JEFFERSON, GA - Max Gresham, the 18 year old driver for Joe Gibbs Racing in the NASCAR K&N Series, survived a wild, three-wide, green-white-checker finish to win Saturday's Slack Auto Parts 150 at the track owned by his family.
“To win at home in front of all the fans at Gresham Motorsports Park, I couldn't be any happier,” Gresham said.
A 2½ hour rain delay did nothing to damper the spirits of the huge crowd that stuck it out to see an exciting race that featured four young drivers from the Peach State. Griffin's Gresham started on the pole and battled with Darrell Wallace Jr. the entire night for the lead, leading 98 laps.
Gresham and Wallace were side-by-side on the front row on the final restart when they washed up the track in Turn 2 and Matt DiBenedetto briefly made it three-wide for the lead. But Gresham powered back in front for his third career win in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series.
Wallace, who graduated from high school early Saturday morning in North Carolina and flew down to Georgia in time for practice, maintained the championship points lead by five over Gresham and 12 over DiBenedetto.
DiBenedetto, who ran third most of the night finished second. Rookie Andrew Smith from Pooler, Georgia, drove through the field from a 23rd starting spot to finish third with Wallace fourth. Corey LaJoie rounded out the top five.
The career-best finish for Smith was even sweeter considering his volunteer crew had to work all week rebuilding the car after suffering damage in the Bowman Gray Stadium race the week before. “I can’t thank my guys enough. They worked hard for nothing to get us back to the track,” Smith said. “I worked hard to try and save my tires to be there at the end."
The 23 year old Smith collected three post-race contingency awards as well, including the Sunoco Rookie of the Race, Featherlite Most Improved Driver (improving 17 spots from his Bowman Gray finish) and Coca-Cola Move of the Race (moving up 20 spots from his 23rd starting spot) awards.
Brandon Haley of Lavonia, Georgia finished 15th after qualifying 21st.
Dawsonville's Chase Elliott, a crowd favorite, had qualified 6th and was in position for a top five finish, when he and several other drivers ran out of fuel during the last caution. The team could not refire the car in time to get back on the track and Elliott dropped to a disappointing 22nd place finish.
“The pick-up in the fuel cell needs to be modified and we are working through some issues with the carburetor that also need to be addressed,” said team owner Bill Elliott. “But mainly we are just going to have to get better with calculating our fuel mileage during practice laps so we know where we are at in the race.”
Slack Auto Parts, the race title sponsor, was also on the hood of Elliott's #9 Chevy for the event. “We could not have been more pleased with his performance in this race,” said Henry Slack, owner of the north Georgia auto parts company. “We came away from this experience more committed to find as many ways as we can to support Chase as his career moves forward.”
The Slack Auto Parts 150 will air on SPEED this Thursday, June 16 at 6 PM.
1. (1) Max Gresham, Griffin, Ga., Toyota, 154 laps, 67.054 mph.
2. (2) Matt DiBenedetto, Grass Valley, Calif., Toyota, 154.
3. (23) Andrew Smith, Pooler, Ga., Chevrolet, 154.
4. (3) Darrell Wallace, Jr., Mobile, Ala., Toyota, 154.
5. (10) Corey LaJoie, Concord, N.C., Ford, 154.
6. (20) Eddie MacDonald, Rowley, Mass., Chevrolet, 154.
7. (17) Chad Finchum, Knoxville, Tenn., Dodge, 154.
8. (16) Dylan Presnell, Sevierville, Tenn., Toyota, 154.
9. (15) Cody Hodgson, Escalon, Calif., Chevrolet, 154.
10. (13) Benny Gordon, DuBois, Pa., Chevrolet, 154.
11. (19) Ben Kennedy, Daytona Beach, Fla., Chevrolet, 154.
12. (14) Ryan Gifford, Winchester, Tenn., Toyota, 154.
13. (18) Michael Cherry, Valrico, Fla., Toyota, 154.
14. (9) Daniel Suárez, Monterrey, Mexico, Toyota, 153.
15. (21) Brandon Haley, Lavonia, Ga., Ford, 153.
16. (5) Brett Moffitt, Grimes, Iowa, Toyota, 153.
17. (22) D.J. Shaw, Conway, N.H., Chevrolet, 153.
18. (26) Tanner Berryhill, Tulsa, Okla., Chevrolet, 153.
19. (27) Cale Conley, Vienna, W.Va., Chevrolet, 151.
20. (7) Sergio Peña, Winchester, Va., Toyota, 150.
21. (28) Clay Campbell, Martinsville, Va., Chevrolet, 150.
22. (6) Chase Elliott, Dawsonville, Ga., Chevrolet, 149.
23. (29) Julian Albarracin, Bogata, Columbia, Dodge, 147.
24. (4) Alex Bowman, Tucson, Ariz., Toyota, 143.
25. (24) Derek Ramstrom, West Boylston, Mass., Chevrolet, 142.
26. (8) Coleman Pressley, Asheville, N.C., Toyota, 133.
27. (11) Ryan Reed, Bakersfield, Calif., Toyota, 133.
28. (25) Brandon Gdovic, Yorktown, Va., Dodge, 100.
29. (30) Michelle Theriault, Bristol, Conn., Toyota, 71.
30. (12) Chad Boat, Phoenix, Ariz., Chevrolet, 41.