All Eyes on 10: Drivers Look to Improve Snowball Prospects in Blizzard Series Finale
The year’s final laps are winding down at Five Flags Speedway.
There are only two races left in the regular season before the famed half-mile asphalt oval begins preparations for the 45th annual Snowball Derby in December.
For the Super Late Models in the Buddy’s Home Furnishings Blizzard Series, their season ends Friday night with the last of five 100 lappers.
With one race left, jockeying for a top 10 spot in the points standings becomes a foremost element in race strategy.
Teams are desperate to crack that elusive barrier and improve their eligibility for two provisional spots that are awarded to top 10 drivers if something goes haywire during Snowball Derby qualifying.
“People will come in with different agendas,” said Pensacola’s Jeremy Pate, who sits 12th just three points shy of T.J. Reaid in 10th. “Guys will be racing for points, looking for that provisional. You don’t wanna limp in.”
The battle for 10th won’t be the only excitement Friday. The Super Stocks will crown a track champion while the Sportsmen and Bombers could see drastic swings in the standings thanks to Double Points Night.
The gates open at 5 p.m. today and admission to the grandstands is as follows: $15 Adults; $14 Seniors; $12 Military/Students (12-17); $5 Children (6-11); Under 6 is Free. Passes to get into the pits are $25.
Blizzard drivers that are in Pate’s situation have some sweating to do come Friday.
“It’s really comforting to know that don’t have so much to worry about,” said Pensacola’s Logan Boyett, who is sixth in points. “Everybody’s gloves come halfway off this week. We just wanna finish. We don’t wanna get into any matches. Knowing we’re sixth takes away that extra ‘what if.’ ”
Bubba Pollard is free of the uncertainties, as well. After winning the last Blizzard event raced at Pensacola’s high banks back in June, Pollard leads the points and is expected to walk away with the track championship Friday.
Pollard set the SLM track record at the Derby last season to earn the pole before finishing a disappointing 12th in the 300-lap race.
But, if the racing gods played their evil games during Snowball qualifying, and disaster struck for Pollard, he would, undoubtedly, snag one of the provisionals.
And it goes down the line through the lucky 10 that need it. Pollard, Augie Grill (second in points), Kyle Benjamin (third) seem to be safe. Swiping a provisional could only be seen as a last resort for them.
Mike Garvey is another that doesn’t figure to need a provisional. He has won three of four Allen Turner Pro Late Model 100 lappers this year and sandwiched a Blizzard Series victory back in April around Chase Elliott’s two.
Sitting fourth in points going into Friday, Garvey, of course, feels good about his qualifying chances.
But he’ll have no qualms about turning to a provisional if a catastrophe strikes in December.
“Everything we do is aimed for the Derby,” Garvey said. “We’re always trying to make things better. We’ve had a great season so far here in Pensacola. But right now we’re concentrating on what we do and we can’t let outside things creep in my mind.”
But it will be fresh on the minds of folks like Pate.
Reaid’s hold on that coveted 10th spot is precarious. He’s only two points ahead of 11th-place Donnie Wilson, three in front of Pate and 13 clear of Chris Davidson.
The other wrinkle to Friday is Elliott, who sits ninth. If the unthinkable happens and the 16-year-old phenom experiences troubles during Derby qualifying, Elliott can use his defending champion provisional to get into the big dance.
His absence this week — Elliott’s schedule has him in New England this week — creates another opportunity for the bubble boys like Pate and Co. to shimmy into the top 10.
“It’s a weird deal,” said Pate, who will take over the Eddie Craig No. 4 after D.J. VanderLey opted to turn his attention to his family-owned No. 2.
“This is the exact situation I was in last year. Last year, I was concerned about where everybody was. This year, that’s not playing in my mind at all. The car is gonna drive so solid that we expect to run well enough that it’ll take care of itself.”