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NEW SMYRNA, Fla. – Offseason did nothing to slow Daniel Suárez's momentum.
The Monterrey, Mexico, driver held off Cameron Hayley in a door-to-door battle of NASCAR's rising stars to win the New Smyrna 150 presented by JEGS Sunday night at New Smyrna Speedway. The race was the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East season opener and the inaugural visit to the banked half-mile.
Driving for Rev Racing and NASCAR's Drive for Diversity, the 22-year-old Suárez picked up his second career victory and gave Rev Racing its 13th win since 2010.
“The car was really good tonight on the long runs,” said the victor. “It was really awesome on the high line in Turns 1 and 2.”
It marked Suárez's sixth top-three finishes in eight NASCAR K&N Pro Series East races dating back to last year. And it was his second straight NASCAR touring series win; Suárez won the NASCAR Mexico Toyota Series finale at Mexico City in November. Suarez is also a member of the NASCAR Next program that spotlights young, talented drivers.
Hayley, 17, won the 21 Means 21 Pole Award presented by Coors Brewing Company earlier in the day. But it was Suárez and Brandon Jones, 16, who led the way for most of the night. Jones led 34 laps before giving way to Suárez on Lap 48 and eventually finishing third.
“We dropped back early on and that’s what we had planned,” said Hayley. “We wanted to be sixth at the halfway break and that’s where we were. I could have been a little more aggressive there at the end with Daniel, but it was a good night for the No. 98 Cabinets by Hayley Chevrolet.”
Ben Rhodes and Lee Pulliam rounded out the top five. It was the series' debut for Pulliam, the two-time defending NASCAR Whelen All-American Series champion.
A late race caution set the stage for tense closing laps. Pulliam restarted alongside Suárez, slipped up and dropped out of the top five.
That allowed Suárez to get away and Hayley to move back into second.
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.
“I was waiting for (Pulliam) and I don’t know where Cameron came from, said Suárez. “I knew his car was fast since he was the polesitter, but he kind of snuck up on me.”
Kenzie Ruston finished sixth, followed by Gray Gaulding, Mackena Bell, Brandon Gdovic and rookie Kaz Grala.
Ruston led four laps in the early going and became the first female driver in the series to lead a lap since Danica Patrick in September 2010 at Dover (Del.) International Speedway.
The NASCAR K&N Pro Series East will get right back at it. The series will be part of the UNOH Battle At The Beach Tuesday on the backstretch at Daytona International Speedway, along with the non-points special event for the NASCAR Whelen Modified and NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tours.
With the quick turnaround, Suárez and his No. 6 Sunoco Race Fuels Toyota have to put this win behind them pretty quickly.
“It would be great to get two wins in three days, but we have to keep working hard to make that happen,” said Suárez. “We’re off to a good start and want to keep it going.”
Hayley won last year’s inaugural UNOH Battle At The Beach at Daytona which was a non-points combination event with the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West, but this year’s edition is a championship points event for the K&N East.
“We’ll head up to Daytona on Tuesday to redeem myself for tonight and get the win,” Hayley said.
The New Smyrna 150 presented by JEGS will air on FOX Sports 1 on Saturday at 9 a.m.
Daniel Suarez (6) edges Cameron Hayley at the line for the win in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East opener at New Smyrna Speedway. Getty Images for NASCAR