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LOUDON, N.H. -- Third-place was the perfect position for Jesse Little on the white flag lap at New Hampshire Motor Speedway Saturday. The end result was him standing in Victory Lane with his first career NASCAR K&N Pro Series East win.
The 17-year-old from Sherrills Ford, North Carolina, drove around the two wrecking leaders in Turn 3 en route to winning the Granite State 100. The NASCAR Next driver and 2013 K&N Pro East Sunoco Rookie of the Year was making his 33rd K&N Pro start.
"The celebration was one I will never forget," said Little. "It was truly amazing. And to do it on my mom's birthday, too - it's an amazing birthday present that I can hand her that trophy.
"It's one I'll never forget."
Nick Drake led the field at the white flag lap, but when second-place Brandon Jones tried a bottom move in Turn 3, he got into Drake and the two wrecked. That opened the door for Little.
Drake wound up finishing 24th and Jones' car rolled across the line in 21st.
“The 33 just drove right into us,” Drake said. “There’s nothing else we could have done today and it’s unfortunate for the entire team.
“The Bill McAnally NAPA Toyota was great today. We slowly made our way up to the front. My restarts are getting better each week and we were able to gain track position. We thought we had the win, but we were taken out coming for the checkered flag.”
Said Jones: "That was a tough way to end yet another great run for our No. 33 Wolfpack Energy Services team. I hate that it had to happen that way, but I can't thank the guys on this crew for all the hard work they put in each and every week. Coming off the win in ARCA a week ago, it felt good to run up front once again, even if we don't have the overall result to go with it."
Eddie MacDonald ended up taking the runner-up finish, followed by Cale Conley and rookies Jay Beasley and Chad Finley.
MacDonald, a three-time K&N Pro East winner at New Hampshire, is set to make his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series debut Sunday. It was Little's ability to fend off MacDonald that put him in position when the leaders wrecked.
"The last couple laps, I just went into defense mode and I was just starting to drive a lot lower and take a lower approach to the corner to keep Eddie from not being able to get underneath me," Little said. "And once I started doing that, I immediately had a lot better grip and was able to put some room between me and him, and focus on the task in front of me."
Little's previous best finish in 33 K&N Pro starts was runner-up in the K&N Pro West race at Phoenix International Raceway in 2013.
Rookies Ronnie Bassett Jr. and Austin Hill took sixth and seventh, respectively, followed by Gray Gaulding, and rookies Brodie Kostecki and Kaz Grala.
Championship points leader Ben Rhodes, who entered the race with a shot to match the series record of five straight wins, came home 22nd. Rhodes won the 21 Means 21 and battled in the top five for most of the race before a late race procedure infraction on a restart resulted in a green-flag pass-through penalty took him out of contention.
"The way the race ended was unfortunate, but we are not looking back," Rhodes said. "The race at New Hampshire was disappointing, but that will be our mulligan for 2014. We'll move on and be ready to contend for the victory again next weekend."
Rhodes still leads Gaulding by 62 points and Cameron Hayley by 65 after 10 of 16 races. Little is fourth in points, followed by Jones.
The Granite State 100 will air on FOX Sports 1 on July 20 at noon.
The NASCAR K&N Pro Series East will race next in the JEGS 150 at Columbus (Ohio) Motor Speedway on Saturday, July 19.
Jesse Little only led the final lap - but that was all he needed to pick up his first NASCAR K&N Pro Series East career win Friday in the Granite State 100 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Getty Images for NASCAR