In January, following Rico Abreu’s big win in the Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals in Tulsa, Oklahoma, HScott Motorsports with Justin Marks surprised racing fans when they announced that they would add Abreu to their NASCAR K&N Pro Series East team for 2015.
Just about six months later, Abreu and his team celebrated a win while America celebrated its independence.
Abreu fought off rookie Grant Quinlan in an epic duel to claim his first-career NASCAR victory in the NAPA 150 at Columbus Motor Speedway.
“It’s a pretty special night,” said Abreu, who was making his seventh-career K&N Pro Series East start. “Everyone here at HScott Motorsports with Justin Marks gave me a great race car tonight. To get the pole and the track record is pretty phenomenal.”
Abreu, 23, took the win from the pole after setting a new track record with a lap of 14.154 seconds around the 1/3-mile Columbus, Ohio oval. Despite his starting position, Abreu acknowledged needing to conserve his car.
“I just tried to keep my cool the whole race,” Abreu told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “I knew it was going to come down to the end and lapped traffic. It was really tricky at the end of the race. I just made sure I saved my tires so I had enough at the end.”
Abreu and Quinlan combined to lead all but one lap of the race, battling for the top spot on each of the race’s seven restarts.
The climax of the fierce battle came in the race’s final laps. Quinlan, who had fallen to fourth early in the race’s last run, reeled Abreu in over the final circuits. When Abreu got trapped behind lapped traffic in the final corner, Quinlan gave the St. Helena, California driver a bump, knocking him sideways and looked under him for the lead.
The two drag-raced down the front stretch, with Abreu taking the victory by .103 seconds over 16-year-old Quinlan.
“With that green No. 47 car (driven by Mike Senica), I just didn’t know where to go because he was way off of the pace,” said Abreu of the last lap. “Sometimes you just have to make split second decisions there. Our spotter told me (Quinlan) was coming to the bottom, so I tried to crowd the bottom there, and I just made sure I got him coming off of turn four.”
Quinlan came home in second.
“It was really a fun night,” said Quinlan, who was making his first-career K&N Pro Series East start. “To be able to run with all of these guys, just coming from late models like I was is a big change. Just to even be able to say that I was in competition with these guys is a huge accomplishment for us, and it goes to say a lot about everybody at Rette Jones Racing.
“This new second groove that they got here (at Columbus) that they just repaved is huge. You really can roll the top almost better than you can roll the bottom. On the last restart, I probably should’ve chosen the top, but that’s the way it goes.”
When discussing the last lap, Quinlan confirmed he just wasn’t close enough to make a move.
“I had a shot, but (Abreu) was just too far out there to try to make anything,” said Quinlan. “When I went to go throttle up, the car was just really loose, but that’s the way it goes.”
Kaz Grala rallied after falling outside of the top 10 in the race’s middle stages to finish third.
“Man, it was crazy,” said Grala. “We started fourth, and from the start a lot of people were going hard. I was in this race last year, so I knew that probably wasn’t going to be the way to do it. It turns out that I believe the front row starters ended up winning it, so they made it work with going hard. I’ve got to give them props for sure.
“I thought saving was going to be the way to go, so I dropped all the way back to about 10th, and made it back up to eighth slowly, and then on a late-race restart my crew chief just said ‘Give me all you’ve got. Let me see what you can do.’”
Jay Beasley rallied from the 15th starting position to finish forth, with Ronnie Bassett Jr. ending the night in fifth. Dalton Sergeant, Austin Hill, Dillon Bassett, J.J. Haley and Kenzie Ruston finished out the top 10.
Points leader William Byron ended the night in 14th after sustaining heavy damage in two of the race’s seven cautions.
Marred by cautions, the race’s average speed dropped to 59.171 mph. Abreu’s win gives the K&N Pro Series East its sixth-different winner in seven races.
The NASCAR K&N Pro Series East will return to action on July 17, when the field heads to New Hampshire Motor Speedway for the Granite State 70.
For an on-demand replay of tonight's Race Central Live coverage, click here: http://hometracks.nascar.com/nknps-east_race-central_070415_Columbus
-By Aaron Bearden, Speed51.com Contributor - Twitter: @AaronBearden93
-Photo Credit: Speed51.com
Unofficial Results: NAPA 150 at Columbus Motor Speedway
1. 98 Rico Abreu
2. 30 Grant Quinlan
3. 3 Kaz Grala
4. 2 Jay Beasley
5. 04 Ronnie Bassett Jr,
6. 51 Dalton Sargeant
7. 22 Austin Hill
8. 44 Dillon Bassett
9. 5 J.J. Haley
10. 4 Kenzie Ruston
11. 15 Nick Drake
12. 6 Devon Amos
13. 2 Collin Cabre
14. 9 William Byron
15. 34 Scott Heckert
16. 27 Kyle Benjamin
17. 12 Gray Gaulding
18. 94 Dylan Hoffman
19. 31 David Garbo Jr.
20. 47 Mike Senica
21. 02 Sarah Cornett-Ching
22. 45 Christian Celaya