Pollard Holds Off Grill in Instant Classic, Claims Rubber & Specialties 125 Victory to Make Blizzard Series History
By Chuck Corder
You pay for the whole seat, but you only need the edge.
That’s an oldie, but goodie when it comes to racing adages.
It was never truer than during the Rubber and Specialties 125 on Friday night at Five Flags Speedway.
Bubba Pollard won his fourth straight Southern Super Series race, his third consecutive Buddy’s Home Furnishings Blizzard Series race and his fifth in a row in the last month.
It didn’t come easy. Pollard had to hold off a hard charge from Augie Grill in the final 25 laps, finally reclaiming the lead for good with five laps to go.
“That’s what racing all about!” said a visibly excited Pollard, 27, who became the first driver to win three straight Blizzard races. “That’s what makes it so fun. Two great racecars. Everyone talks about how dirty Augie races sometimes, but he always races me clean.”
Pollard’s win catapulted him past Grill as the all-time winningest Blizzard Series driver with nine victories.
The night fulfilled any superfluous adjective you could think of.
Dramatic. Exhilarating. Compelling.
Tempers flared between several drivers, highlighted by a dust-up between David Rogers and Casey Smith.
“If (Smith) wants to get out of the car and fight, he can have a piece of this old man,” the 58-year-old Rogers told track reporter Derek Long.
It all culminated with the epic duel between Pollard and Grill down the stretch.
Pollard had been masterful on restarts all night until this final one. Grill timed it perfectly and the pair began a sequence over the next 20 laps where the raced door-to-door, swapping the lead all around the famed half-mile asphalt oval.
“I got to watch a heckuva race,” eventual runner-up Donnie Wilson said.
Grill took the lead on Lap 107 and held onto it for the next 10 laps when Pollard made his final charge.
His No. 26 put the bumper to Grill’s No. 112 and inched ahead before finally clearing Grill with 120 laps complete.
“(Grill) got underneath me on the restart, and raced me hard,” Pollard said. “I backed off, and we were able to make it stick that last time.”
It seemed almost unfair that Grill finished fourth behind Wilson and Anderson Bowen, but all that beating and banging he did with Pollard destroyed his right tires.
Johanna Long started 19th, spun midway through the race, but rallied to finish 12th.
“It’s unbelievable to get four in row,” said Pollard, who was the fast qualifier (16.233 seconds). “I’ve got one of the best crews. We gel together. They’re pretty awesome.”
Home Depot Modifieds
A pair of Alabama boys put on a show across the state line Friday night at Five Flags Speedway.
Two-time defending Home Depot Modifieds champion Donnie Hamrac and savvy veteran Oakie Mason battled door-to-door down the stretch of the 25-lap feature, racing each other clean all the way around the famed half-mile asphalt oval.
Hamrac eventually took his first win of the season in Pensacola, but Mason never left his bumper, nearly pushing him across the finish line.
“I hope we put on a good show,” said Hamrac, who also won the Modifieds Snowball Derby title last December. “That’s what you call good, true racing right there. With Oakie, you can race like that. You can’t do that with everybody.”
Hamrac and his No. 8 took the lead from Mason on Lap 16, slipping past the No. 10 on the inside.
Mason fought back on the high side, a popular line for him Friday, but he didn’t have quite enough to reclaim the lead.
“I’ve got the same respect for (Hamrac),” said Mason, who won last year’s Super Stocks Snowball crown. “He can wheel a racecar. I hope the fans enjoyed that. I ended up on the short end, but maybe we’ll get ’em next time.”
Mason was better off the turns, but Hamrac made up ground diving into them.
There were three cautions in the first five laps. Chris Cotto started on the pole, but lost it on Lap 2 when Mason displayed a power move and passed him on the outside.
Cotto mixed it up with Mike Maddox and it cost him on Lap 6. Maddox had endured enough on Cotto’s games and hooked Cotto to bring out the third yellow.
Beef “O” Brady’s Sportsmen
Precision and patience paid off for Steve Buttrick.
The man, who boasts four Sportsman Snowball Derby titles and has amassed so many trophies than he now gives them away to a lucky young fan, did some fine driving Friday night.
Brannon Fowler held a lead of more than half of a straightaway for much of the race, but Buttrick overtook him on Lap 24 for his first win of 2014.
“Brannon fell off at the end a bit,” Buttrick said. “The last couple of laps he wasn’t as strong.”
Buttrick began chewing up Fowler’s seemingly insurmountable lead around Lap 8 of the 25-lap feature.
Fowler did his best to hit his lines and keep Buttrick at bay, but his No. 00 wouldn’t cooperate.
“The car got real free,” Fowler said. Do all I could do to hang on to what I had. Shame couldn’t finish it off.
Butler U-Pull-It Bombers
Hunter Ward’s rivals in the Butler U-Pull-It Bombers division aren’t the only ones scratching their heads.
Ward, himself, is finding his breakout 2014 hard to comprehend.
When the checkered flag waved, the 18 year old claimed his third consecutive 20-lap feature victory Friday night at Five Flags Speedway, winning in dominant fashion.
“I never thought I’d get three in a row, so I’m happy,” Ward said.
Unfortunately, his joy quickly evaporated in post-race technical inspection. Ward’s victory was thrown after the silver No. 1 was determined to have illegal rocker arms.
The disqualification meant defending series champion Michael Nelson won for the first time this season. Robert Balkum finished second and Tommy Lowery third.
The feature was delayed by nearly 10 minutes for a wreck that reduced two cars to scrap.
John Kevin Merritt was sitting on the front straightaway, the victim of a relatively harmless spinout by Balkum.
As Merritt tried to right the car back onto the speedway under caution, Kerner Kafka was in no man’s land and T-boned Merritt’s No. 22.