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Posted: Monday, June 16th 2014 at 11:00am

Rhodes continues roll with late charge for 5 Flags win

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Ben Rhodes scored his third straight NASCAR K&N Pro Series East race Friday night at 5 Flags Speedway. It marked his fourth series victory of the season. / Photo: Fastrax Photos/Tom Wilsey/Loxley, AL
PENSACOLA, FL – Ben Rhodes is making it look easy, even when it isn't.

The 17-year-old NASCAR Next driver from Louisville, Kentucky, charged to the lead on lap 134 restart and went on to win the Pensacola 150 in NASCAR K&N Pro Series East action on Friday night at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, FL.

The win was the third straight and fourth in five races for Rhodes, who is in his first full season of series competition. Rhodes, whose other finish during this stretch was a second, extended his championship points lead to 55 over second-place Gray Gaulding after eight of 16 races.

Rhodes is also looking to join Kyle Larson, Ryan Truex and Joey Logano as drivers since 2007 to win the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East Sunoco Rookie of the Year and the series championship in the same year.

"I never would have thought we'd have such a good season," said Rhodes, who credited the handful of races he competed in last year and the time spent in the shop with the team. "I've been building on top of all that. It makes my feedback better. Even though we only had 45 minutes of practice and this was my first time seeing the track, we did a good job tuning the car."

Brandon Jones took second from Cameron Hayley in the final laps and crossed the line .985 of a second behind Rhodes.

While his No. 41 Alpha Energy Solutions Chevrolet led nearly every lap in winning at North Carolina’s Bowman Gray Stadium last time out, Rhodes needed to work harder in his first visit to the Florida half-mile.

After leading at the halfway point Friday, Rhodes surrendered the top spot to Hayley and fell to fourth. A late caution, however, gave him another shot and he made the bold move to the front past Gaulding and Hayley to claim the victory.

“Trying to save tires is always tough,” said Rhodes of the strategy running on the abrasive Pensacola surface. “You don't know if you’re going to get any breaks at the end. … Once you start saving you just hope you can get a break to get back up there or you have enough tire to run back up there. And I was trying to do both.”

Rhodes got his break on lap 124 when Brennan Newberry went around on the backstretch and several cars got caught in the aftermath. That erased Hayley’s advantage and gave Rhodes and Gaulding another shot. Rhodes slipped inside Gaulding to grab second on the restart and powered underneath Hayley a lap later to claim the lead.

"I didn't think I was going to put my Alpha Energy Solution Chevy on the bottom. I thought Gray might be able to put a power move on the outside or he was going to duck down on the backstretch and get underneath Cameron, but neither one of them happened and that just kind of re-wrote my whole plan. I had to go at it from there. That was interesting."

"It was one of the better runs we've had in a while," Hayley said. "We've been really struggling with luck and cars and everything. I've made some mistakes in the past couple races. It's nice to finally get a good run.”

Hayley settled for third followed by Kenzie Ruston in fourth, who rallied from a lap down from a flat tire. Gaulding, who earlier in the day won his second career 21 Means 21 presented by Coors Brewing Company Pole Award, finished fifth after leading a race-high 80 laps. He immediately left for the airport to run Saturday’s NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Illinois’ Gateway Motorsports Park.

Hayley looked like he had the strongest car in the field in the second half of the race as he drove from fourth at the Lap 75 break to the lead on lap 114, erasing Gaulding’s sizable advantage in the process. The Canadian driver looked like he was cruising to his first points victory until the caution came out.

"Obviously it's not what we wanted. We wanted to go out there and get the win," Hayley said. "At that point, we had so many cars that had burned their tires off. I knew I had burned mine off a little bit more than everybody else getting to that lead but I knew I had them. I had them and that caution really hurt us a lot."

"We kind of saved too much, honestly, in the beginning,” said Jones. “And the end. I saw (Hayley) getting sideways off the corner. (Crew chief) Shane (Huffman) kept getting on me to drive straight off the corners and not spin the tires on exit. I think we were just getting more drive off and fortunately got him there at the end."

Hayley did move to third in points, 10 behind Gaulding and three ahead of Jones.
Jesse Little came home in sixth followed Rev Racing teammates Jay Beasley and Sergio Pena, Ronnie Bassett Jr. and Austin Hill.

The NASCAR K&N Pro Series East is right back on the track next week at Hampton, Virginia’s Langley Speedway for the Visit Hampton 175 on Saturday, June 21.

NASCAR K&N Pro Series East
Five Flags Speedway - Pensacola, FL
Pensacola 150 - June 13, 2014

Fin Str Car Driver Team Laps Points B/Points Status
1 2 41 Ben Rhodes * Alpha Energy Solutions Chevrolet 150 47 4 Running
2 3 33 Brandon Jones Wolfpack Energy Services Chevrolet 150 42 Running
3 5 98 Cameron Hayley Cabinets by Hayley Chevrolet 150 42 1 Running
4 7 96 Kenzie Ruston Ben Kennedy Racing Chevrolet 150 40 Running
5 1 20 Gray Gaulding Krispy Kreme Chevrolet 150 41 2 Running
6 6 97 Jesse Little NASCAR Technical Institute/PFC Brakes Chevrolet 150 38 Running
7 17 42 Jay Beasley * Toyota Racing Development Toyota 150 37 Running
8 11 4 Sergio Pena Toyota Racing Development Toyota 150 36 Running
9 14 4 Ronnie Bassett, Jr. * Butler Trailer Mfg. Toyota 150 35 Running
10 8 22 Austin Hill * Don-Rich Ford/A&D Welding Ford 150 34 Running
11 21 48 Duke Whiseant Arkansas Truck Salvage Toyota 150 33 Running
12 13 21 Mackena Bell Special Smiles Pediatric Dentistry Toyota 150 32 Running
13 19 5 Codie Rohrbaugh * Grant County Mulch Toyota 150 31 Running
14 4 15 Nick Drake * NAPA Auto Parts Toyota 150 30 Running
15 9 24 Brennan Newberry Qore24 Chevrolet 150 29 Running
16 10 31 Kaz Grala * OzLINK Chevrolet 150 28 Running
17 18 34 Scott Heckert Turner Scott Motorsports Chevrolet 123 27 Accident
18 15 2 Ryan Gifford UTI/NASCAR Technical Institute Toyota 87 26 Axle
19 12 51 Lee Pulliam * Top Gun Motorsports Chevrolet 36 25 Accident
20 20 56 Akinori Ogata ENEOS Toyota 26 24 Accident
21 16 6 Daniel Suarez Toyota Racing Development Toyota 18 23 Accident

Fastest Qualifier: Gray Gaulding, Time: 17.287 Seconds, Speed: 104.124 MPH|
Time of Race: 1 hrs., 14 mins, 30 secs Average Speed: 60.403 mph Margin of Victory: .985 Seconds
Caution Flags: Laps 19-21; 26-32; 38-43; 76-77; 123-131. 5 for 27 laps.
Lap Leaders: Gray Gaulding 1-44, Ben Rhodes * 45-77, Gray Gaulding 78-113, Cameron Hayley 114-133, Ben Rhodes * 134-150.
Total Laps Led: Gray Gaulding 80, Ben Rhodes * 50, Cameron Hayley 20. 4 changes involving 3 drivers.
* Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender
Associated Categories: Sports News, Professional Sports, NASCAR

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