “Austin clearly had his car hooked up, and so did my teammate Ben before he started to have some motor problems there. It was really really cool to fight at the front of the pack though; we made a great change at the halfway break and it paid off late in the race.”
Grala’s TSM teammate Scott Heckert finished third, followed by veteran Eddie MacDonald and Australian Brodie Kostecki. Sergio Pena and J.J. Haley were the final two cars on the lead lap at the finish in sixth and seventh. Gray Gaulding, Ryan Gifford and Dylan Presnell rounded out the top ten.
Rhodes held the lead after Hill ducked to pit road at lap 94 to change his tire, but succumbed to Hill when his motor started losing power and ultimately expired coming to the white flag. None of that mattered, however, as Rhodes had already locked the championship hardware up coming into Dover.
“It’s been a great season. It’s been unrivaled,” Rhodes said after being officially presented with the championship hardware by NASCAR President Mike Helton. “I’ve worked hard in the shop throughout the year with my Turner Scott Motorsports team. This was the goal and we attained it here today. I felt like we were down on power from the get-go and I hate that because we wanted to fight for the win, but it’s still ben an amazing experience and we’re taking home a championship. It’s an awesome feeling.”
Polesitter Jesse Little and TSM driver Cameron Hayley led the field to the green flag and both paced the pack early in the event, but ultimately both had problems that took them out of contention.
Little first broke an oil line and was black-flagged while running second on lap 54 under caution, and later had a tire problem after the halfway break that took him out of contention for the win. Hayley cut down a tire on lap 69 while leading the race and lost two laps on pit road just moments before a caution flew that pinned him back in the field and ended his victory aspirations. Hayley ultimately ended up 13th in the final rundown.
Cole Custer was another driver who had tire problems, falling to pit road at the same time as Hayley and never being able to work his way back into contention. The Loudon Truck winner and NASCAR Next driver finsihed 18th, three laps in arrears.
In total, five cautions slowed the pace over the course of the 150-lap event.
The NASCAR K&N Pro Series East now goes dark until the 2015 season, but the series will celebrate Ben Rhodes and the rest of the top championship finishers on Saturday, Dec. 12 at the NASCAR Touring Series Awards in the Grand Ballroom of the Charlotte (N.C.) Convention Center at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
Audio with race winner Austin Hill:
Audio with K&N East champion Ben Rhodes: