A series of unusual events led to the 100th different winner in NASCAR K&N Pro Series East history in the series’ inaugural visit to Motordrome Speedway (PA) on Saturday night. Winston-Salem, North Carolina’s Dillon Bassett had to make two passes for the lead and patiently wait out two delays to fix a broken up patch of asphalt on the front straightaway of the half-mile track before claiming his first career victory.
For a driver, whose family team skipped the most recent race at Watkins Glen International, it was definitely a rewarding experience after the preparation and hard work that has been put in.
“Words cannot even come close to describing what this feeling is,” an elated Dillon Bassett told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “We struggled so much all year and to finally win a race, it’s the first top five of my career and to make it a win is so much better. We spend six days of the week working on these race cars just because we lack a lot of people. It gets disappointing at times when you work so hard and so long. To finally win and just to feel what it feels like to win a race in this series is just absolutely amazing. It makes you feel like your hard work actually meant something.”
Bassett showed in practice that he may be in consideration as a dark horse to contend for the win in the 150 lap race, but it was the usual group of HScott Motorsports with Justin Marks teams that showed their hand in qualifying and at the green flag.
Points leaders William Byron and Scott Heckert started from the front row with another teammate Dalton Sargeant moving into second and challenging Byron lap after lap for the top spot during the early portion of the race. Byron appeared to be the class of the field, but all drivers had tire management in the back of their mind while competing on the abrasive surface. Teams were not permitted to come in for new sneakers; the rule for several K&N Pro Series events.
Steadily making his way toward the front during the first half was Bassett from the seventh starting position. By halfway and with the aid of a few caution flags, the 2013 UARA Stars Late Model Stock Car champion was up to second and challenging Byron. On lap 94, the lead was successfully his.
It was only the beginning for Bassett, though. The red flag was displayed on lap 103 due to some pieces of asphalt coming up in the preferred groove on the worn out surface, and again five circuits later.
“We were riding behind (Byron) just trying to bide time, see what he was doing, and see if he was better,” Bassett recapped. “He slipped up a few times and I took advantage of his slip up, and tried to get a little bit of a lead just to get the pressure off of me. Then I heard the red flag was coming out for chunks coming out of the racetrack and I didn’t know if it was going to be a long time or they were going to call it. I wanted my first win to be a full finish.”
Luckily for Bassett and the fans in attendance, the race was able to resume. A couple of new players entered the battle for the eventual win at this point, including a racer who won at a similar track earlier in the season.
Georgia’s Austin Hill took advantage of Bassett spinning the tires on what would be the final restart with 30 laps to go and dove low to make it three wide through the corners. Hill commented that the higher groove worked in his winning effort at New Smyrna Speedway (FL) in February, but it was Bassett this time with the advantage on the high side. After battling for a few laps, the lead was exclusively Bassett’s.
“I felt like we had better tires than (Bassett) and (Byron) at the end of the race when we had the red flag to get the patch fixed,” Hill explained. “When we went back green I could tell (Bassett) wasn’t getting his tires warmed up enough so I had in the back of my head if he slides up in the corner I’m just going to turn up under him and try to get by. That’s what happened and when he slid up I got up under him and tried to stay as clean as possible. That outside line was pretty good and he was able to muscle back by me. Once he did I was trying to run with him and my car got way too loose and we could not get off the corners as good.”
Bassett again was still not out of the water until the checkered flag flew. Columbus winner Rico Abreu, a nonfactor running outside the top 10 for the majority of the race, began to make a significant charge to the front. Easily advancing past one car after another on the outside, the 2015 Chili Bowl winner found himself in second with less than 10 laps to go.
“Tires were such a factor so we just made sure to conserve and slow our race pace down and it paid off at the end of this thing, that’s for sure,” Abreu explained.
Unfortunately for Abreu, another yellow would not come out and prevented him from catching the far ahead Bassett despite running faster lap times. His thrilling display for the cheering Western Pennsylvania contingent in the stands came up one position short.
“I’m not sure,” Abreu answered when asked if he had something for Bassett if a caution was displayed. “He’s kind of a wild man so if it would have come out at the end I would have been patient and definitely could have given him a run for his money.”
Hill remained in third in the final finishing order with Heckert and J.J. Haley rounding out the top five.
Byron was relegated to eighth, which allows Heckert and Hill to slightly close on him in the standings with three events remaining. While Abreu was able to conserve, the plan backfired for the point leader and four-time winner.
“It was disappointing towards the end,” Byron said. “We just kind of played the game wrong. We wanted to run a decent pace and they were making us run harder than we wanted to. That’s the way it works out sometimes. It worked for us at Langley, it worked for us at Greenville, but it just didn’t work for us here.”
The race marked the second time Bassett worked with new crew chief Ron Otto, the man who guided Hill to victory earlier in the season. The improvement showed.
“I was very confident in what he had and what he knows,” Bassett mentioned. “He has been helping me a lot just the past few days that we have been working together, telling me things that he sees that can help me because he has been in the sport a very long time. He is very knowledgeable, and that goes a long ways in this sport just trying to learn and keep learning.”
Speed51.com powered the Race Central Live coverage on NASCAR Home Tracks. An on-demand replay can be found here: http://speed51.com/race-central-live-kn-pro-series-east-at-motordrome/.
– By Aaron Creed, Speed51.com Pennsylvania/Central New York Editor – Twitter: @aaron_creed
– Photo credit: Speed51.com