DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Ben Rhodes is determined to throw off the narrative.
For the first time in three races, the 17-year-old from Louisville, Kentucky, is headed to the track where he has raced. Prior experience – or lack thereof – didn’t slow him down at North Carolina’s Bowman Gray Stadium nor Florida’s Five Flags Speedway. In his first trips there, Rhodes rolled off victories.
Now, he’ll take the No. 41 Alpha Energy Solutions Chevrolet and his three-race win streak to Langley Speedway in Hampton, Virginia, for the Visit Hampton VA 175. Rhodes competed at Langley last year in a NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Late Model in the track’s Hampton Heat 200. He finished seventh after last-lap contact knocked him from contention.
“It wasn’t a good finish,” said Rhodes, “but it was a really good race. I learned a lot about the track.”
Rhodes said he also picked up a great deal watching his teammates during a test session for the NASCAR K&N Pro Series. Turner-Scott Motorsports driver Dylan Kwasniewski went on to win the race.
“I learned the most … just getting to sit there and watch them all day long,” said Rhodes. “Just learning the passing zones and how the track changes at night time, and a lot stuff that occurs during the race and over time.”
Rhodes also pointed out that prior to the last two races, he had previous experience running both Greenville (South Carolina) Speedway and Iowa Speedway, the other two tracks he’s run at this year.
The NASCAR Next driver is putting together a run approaching historic proportions at the halfway mark.
Since NASCAR lowered the age limit in 2007 to allow drivers under 18 to compete in the touring series, only Dylan Kwasniewski (six wins in 2013) and Joey Logano (five wins in 2007) have more wins in a single season than Rhodes. And Rhodes is the first NASCAR K&N Pro Series East driver since Matt Kobyluck to win three in a row.
His points lead has stretched to 55 – more than a full race – over second-place Gray Gaulding. Yet, Rhodes is laser focused on the next task at hand: Langley.
“I’ve just been looking forward to the next race,” said Rhodes, “As soon as we leave the track we’re focused on the next one.”
“It’s never enough for me. It hasn’t really sunk in yet.”
The Race: The Visit Hampton VA 150 will be the ninth race on the 2014 NASCAR K&N Pro Series East schedule and the only trip to Langley Speedway.
The Procedure: The starting field is 28 cars, including provisionals. The first 24 cars will have secured starting positions based on two-lap qualifying. The remaining five spots will be awarded through the provisional process. The race is scheduled for 175 laps (70 miles).
The Track: Langley is a .396-mile slightly-banked asphalt oval located in Hampton, Virginia. The facility features NASCAR Whelen All-American Series-sanctioned events on Saturday nights throughout the racing season, headlined by the late model division. The track opened in 1950 and has hosted nine Grand National Division (now NASCAR Sprint Cup) races as a dirt track between 1964 and 1970, with NASCAR Hall of Famer David Pearson leading the way with three wins. NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Denny Hamlin was the track’s Mini Stock champion in 1997.
Race Winners: There have been three different race winners in three all-time events at Langley: Sergio Pena in 2011, Corey LaJoie in 2012 and Dylan Kwasniewski in 2013.
Pole Winners: Last year’s qualifying was rained out, and Coleman Pressley (2011) and Chase Elliott (2012) won the pole in the first two races. Elliott set the qualifying record at 16.400 seconds (86.927 mph).
LANGLEY RACE NOTES:
Gdovic Back At Home: Brandon Gdovic will make his fifth start of the season at his home town track. The Yorktown, Virginia, driver finished fourth in the 2012 race and has won in the track’s NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Division II Modifieds. He has also competed at Langley in the Late Model and Legends. Gdovic’s best season finish in K&N Pro East is ninth in the opener at New Smyrna (Florida) Speedway.
Alumni Report: Langley race fans have seen plenty of future stars over the last three years. Corey LaJoie, the 2012 race winner, recently announced he’ll be running in both the NASCAR Nationwide and NASCAR Camping World Truck races at Kentucky at the end of June. Last year’s winner, Dylan Kwasniewski, is in his rookie year in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, along with Chase Elliott, who was fifth at Langley in 2011 and third in 2012. And Brett Moffitt, who finished second both 2011 and 2012, recently announced a multi-year deal with Michael Waltrip Racing to make select NASCAR Sprint Cup and NASCAR Nationwide starts.
The Start Of Something: Rev Racing’s Daniel Suarez finished second at Langley last year, kicking off a terrific run to the end of the season in which the NASCAR Next alum and current member of NASCAR Drive for Diversity, finished in the top three in six of the final eight races. Suarez will be looking for a similar turn-around. After winning the first two races of 2014, he has had a run of misfortune that dropped him to sixth in points. Friday at Five Flags, a flat tire ended his race after just 18 laps.
Picking Up The Pace: After a rough start to the season, Las Vegas’ Jay Beasley has gotten acclimated to the East. The Rev Racing driver was 20th in points after brake issues ended his night early at Richmond. Since, however, Beasley has reeled off three straight top 10 finishes – including a solid seventh-place run at Pensacola. He’s been able to gain seven spots in the points, up to 13th. Beasley won the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Super Late Model championship at the Bullring at Las Vegas Motor Speedway last year and earned a spot in NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity program to make the step up to the K&N Pro Series.
HOME TRACKS: Waltz Moves Closer To Top Spot
Matt Waltz won his fifth race of the season Saturday in Langley’s NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Division I, the Comserve Verizon Wireless Late Model Division, to close the ground on points leader Greg Edwards. Edwards, a four-time race winner in 2014 and three-time track champion, leads by four points over Waltz. Nick Smith is third, 21 points behind Waltz. Danny Harrell leads Shawn Balluzzo in the Division II Larry King Law Modifieds. In addition to the K&N Pro East, Langley will host a 50-lap Modified race Saturday, as well as a 40-lap Grand Stock and 30-lap Pro 6 features. The Grand Stocks are Langley’s Division III and the Pro 6s are Division V. This year, NASCAR is crowning national champions across all five divisions.
LAST TIME OUT: Five Flags
The eighth race of the 2014 NASCAR K&N Pro Series East season was Friday at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Florida. Here are some highlights of the Pensacola 150:
• Ben Rhodes led the final 17 laps to win for the fourth time in 2014 and pick up his third straight victory. The championship points leader also led earlier in the race for 23 laps.
• Gray Gaulding won his second career 21 Means 21 Pole Award in the K&N Pro East, and led a race-high 80 laps before finishing fifth.
• The race had five cautions for 27 laps and was completed in 1 hour, 14 minutes.
• Brandon Jones passed Cameron Hayley in the closing laps to finish second, his fourth top five in four starts and his career best finish in the series. Kenzie Ruston rallied from a lap down because of a flat tire to finish fourth. She was 18th after 55 laps before slicing her way to the front.
NEXT TIME OUT: New Hampshire
After three straight short-tracks, the K&N Pro East will return to the speedways on Saturday, July 11 for the Granite State 100 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. It is the fifth of eight races the series will run in combination with one of NASCAR’s three national series. Last September, NASCAR Next driver Cole Custer won at Loudon, while Suarez was second and Rhodes fourth.
– NASCAR Integrated Marketing Communications. Photo credit: Getty Images for NASCAR