17-year-old Ben Rhodes’ dominant season in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East culminated with him clinching the series title last night with a fourth-place finish at Greenville Pickens Speedway.
Rhodes seized the points lead thanks to his inaugural series win at GPS in March. He then went on to claim four more wins (those four coming in succession), and now holds an insurmountable 62-point lead going into the season finale on Sept. 26 at Dover International Speedway.
But earning a championship in one of NASCAR’s top minor leagues did not earn Rhodes a “get out of homework” pass. Rhodes is a senior student at Holy Cross High School in Louisville, Kentucky, and one day after his big moment at GPS, he’s back to hitting the books:
As for last night’s race, Rhodes needed a finish of 13th or better to clinch the title. But in the opening moments of the Kevin Whitaker Chevrolet 140, he was hit with a drive-through penalty for jumping the start from pole position.
However, Rhodes was able to stay on the lead lap and had driven up to seventh by the halfway break at Lap 70. He would get as high as P2 in the second half of the race before dropping a few spots in the last restart of the night with 12 laps to go.
“I was really mad at myself for [the mistake at the start], but I had to refocus and get back to the front,” Rhodes said in a post-race release. “Once I got up there, I thought about racing for the win again, but the car wasn’t as good during the second half as it was during the first.
“When the caution came out at the end of the race and I had to restart on the outside lane, I knew I needed to just protect the points.”
Austin Hill won the race ahead of Cameron Hayley, Gray Gaulding, Rhodes, and Nick Drake. Hayley will look to secure second in the championship later this month at Dover; he holds that spot by 20 points over Brandon Jones, who finished seventh in the race.