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WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – In its first series race at Watkins Glen International since 2009, the NASCAR Pro Series East gave the fans a race finish to remember.
Second-year driver Scott Heckert was able to get past leader Andrew Ranger and second-place Cole Custer on the restart of a green-white-checkered finish attempt to score his first career victory in the action-packed Bully Hill Vineyards 125 on Friday.
“This is fantastic,” said Heckert about getting his first career win. “I think there’s a couple of races that we should have won or at least had the car to win. I think the sky’s the limit from now.”
After a late race caution was given to the field on Lap 49 for contact between Daniel Suarez and several cars, Ranger led Custer on the final restart at the line. The two leaders battled side by side with Custer putting pressure on Ranger from the outside. That opened the door for Heckert to move on the inside of Ranger for the lead just before the white flag.
“I was able to hold the lead for a long time, but unfortunately, with green-white-checkered attempts, things can get a little crazy,” said runner-up finisher Andrew Ranger. “The No. 00 car was really fast on the restarts and I was focused on him on the outside and never really worried about the inside and unfortunately I got passed. But, it’s a podium, it’s second place, and I’m very happy to have been a part of the event tonight.”
Custer made one last attempt to pass Heckert for the lead, but he lost control and hit the sand barrels at the end of pit road to bring out the final caution of the race.
For Heckert, it was his first win in 27 career K&N Pro Series East starts.
Championship points leader Ben Rhodes battled throughout the night to finish third. The 17-year-old from Louisville, Kentucky, was out of the top 10 at one point in the evening, but patiently worked his way into the top five, finishing with his third third-place finish and ninth podium finish of the season.”
“We were kind of thinking ahead and seeing how people were popping their left and front tires,” said Rhodes. “We were trying to save our stuff. I got pushed back on one of the restarts but worked my way up, started passing people and watching what they were doing. I just went back out there and started to pick people off and save our stuff.”
Kaz Grala and Jesse Little finished fourth and fifth respectively, followed by Brandon Jones and Ryan Reed. NASCAR Next driver Cameron Hayley rebounded from an early-race incident to finish eighth while Kenzie Ruston and Nick Drake rounded out the top 10.
The victory was an emotional one for Heckert, who used to watch NASCAR events at Watkins Glen with his family.
“You think about winning when you go to sleep every night,” said Heckert. “My crew will tell you that about six months ago I started talking about winning here. Watkins Glen means a lot to me and my family. My dad’s been coming here for 40 years and it means a lot to us.”
The race was slowed five times by caution for nine laps. Fifteen cars finished on the lead lap.
The Bully Hill Vineyards 125 will be broadcast on Sunday, Aug. 17 at 9 a.m. ET on FOX Sports 1.
The NASCAR K&N Pro Series East will stay on a road course for its next race in eight days with the Biscuitville 125 at Virginia International Raceway in Alton, Va. on Saturday, Aug. 16th.