Race postposed to Saturday morning by rain, but drivers took delay in stride
Turner Scott Motorsports entered the Blue Ox 100, the fifth race of the 2014 NASCAR K&N Pro Series East season, with a ton of momentum, coming off the organization's first victory of the season. That momentum would be slightly halted, however, as the Blue Ox 100 was delayed from its scheduled start due to rain. Instead of running the race at Richmond International Raceway on Friday evening, it was pushed to early Saturday morning. The shift from night-to-day wouldn't affect Turner Scott Motorsports' stride in the end as Ben Rhodes, Cameron Hayley and Brandon Jones brought home solid top-10s. Kaz Grala and Scott Heckert (in photo above) were both able to bring home respectable top-20s, even amidst some adversity.
Rhodes started the Blue Ox 100 in the fifth position, a massive improvement from his previous trip to Richmond in 2013 when he started 25th. The NASCAR Next driver looked to take advantage of another solid starting position and challenge for his second straight victory in the NKNPSE in 2014. When the race began, Rhodes showed he would be a contender early as he settled quickly into the top five, and wouldn't fall outside of it for the remainder of the event. By the time the fourth caution flag flew on Lap 51, Rhodes had worked up to third and looked to challenge for the race lead. When green-flag racing resumed, Rhodes was able to work his way into second and pressure the race leader, although he was unable to take over the position. Rhodes continued to battle as the laps wound down and was able to close onto the back bumper of the race leader, but he would have to settle for a second-place finish. The result gave Rhodes his fourth top-five finish in five races this season and extended his NKNPSE Driver Point Standings lead to 18 points heading into Iowa Speedway next month.
"I'm really happy we were able to put together a solid top-five finish again this weekend at Richmond. As soon as we unloaded the car on Friday, we were struggling. The car wanted to come around on me coming off of the corners initially, but my No. 41 Alpha Energy Solutions team never quit tuning on my Chevrolet, and got it better and better. During the race I tried to save my tires as much as I could for a late-race run towards the end. Everyone was sliding around, and I got close to the leader a couple times, but we just didn't have enough grip to make a pass. I always want to win, but second isn't bad, as it ended up being a great points day for us. We will look towards Iowa in a few weeks and see how we can do there."
Hayley came into the Blue Ox 100 at Richmond International Raceway looking to build upon the momentum from a solid finish at Greenville-Pickens a month ago. Hayley and the No. 98 Cabinets by Hayley Chevy began the race in the 16th starting position. The 17-year-old went into the race looking to conserve tires in a hope of gaining multiple positions as the race wound down. When the race began, Hayley quickly fell towards the back of the field, dropping to the 25th position by Lap 10. However, by the time the first caution flag of the race flew, Hayley was on the march back to the front. Hayley climbed up to 16th by lap 35. The 17-year-old continued to conserve his equipment and by the midpoint of the race, had worked up to the 12th position. As the laps continued to tick away, Hayley would climb into the top 10 with less than 25 laps remaining. Hayley was able to fend off the advances of some late-race restarts and bring home a solid sixth-place finish when the day was complete. The finish gave Hayley his third top-10 finish of 2014, and moved him to third in the NKNPSE Driver Point Standings, 22 points out of the lead.
"Great points day for our Cabinets by Hayley team. We went into the race knowing that we had to save tires in order to be there in the end. Unfortunately, we dropped back a little bit farther than we should have and cost ourselves too much track position. I had lots of tires left by the end of the race, but we just didn't have the amount of laps needed to get up to the lead. I just want to thank Turner Scott Motorsports and my entire team for giving me an amazing car to drive, as well as Cabinets by Hayley and Curb Records for making this entire thing possible. Hopefully we can keep up this momentum as we head into Iowa."
