Pensacola, FL — Even though in recent weeks there was a NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series championship up for grabs, the 50th Annual Snowball Derby was near the top of Kyle Busch’s wish list.
Busch poured over notes before arriving at Five Flags Speedway on Friday, fresh off the NASCAR Banquet in Las Vegas. He hopped in the car for practice and immediately liked the piece he had.
A few small tweaks later, and a winning car was born, allowing the 2009 race winner to capitalize late and earn the coveted Tom Dawson Trophy.
“I didn’t think we had it there for about 280 laps, and then that final 20 she came to life,” Busch admitted to Speed51.com powered by JEGS.
Busch was not the dominant car at all throughout the course of the grueling event, but remained within striking distance. Bubba Pollard, who led the speed charts on numerous occasions during the week, led the most circuits – 155 in total – along with his Snowflake 100 challenger from the night before, Jeff Choquette, most of the way.
A long green flag run allowed Busch to reel in both experienced short track racers and eventually find his way by Pollard first and later Choquette with only 16 laps remaining.
“Just tried to persevere, save and work my way to those guys and finally be able to get my way around them,” Busch explained. “I wasn’t sure once I got there I’d have enough to be able to get by them, but they just kind of kept falling off and I just plateaued and kind of stayed.”
Choquette and Pollard held on to round out the podium finishers, and recapped what the difference could have been in the closing laps.
“A little too loose in the corner and didn’t have much control getting into the center,” Choquette, a one-time Blizzard Series winner at the ½-mile, explained. “If I could get it settled down in the line that I wanted to do, which I could hit about fifty percent of the time, I could have good drive off.”
“We freed it up there on this set of tires to get ready for the last, and we just never got to make that short run at the end when we didn’t get a caution,” Pollard, the 2017 Blizzard Series champion, noted. “It’s part of it, you know. We had a good racecar today. We’ll try it again next year.”
The biggest surprise to Pollard was that the conclusion did not play out like previous years, and a set of fresh tires were abnormally remaining in the pit area.
“It’s crazy; you think you’d get the cautions, but it just shows you how good the racecars out here,” Pollard complimented. “There’s a lot of competition and good racers, so you don’t see a lot of cautions.”
Young Harrison Burton finished fourth and Maine’s Cassius Clark rallied to complete the top five.
Fast qualifier Preston Peltier was a contender early and led laps, but was caught up in a multiple car wreck following the first round of pit stops.
Ty Majeski was running faster laps than leaders over the closing laps, but was caught two laps down when a different pit strategy backfired during a long green flag run over the first half of the race.
“Obviously it cost us a good finish,” Majeski said. “I’m not sure where we would have ended up. I know I came through the field, saw Bubba and was catching him at the end.
“That’s why they call it racing. Unfortunately, you never know how these deals are going to turn out. Got a bunch of cautions right away, decided to play our cards that way, and never got a caution after that.”
Busch added his praise and respect for Super Late Model racing’s finest.
“Fun to come out and race in these cars and have great competitors that ran me really clean all day long, so congrats to those guys,” Busch remarked. “I hated being in that spot when (Erik) Jones beat me, but we had just enough here today in order to get it done. I’m real proud of my guys.”
Although Busch has continued his winning ways at the premier level of American motorsport, he had not visited the Derby as a driver since an intense battle to the finish with Jones in 2012. During that time his eyes have continued to be on Super Late Model racing.
The fact that he had to work hard and earn the victory the hard way against talented racers made it even sweeter.
“It wasn’t just a short sprint and speed,” Busch mentioned. “It was about handling, taking care of your tires, and managing your car. I think that’s what means the most about this win.
Lastly, in his victory lane interview, Busch had a couple more important things to say regarding the packed stands of fans and those that chose to tune in on Speed51 TV.
“Thank you for what you do to support short track racing. We need more of you. I know that this is a big race but don’t forget they also have weekly races here at Five Flags Speedway. Thank you Tim Bryant, all the guys, and everybody here.”
Preparations for the 51st Annual Snowball Derby are already underway. Race fans can find Snowball Derby information by visiting www.snowballderby.com.