When the checkered flag waved on the final NASCAR K&N Pro Series East race in the 71-year history of Ohio’s Columbus Motor Speedway, it was a 17-year-old left celebrating. Justin Haley had the fastest car all day long, but needed a little luck at the end to grab his second win of the season.
Haley had never finished better than third in at Columbus entering Saturday’s 150-lap race, but he clearly had the fastest car throughout the day. Haley was fastest in both practice sessions on Saturday afternoon and set a track record in qualifying before leading the most laps in the race.
But with a little under 30 laps remaining, Haley was passed for the lead by Kyle Benjamin. Benjamin went into turn three on on the outside and powered by Haley. Then he drove out to about a 10 car-length lead on Haley.
“The 40-car was definitely a little quicker there, but we stuck with it,” said Haley. “He’s had bad luck all year long, but I figured tonight was the night it was finally going to turn around.”
It didn’t. With 12 laps to go Benjamin blew a right-front tire going into turn three. He managed to keep his No. 40 machine off the wall, but his chance to win was gone. It marked the third straight race that Benjamin had a race-winning car and failed to see victory lane.
“It really sucks,” Benjamin told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “That’s three really fast cars that I’ve had in a row and three times that we’ve ended up finishing really bad because something happened.”
Benjamin’s misfortune was Haley’s good fortune as he inherited the lead for the final restart with eight laps to go. Haley was forced to deal with Austin Theriault on the restart but he quickly pulled out to a five car-length lead and held on to take the checkered flag.
“I was shocked (when I saw that),” Haley said. “My spotter was going crazy. At that point I knew I just had to finish it off and fortunately we did.”
Haley’s name will forever live in the record books of Columbus Motor Speedway as the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East track record holder with a 14.045-second lap, and the final K&N East winner at Columbus, something that Haley said is “super cool.”
“Columbus has never been one of my favorite tracks,” Haley said. “So to be able to do something like this has new meaning for me now. It’s unfortunate to see it go, but I’m just glad that I could win the last race here.”
Haley also padded his points lead heading into the next NASCAR K&N Pro Series East race at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway on July 16.
For an on-demand replay of tonight’s NAPA 150, click here.
-By Rob Blount, Speed51.com Southeast Editor – Twitter: @RobBlount
-Photo Credit: Speed51.com
NASCAR K&N Pro Series East NAPA 150
Columbus Motor Speedway, Columbus, Ohio
|6||49||John Holleman IV|
|13||30||Dominique Van Wieringen|
|16||6||Ruben Garcia Jr.|