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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Ben Rhodes mashed the gas pedal and raised the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East championship trophy not once, but twice.
The 17-year-old from Louisville, Kentucky, received the trophy after wrapping up the title a race early at South Carolina’s Greenville Pickens Speedway. And then the NASCAR Next driver got to celebrate again following the season finale at Dover International Raceway.
He certainly earned it. Five wins, 11 top fives, 13 top 10s and six pole awards in 16 races.
But Rhodes, by far, wasn’t the only story.
NASCAR Next alum Cameron Hayley made a successful transition to the East as well as a strong debut in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. Brandon Jones, Jesse Little and Scott Heckert also all scored their first NASCAR wins. Kenzie Ruston broke her own record for highest finishing female in series history with her runner-up finish at Iowa Speedway.
Twenty-four different drivers recorded a top-five finish, the most of any NASCAR touring series in 2014, and the most in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East since the NASCAR lowered the minimum age in 2007.
Ben Rhodes: Rhodes had a decent debut in 2013, with two top fives and five top 10s in seven starts while splitting time between the NASCAR K&N Pro Series and running his Late Model in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series. When the calendar turned, though, he was flat-out dominating. His first seven starts produced five wins – including a series record-tying four in a row – and a runner-up finish, to go with four pole awards. By the time the series got to the halfway mark, the question wasn’t whether Rhodes would win the title it was how many races would remain when he clinched it. For the season, Rhodes averaged 5.8 finishing position and he completed 2110 of the 2112 laps – missing out on a perfect mark after a mid-race incident in the final race at Dover. He also led 778 laps, an astounding 37% of the season. Rhodes also made four starts in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series with three top 10s. His 2015 plans include a 10-race slate for JR Motorsports in the NASCAR XFINITY Series
Cameron Hayley (Honorable Mention): The 18-year-old from Alberta did everything except win. Hayley finished second to Daniel Suarez by just .083 seconds in the season opener at Florida’s New Smyrna Speedway. He finished with seven top fives and nine top 10s, including runner-up finishes at Virginia’s Langley Speedway, Ohio’s Columbus Motor Speedway, Virginia International Raceway and the series’ return visit to Greenville. He completed 98.5% of the laps and led 247, which was – you guessed it – second to Ben Rhodes. Hayley also scored two top 10s in three NASCAR Camping World Truck Series races.
H-Scott Motorsports: For the second straight season, Harry Scott’s organization fielded the championship car. After recording six wins and the title with Dylan Kwasniewski in 2013 as Turner Scott Motorsports, the multi-car stable came back even stronger in 2014. The team had the champion, runner-up, fourth, seventh and eighth in the final standings, winning eight of the 16 races. The most impressive performance may have came at Langley, where team cars finished in five of the top six spots led by race winner Ben Rhodes. Scott has teamed with Justin Marks to form H-Scott Motorsports for 2015 and they’ve already announced they’ll return with Scott Heckert and bring in newcomers William Byron, J.J. Haley and Dalton Sargeant.
Rev Racing (Honorable Mention): The only other team to produce multiple wins – and multiple winners – Rev Racing and the NASCAR Drive for Diversity program had another banner year in 2014. Daniel Suarez started the season off with back-to-back wins at Daytona and New Smyrna, and Sergio Pena added a victory at Columbus. The Charlotte-based team has racked up 15 wins since 2010 and finished the season with all four of its drivers in the top 15 in championship points.
Brandon Jones scored his first career NASCAR K&N Pro Series win at the annual combination race between the East and West at Iowa Speedway in August. Getty Images for NASCAR
Top Breakthrough Performance
Brandon Jones: The 2014 season was almost a non-starter for Jones. Literally. The 17-year-old from Atlanta, Georgia, finished third in the opener at New Smyrna before missing the qualifying cut for the UNOH Battle At The Beach in Daytona. He was able to sub for another driver and salvage a 24th-place finish. From there, Jones, who had seven career starts entering the season, served notice he was a contender. He finished fourth at Iowa in May, wrecked going for the win at New Hampshire, and then came back and scored his first NASCAR K&N Pro Series win at Iowa in August. Jones, who finished fourth in the final championship standings, has already inked a deal to run a partial schedule with Richard Childress Racing in the NASCAR XFINITY Series in 2015.
Austin Hill / Scott Heckert (Honorable Mention): Both drivers had seat time in the K&N Pro Series, with 20-year-old Hill accumulating seven starts, including a signature win at Dover in 2013, and the 21-year-old Heckert finishing 17th in points in a full-season effort in 2013. And they both compiled breakout 2014 seasons with each nabbing a pair of wins and finishing fifth and eighth in points, respectively. Hill had seven top five finishes, including a runner-up at Daytona and a third-place at Bowman Gray Stadium. After three straight finishes outside the top 15, the Winston, Georgia, driver put together an impressive closing run with a third at Virginia International Raceway and wins at Greenville Pickens Speedway and Dover. Heckert scored six top fives and three pole awards. The Ridgefield, Connecticut, driver had back-to-back road-course wins at Watkins Glen International and VIR.
New Smyrna 150 presented by JEGS, New Smyrna Speedway, Feb. 16: The season could not have started off with a much closer race in the series’ inaugural visit to the banked half-mile. Jones, then 16, led 34 laps early before giving way to Suarez. A late caution set up a sprint to the finish and with with four to go, Hayley muscled his way alongside Suárez. They rubbed and stayed side-by-side, with Suárez leading by inches to the white flag and beating Hayley to the finish by .083 seconds.
PittLite 125, Bristol Motor Speedway, March 15: When the series headed to “The Last Great Colusseum,” Rhodes was still looking for his first career win. And series veteran Eddie MacDonald made him wait a little longer. The 33-year-old MacDonald, who had worked his way up from starting 14th, took the lead on a green-white-checkered finish and held off Gaulding to end a 53-race winless streak. Rhodes had led 130 laps before the final restart but contact with MacDonald knocked him back to third at the finish.
The 2014 Year In Pictures
Daniel Suarez (6) edged Cameron Hayley at the line to win the inaugural NASCAR K&N Pro Series East race at New Smyrna Speedway. Getty Images for NASCAR