Night of Champions: Pollard Wins 3rd Blizzard Tile, While Nasse Celebrates SSS Crown; Roderick Sweeps Way to PLM Crown

Night of Champions: Pollard Wins 3rd Blizzard Tile, While Nasse Celebrates SSS Crown; Roderick Sweeps Way to PLM Crown

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By Chuck Corder

Every great team, every great athlete clings to the importance of peaking.

You want to be at your best when the moment matters most. Record books are littered with successful teams that got off to hot starts only to choke down the stretch. Sports have just as many, if not more, horror stories of draft busts or superstars that failed to reach their hype.

Bubba Pollard and his No 26 Super Late Model team are neither of the above and seem to be peaking at the right time.

The 30-year-old Georgian not only handily won the Deep South Cranes 125 on the Night of Champions on Saturday night at Five Flags Speedway, but also captured his third career Deep South Cranes Blizzard Series track championship in the process.

“It’s all about working hard with this good group of guys,” Pollard said. “I’m real lucky I got great people behind me. Even in the rough times, they don’t give up.”

With the 50th annual Snowball Derby a mere two months away, he and his tireless team are, in fact, peaking as they extended their Southern Super Series winning streak to four.

Easily one of the favorites come December at Pensacola’s high banks, Pollard won his 101st career late model race.

“I felt like we had to prove something tonight. We needed to make a little statement,” he said.

It was just the latest in a string of statements Pollard has made at the famed half-mile asphalt oval.

He set the fast time (16.571 seconds) in qualifying by nearly a full two-tenths. After a redraw, Pollard started fourth, but he was back out front by Lap 49 and led the final 3/4 of the race.

The win gave Pollard three Blizzard Series wins out of four this season — he finished a paltry runner-up in the other — and he improved his Blizzard record for victories to 16.

What made Saturday’s triumph in the season finale more impressive is it came against a field of the 23 stoutest short-track drivers in America. It was a bona fide Derby preview with defending champion Christian Eckes back along with late model’s elite coming down from as far north as Canada (Raphael Lessard, Jerry Artuso).

“We got a lot racing left before then,” Pollard said of entering the Derby with high expectations. “There’s a lotta learning we need to do. We’ve gotta treat (the Derby) just like another race. No time off. And we gotta keep digging.”

Someone who dug all night, fighting tooth and nail for a second-place finish was Stephen Nasse. The Charlotte driver, by way of Pinellas Park, may have been a touch disappointed with his fifth runner-up Southern Super Series result of the season, but it was good enough to clinch the championship.

Nasse came into Saturday nursing a slim lead to 15-year-old Chandler Smith. But after a poor qualifying effort from Nasse and a sterling one from Smith, Nasse’s lead was only 10 points entering the 125 lapper.

After a topsy-turvy opening quarter of the race, Nasse rebounded to work his way into the top-five and all the way to a distant second to Pollard.

“At the beginning of the race, we didn’t have the car we wanted,” Nasse said. “We made some really good adjustments.

“It seems like the whole season was filled with second-place finishes. Sometimes, that can bummed you out. But it paid off to be consistent. One of these days we’ll get win. We’re creeping up on it.”

Harrison Burton, son of former NASCAR driver and current analyst Jeff Burton, led the early going, but eventually finished third. Burton has won four NASCAR K&N Series race this season and figures to be a force to be reckoned with at the Derby.

“We’ve got a little work to do to run with the 26 there,” Burton astutely said, pointing to Pollard as his greatest competition. “He’s one of the smartest racers you’ll race against.”

There’s no denying how wily Pollard can be on the racetrack. He now has 18 Southern Super Series career wins.

   

Allen Turner Tune-Up 100

You want an exclamation point to punctuate the season?

Casey Roderick provided it in the Allen Turner Tune-Up 100 on Saturday night at Five Flags Speedway as the Allen Turner Pro Late Models crowned its champion in the season finale.

No surprise, it was Roderick. The Lawrenceville, Ga., driver swept all four 100 lappers for PLMs, including the clinic he put on Saturday. This latest win had jaws dropping.

Roderick dominated Saturday night at the famed half-mile asphalt oval. He won the race by a margin of 11 seconds against runner-up Perry Patino. When he crossed the start-finish line with the checkered flag waving wildly, only five of the 20-car field was on the lead lap.

Roderick now has 16 late model wins on the season, 15 of those PLM victories. He became just the second driver to win both a PLM track title and a Blizzard Series Super Late Model track crown in Pensacola. Hometown girl Johanna Long is the only other hotshoe to pull off that feat.

“What a year we had here in Pensacola,” said Roderick, who had won the last two Blizzard Series championships. “We’ve been working real hard to get to this point. The last two years have been a stepping stone in my career.

“This is my 32nd race of the season. I haven’t done that in a long time. You learn something on the racetrack every night.”

And you learn something in the shop every day when you’re working in the shadows of Ronnie Sanders, the famed former short tracker who owns and crew chiefs the red No. 18 Roderick has been nearly unbeatable in this season.

“This is all our hard work, blood, sweat and tears,” Roderick said. “I can’t thank Ronnie and everybody in the shop enough for being a part of this. I’m having a ball.

“It takes a group effort to be on top. Our team chemistry is great.”

Justin South rounded out the podium.

Roderick started on the pole after topping the charts in qualifying (16.956 seconds), but yielded the lead to South and Patino early on.

He had climbed back to second when he passed Patino on Lap 20 and then made a deft move on Lap 55 to reclaim the lead, gliding under South and shooting off like a bottle rocket.

Jay Jay Day saw his best performance of the season quickly devolve into a nightmare when he slammed head-on into the outside wall in Turn No. 3 early in the race

Making a run into the top-10, he touched wheels with another car as the pair battled side-by-side for positioning. Day wheel-hopped over Joe Graf and his No. 42 took a sharp right turn into the wall.

Once unstrapped, Day lowered the window netting down and immediately signaled for the ambulance that was just a few feet away in the infield. Day was put on a stretcher, but the severity of the injury was not immediately known.

PLM Unofficial Results  Speed51.com

Pos # Driver

1 18R Casey Roderick

2 51 Perry Patino

3 43 Justin South

4 18 Ryan Paul

5 95 Derrick Griffin

6 24 Christopher Tullis

7 21 Brandon Johnson

8 78 Corey Heim

9 46 Jarrett Parker

10 98 Giovanni Bromante

11 99 Wayne Niedecken, Jr.

12 00 Brandon Curren

13 30 Rusty Sanford

14 41 Troy Grisaffi

15 12 Joe Graf

16 55 Ronnie Osmer

17 15 Kevin Chase

18 5 Spencer Davis

19 17 Kurt Guillot

20 42 Jay Jay Day

 

SLM Unofficial Results  Speed51.com

Pos # Driver

1 26 Bubba Pollard

2 51 Stephen Nasse

3 12 Harrison Burton

4 18 Casey Roderick

5 15 Christian Eckes

6 2W Donnie Wilson

7 14 Connor Okrzesik

8 97 Chase Purdy

9 58 Tyler Ankrum

10 98 Paul Kelley

11 112 Augie Grill

12 11 David Rogers

13 19 Kason Plott

14 21 Riley Thornton

15 30 Jesse Dutilly

16 88 Garrett Jones

17 26C Chandler Smith

18 79 Joe Aramendia

19 11B Logan Boyett

20 4 Kyle Plott

21 5 Jerry Artuso

22 30K Bobby Knox, Jr.

23 99 Raphael Lessard

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