NEW SMYRNA BEACH, Fla. — Ben Rowe could have left Florida in a bad mood. Instead, he left encouraged.

A twice-wrecked race car during the 4-time PASS North Series champion’s first voyage with Mulkern Racing did cast a mild pall over the trip to New Smyrna (Fla.) Speedway last week, but Rowe saw the silver lining.

“I’m really happy, and I can tell you I’m excited about the season,” Rowe said after finishing 14th in the Winterfest 150, the first of five races in the PASS National Series for 2010. “We had a good run going, the entire team worked really hard and we’re going to be ready for the start (of the PASS North season).”

Rowe was fastest in the final practice, qualified eighth in the 22-car field and was the leader of the race at the halfway break — all in his first race with his new team and in his first race at New Smyrna’s fast half-mile track.

He took the lead in the No. 48 Community Pharmacies Chevrolet on lap 65 and held it until a lap 76 restart.

Rowe, of Turner, Maine, watched as leaders Johnny Clark and Brad Leighton moved ahead early in the second half of the event, planning to let them burn through their equipment while waiting to make a late-race run for the lead. Instead, he was caught up in a wreck on lap 104 that was a harbinger of things to come.

Rowe saw Leighton wave his hand out the window to indicate he was slowing down for an apparent caution flag — but as Rowe checked up, he was hit from behind and ended up in the turn one wall.

“It was just miscommunication between (Leighton) and his spotter,” Rowe said, noting that the race director never called for a caution. “I talked to Brad after the race, and he felt bad. He thought he’d been told there was a caution out.”

Just three laps later, after restarting at the rear of the field with what was largely cosmetic damage, Rowe was involved in a second incident — this time a much harder hit into the frontstretch wall that ended the No. 48’s day.

“I was just racing with guys I should never have been back there racing with,” Rowe said.

Still, after the disappointment of seeing a possible winning car sidelined, Rowe was excited.

“I was real happy,” said the reigning PASS National and PASS South champion. “The entire team — Tony Ricci, Scott Chubbuck, Mark Lyden, Shawn Plowman, every single one of the guys — all worked their tails off… There wasn’t anything anyone could have done different, it was just one of those deals that happens.

“But I’m really, really looking forward to going to the track again with those guys.”

When that will be exactly Rowe isn’t sure.

“There’s some things we want to do to the car,” he said. “It was my first time in a Junior Hanley car. My first time with bump stops like that. Maybe we can get to another (National or South) race before the North season starts, but we’ll just have to see how much we can get done.”