WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Audio and story by Race Chaser Online Associate Editor Kyle Magda — Brenda Meserve/Image81 photo —
The NASCAR K&N Pro Series East title race has tightened considerably following trouble for the top two in the championship standings on Saturday night at Bowman Gray Stadium.
HScott Motorsports driver William Byron came into the NASCAR Hall of Fame 150 after being the best of the K&N East drivers at Iowa Speedway two weeks ago.
And despite a chaotic night at the Madhouse, the 17-year-old keeps the top spot atop the points standings in his No. 9 Liberty University Chevrolet.
Byron started fourth on the night and stayed within the top-five before battling with title rival Austin Hill for the fourth spot. Hill began to slide back while running fourth and with 40 laps to go, it was go time for Byron. The points leader slipped under the No. 22 Ford as Hill’s brakes were going away, but the two made contact, sending both for a spin.
“We knew coming into this race that it was going to be really tough,” Byron said. “I had to give a little bit more or take a little bit more. It came down to it and we had to either go or fall back to sixth because sixth and seventh were right there.”
“We chose to go a little bit and I talked to Austin after the race and I was just disappointed that we both got into it because we’re good racers and it’s part of [racing at] this race track.”
Hill traveled to Bowman Gray after running the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race for Empire Racing Friday evening, posting a 16th-place result in his second Truck Series start of 2015.
Hill was running third at one point Saturday night before J.J. Haley made a bold move to go three-wide between he and a lapped car to take over the third spot. Byron was starting to reel in Hill before the two touched, but Hill was unsure whether the brakes would hold up on the No. 22 car.
“We’ve never had brake problems with this car or any of our cars,” Hill said. “We’ve always had plenty of brakes when I get on them. I’ve never had an issue with them. I don’t know what the issue was. Whenever we get back to the shop, I guess we’ll check it out and see if we can find anything.”
The driver who benefited from the contact between the two was Bristol winner Kyle Benjamin. The yellow allowed the South Carolina driver to get the free pass and move back on the lead lap, ultimately coming home in the 13th position as the final car on the lead lap .
The No. 27 Eibach Springs Ford was right ahead of point leaders Byron (15th) and Hill (14th) in the final rundown.
Benjamin started eighth in the NASCAR Hall of Fame 150 and never saw the lead with track position being important at the quarter-mile track in North Carolina.
“I think we would have been a little better tonight and hadn’t run in the back,” Benjamin said. “We lost a lap on pit road that kind of hurt us and we got stuck in the back, had to make up and get back on the lead lap. We didn’t have a lot of time.”
All three championship frontrunners may have finished right on top of each other, but one driver who made up considerable ground on them was Bowman Gray race winner Scott Heckert.
With his three rivals ending the night on the edge of the top-15, Heckert moved to fourth in the standings, now only 18 markers behind his rookie teammate Byron. Heckert also becomes the fourth different winner in five races this season and scores his first triumph since winning at Virginia International Raceway last August — a span in which he won his first two career races in back-to-back weeks.
Byron leads Hill by 13 points and Benjamin is four behind Hill before the series heads to the next event at Langley Speedway on Saturday, June 20.
The TV broadcast of Saturday night’s NASCAR Hall of Fame 150 from Bowman Gray Stadium will be shown on Thursday, June 4 at 6 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Network.
Audio with championship leader William Byron:
Audio with championship runner-up Austin Hill:
Audio with third place in points Kyle Benjamin: