From his perspective it was a week late, but Ben Rhodes got his first career NASCAR K&N Pro Series East win.
After leading all but the final two laps in his last start on March 15 at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway, the 17-year-old Louisville, Ky., native took no chances on Saturday night by leading the final 26 laps en route to a victory in the Kevin Whitaker Chevrolet 150 on Saturday night at Greenville Pickens Speedway.
“We just had a great race car all day long,” said Rhodes. “The gang at Turner Scott Motorsports gives us great cars every week and every race. I can’t thank those guys enough.
“Winning at Greenville Pickens is really cool,” he continued. “It’s a place known for saving tires and our strategy worked out.”
It was just the 11th start for the NASCAR Next driver. His previous best finish at the track was sixth, earned in September of last year. Rhodes’ best series career finish coming into the night was a pair of third-place efforts including that previous Bristol start.
Ronnie Bassett Jr., an 18-year-old rookie from Winston-Salem, N.C., crossed the line just behind Rhodes for his first top-five-finish in six series outings.
“We’ve struggled early this year. It was good to get to a track we’re a little more familiar with and get a good result,” said Bassett. “It’s too bad we came up one short, but we’ll learn and come back next time a little stronger.”
Cameron Hayley, who started from the outside pole position and led 29 laps, finished third in his first Greenville start in a K&N East car.
“It was difficult to gauge how hard to go before and after the break,” he said. “The pace was really fast, so you couldn’t give up too many positions. It was a good night overall and we’ll head to Richmond and try to get a win there.”
Jesse Little scored his best finish of the season with a fourth-place showing and Drive for Diversity driver Daniel Suárez, who got into the fray late after a start back in the 15th position, came home in fifth, his third top-five finish in four starts this season.
Ryan Gifford finished sixth, followed by rookies Kaz Grala and Brodie Kostecki while Sergio Peña and Eddie MacDonald rounded out the top 10.
Gifford and Peña are Rev Racing teammates of Suárez and also are part of the Drive for Diversity initiative.
With the victory, Rhodes took over the lead in the championship standings by seven points over Suárez and nine better than Gray Gaulding. Both Suárez and Gaulding join Rhodes as members of the NASCAR Next program.
NASCAR Next is an industry initiative that spotlights young, talented drivers, who could shape the future of the sport.
The Kevin Whitaker Chevrolet 150 will be telecast by FOX Sports 1 on Friday, March 28 at 11 a.m. ET.
The NASCAR K&N Pro Series East is back on the track on April 25 for Blue Ox 100 at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway.