EASLEY, S.C. – Turner Scott Motorsports (TSM) entered the Kevin Whitaker 140 looking to capture a fourth-straight victory, while Ben Rhodes entered the race with the opportunity to claim his first-career NASCAR championship. The NASCAR Next driver would accomplish just that by the end of the event, bringing home a fourth-place finish and claiming the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East (NKNPSE) title in his rookie season. Cameron Hayley had a strong car throughout the night, leading laps and eventually bringing home a runner-up finish in the race. Kaz Grala and Scott Heckert both brought home top 15s for TSM.
Rhodes came into the Kevin Whitaker 140 with an opportunity to seal the 2014 NKNPSE Driver Point Standings championship with one race remaining before the conclusion of the season at Dover International Speedway later this month. The 17-year-old got the day started off on a high note, capturing the 21 Means 21 Pole award, his sixth of 2014. As the race began Rhodes was hit with a penalty for starting the race before the flagman, and in turn was forced to bring the No. 41 Alpha Energy Solutions Chevrolet down pit road for a pass-thru penalty. The incident moved Rhodes to 22nd position, last in the field, yet still on the lead lap. The young gun didn’t allow this to slow his championship hopes, however, as Rhodes quickly went to work, heading to the front. By lap 40, Rhodes was already up to the 14th position and looking to advance further. 10 laps later, Rhodes was up in the top 10 and looked poised to work back into the top five and challenge for the lead. At the midway break in the race, Rhodes was scored in the seventh position. As the race resumed following the break, Rhodes looked even stronger, moving his No. 41 up to fourth by lap 86. By lap 110, Rhodes had worked into the second position and looked to challenge for the race lead. A late-race restart on lap 128 saw Rhodes restart on the outside line. This would prove costly in the NASCAR Next driver’s victory hopes and ultimately would result in a fourth-place finish for Rhodes. Although the 17-year-old didn’t capture the race win, he was able to seal up the championship by leaving Greenville with a 62-point lead on second place contender and TSM teammate Cameron Hayley. This marks the first NASCAR championship for Rhodes and the second straight for TSM in two seasons of NKNPSE competition. Rhodes and the No. 41 team have one final race on the schedule later this month at Dover International Speedway, where he looks to capture his sixth victory of the season, a mark that would tie him with current TSM NASCAR Nationwide Series driver and 2013 NKNPSE champion Dylan Kwasniewski.
Ben Rhodes on winning the 2014 NKNPSE Championship:
“Honestly, after the race, I was still a little frustrated I made the mistake at the start. I wanted to win the race and get the championship that way, but it just didn’t work out. I was happy though to get out of the car and see my crew chief Mark McFarland and celebrate with my whole Turner Scott Motorsports team. My guys put in many hours at the shop and at the race track to give me a great Chevrolet all year, and it paid off. I have to thank Alpha Energy Solutions, Alliance Comfort Systems, Kentucky National Guard, Park Community Credit Union and Refrigerant Rescue for all their help to make this happen. We can now go to Dover in a few weeks and not worry about anything other than getting my seventh pole and sixth victory of the year.”
Hayley entered the Kevin Whitaker 140 looking to put his name in the win column in the NKNPSE, something that has eluded the 18-year-old thus far in 2014. The night started strong for Hayley as the Canada native qualified for the race in the third position. Hayley made quick work of his competitors with his fast No. 98 Cabinets by Hayley Chevrolet, working into the race lead in the opening lap and remaining up front for the race’s first 17 circuits. Hayley regained the race lead on lap 30 and remained up front until lap 67, just prior to the halfway break. When the second half of the race began, it was clear that Hayley had a car capable of contending for the race win. The 18-year-old held strong in the second position, looking to maintain track position and make a charge for the victory. Some late-race cautions derailed the opportunity for a long green-flag run, ultimately forcing Hayley to settle for a second-place finish in the race. The finish marked the seventh top five for Hayley in 2014, and he remains second in the NKNPSE Driver Point Standings heading into Dover.
Cameron Hayley on his runner-up finish at Greenville:
“It’s tough finishing second five times this year, but I can’t say enough about my guys and everyone at TSM for everything they do. It was a really hot, long day and we all made the most of it by coming out with a solid run in the No. 98 Cabinets by Hayley Chevy. On to Dover in a couple weeks, where hopefully we’ll be able to close out the season with a win.”
Grala came into the Kevin Whitaker 140 looking to build upon his streak of six straight top 10s. The youngest full-time driver in the NKNPSE got the night started by qualifying the No. 31 OzLINK Chevrolet in the ninth position. Grala started the race solid, hanging tough inside the top 10. By lap 40, Grala ran in the sixth position and looked poised for yet another top-10 finish. When the midway break arrived, the 15-year-old ran in the fifth position with a hope of challenging for even more in the second half. As the race resumed, Grala slid into seventh, looking to march up into the top five. Grala continued to run in and around sixth for the next 40 laps, until an incident on lap 124 with another competitor spun the young driver in Turns 1 and 2. Grala was able to continue on without losing a lap to the leaders. However, when the race resumed, Grala restarted in the 13th position, and with limited laps remaining, he wasn’t able to gain a few positions, ultimately bringing home an 11th-place finish. The result puts Grala sixth in the NKNPSE Driver Point Standings with one race remaining in 2014.
Kaz Grala on his race at Greenville:
“The race at Greenville was on its way to being a great finish for the No. 31 OzLINK Chevy. We started ninth and quickly began to move our way up into the top five by the halfway break. In the second half, we dropped back a little to conserve and were in good shape for the closing laps of the race. With 15 to go, contact sent us around to bring out a caution. What’s important is that we came from the back up to 11th by the checkered flag and we were able to maintain our point’s position. We’re ready to go get some more points and finish the season strong at Dover in a few weeks.”
Heckert entered the Kevin Whitaker 140 looking to bring home his third straight victory following prior wins at Watkins Glen International and Virginia International Raceway in the previous two races. The 20-year-old qualified for the race in the 12th position. Throughout the early portions of the race, Heckert fought the handling of his racecar and was scored in the 16th position on lap 50. At the midway break of the race, Heckert came down pit road in the 14th position. When the race resumed, Heckert looked to make positive gains and work back into the top 10. By lap 80, Heckert had moved up to 13th, looking for more positions on the racetrack. Heckert remained in the top 15 through the final caution of the race on lap 124. Following the late-race restart, Heckert slipped a few positions to 15th, where he would eventually finish. The result moved Heckert to 10th in the NKNPSE Driver Point Standings with just one race remaining in the 2014 season.
Scott Heckert on his run at Greenville:
“Definitely not the night we were hoping for heading into this weekend at Greenville. Unfortunately, this track has always been frustrating for me throughout my career. Although we didn’t get the finish we were looking for, I’m still really confident heading into the final race of the season at Dover. I know our No. 34 Project Lifesaver Chevy will have speed and allow us to contend for another win.”