Jones began the Blue Ox 100 in the eighth position coming off a solid qualifying effort by the No. 33 Wolfpack Energy Services team. When the race began, Jones dropped a couple positions on the initial start. Jones dropped to 10th by lap 10 of the event, but the 17-year-old never lost his cool and continued to work over his competitors. As the laps continued to click off, it was clear Jones had a top-10 machine. On Lap 50, Jones continued to run in the top 10 in ninth, and looked to gain more as the laps wound down. The 17-year-old continued to click off competitors as he worked his way into the eighth position by lap 75. Jones was able to fend off some challenges, and even gain a position in the closing laps, capping off his night with a solid seventh-place finish. The result gave Jones his third top-10 finish of 2014, and moved him to eighth in the NKNPSE Driver Point Standings.
"We put together a great race at Richmond, bringing home a solid top-10 finish. My entire Turner Scott Motorsports team worked hard all weekend to put together a car that allowed us to not only qualify strong, but also finish strong. It felt great to be in the top 10 all day, and I'm optimistic about our chances heading into Iowa Speedway next month. All in all, I think this race will be a huge momentum boost heading into the summer months."
Grala came into the Blue Ox 100 with a great deal of optimism. The 15-year-old was able to put together a solid finish in the last NKNPSE race at Greenville-Pickens resulting in a career-best finish. Grala looked to build upon that heading into Richmond, but an unfortunatedraw in qualifying would force the No. 31 to begin the race in the 13th position. When the race began, Grala dropped a few positions as the 15-year-old looked to get comfortable behind the wheel. By lap 20, Grala had settled into the 17th position and looked poised to make his way back through the field. That would be halted slightly as an incident on lap 35 would collect Grala, causing damage to the No. 31 OzLINK Chevrolet. The Turner Scott Motorsports crew quickly went to work accessing the damage as Grala brought the No. 31 to the attention of the crew. The team worked and got Grala back on track without losing any laps. When the green flag finally waved, Grala was scored in the 28th position. By lap 50, Grala had already worked back to the 22nd position and continued marching back to the top 15. By lap 60, the 15-year-old was inside the top 20. As the laps continued to wind down, Grala continued to pick up more positions. With 20 laps remaining in the event, Grala cracked the top 15 and continued looking for more. Grala was able to gain one more position in the closing laps, but late-race cautions and restarts would halt further advances. Ultimately, the 15-year-old brought home a 14th-place finish. Grala now sits seventh in the NKNPSE Driver Point Standings.
"We started the race in 13th with the expectation of conserving our tires, but we quickly saw that some of the other competitors were racing hard from the start. On a restart, the inside lane checked up and the No. 31 OzLINK Chevrolet suffered some damage, but we didn't let that stop us. After pitting for repairs and adjustments, we made came from 28th up to 14th. All in all, we had a pretty good points weekend, bounced back from a less than ideal situation, and gained a ton of experience along the way."
Heckert came into the Blue Ox 100 looking to improve upon his last race out at Greenville-Pickens. The weekend got off to a great start for Heckert after qualifying the No. 34 Turner Scott Motorsports Chevy in the fourth position. On the initial start, Heckert was able to hang around the top five but would slip to sixth by lap 10. Heckert would continue to battle, however, and remained inside the top 10 leading up to the midway point of the race. Heckert worked his way back up to eighth by lap 60 and looked as though the No. 34 was capable of a top-five finish. As the laps continued to wind down, Heckert began to slip through the field. By lap 75, Heckert fell to the 14th position and looked to hold onto a top-15 result. Some late-race restarts in the closing laps, as well as a slow leak in the right-rear tire, would force Heckert to settle for an 18th-place finish. Heckert sits 18th in the NKNPSE Driver Point Standings following Richmond.
"I'm really happy with the improvements the team made this weekend. We were fast all weekend, and the race was going as we planned, until our flat right-rear tire. We will take the positives from this race and make the best of it in Iowa."
The series gets back to action on May 17 at Iowa Speedway for the sixth race of the 2014 season.
Turner Scott Motorsports