In a race in which multiple leaders cost themselves valuable space on the track, Brandon Jones maintained his position and then took advantage.
When some of his top challengers essentially eliminated themselves from contention with an early pit stop Friday night, Jones avoided the same mistake.
When Cole Custer, who looked like the strong favorite to win the race with 30 laps to go, then 20 laps, and then 10 laps, ended up too high out of turn two in the closing laps, Jones stayed low.
Jones outlasted the competition at Iowa Speedway to win the K&N Pro Series Autolite Iridium XP 150. The 17-year-old driver passed Sergio Pena with seven laps to go and then held off a charging Kenzie Ruston to secure his first series win in 19 races.
“That was pretty crazy, those last few laps there,” he said. “Thought we were actually going to get shuffled back some a little bit. Once we got out and got into clean air and get our fender a little bit of air, (I) took off for sure. Shane Huffman made some awesome calls on Pit Road and got us out front there a little bit, so I’ve got to thank him.”
The race took on a different look shortly before the scheduled break at lap 75 when the four leading drivers at the time — Ben Rhodes, pole sitter Jesse Little, Brodie Kostecki and Kyle Benjamin — all pitted a lap earlier. Pit road hadn’t opened it, which resulted in a penalty that sent all four drivers to the back of the race.
“I was pretty surprised right there when everybody went,” Jones said. “I almost came too, and they were screaming at me, ‘Don’t do it, don’t do it.’”
Jones, who started sixth and ran at or inside his starting position for most of the race, came out in fourth when the race restarted on lap 76.
Custer appeared to have the strongest car and seemed to be a lock to win the race after leading most of the second half. That changed when he mistakenly drove two deep into Turn 1 and ended up losing the lead after a restart with 11 laps to go.
“Last few laps, we were checking out and then I drove in too deep and messed up and got into the loose stuff and tried to (avoid) the wall and lost four spots,” Custer said. “Just screwed us and my whole team and … we finished third. There’s just no excuse for that. We should’ve won.”
Ruston, whose second-place finish was the highest ever by a female driver in a K&N Pro Series race, made a strong move on the inside to move from fourth to second with eight laps left.
“I definitely thought we were a little bit better there than Brandon,” she said. “We were catching him a little bit at the end. Cole, definitely, felt like he had us beat if he didn’t mess up right there at the end. I spun my tires that last restart or I would’ve been right there with (Jones) and maybe would’ve been able to do a little something with him those last five laps.”
Contact sports writer Ben Schuffat (641) 792-3121 Ext. 6536 or firstname.lastname@example.org.