A Historical Chase: Elliott’s 16.133 Earns Him Pole for 46th Snowball Derby, All-Time Track Recordadmin
By Chuck Corder
If Chase Elliott woke up one morning and decided to take a severe detour in career paths from budding NASCAR phenom to entertainer, it’s undeniable where fate would steer him.
The 18 year old would still be a headliner. Still be a main attraction. Still be the superstar fans flocked from far and wide just to get a glimpse of.
Elliott seems destined for greatness no matter where he’s embedded.
Thankfully, racing fans can rest assured in knowing Elliott future lies behind the comfort of a steering wheel.
Five Flags Speedway, home to so many of Elliott’s most memorable achievements in recent years, was once again the backdrop for the Dawsonville, Ga., native’s unyielding talents Friday night.
The 2011 winner of the Snowball Derby for Super Late Models and a two-time winner of the Snowflake 100 for Pro Late Models, Elliott penned another chapter in his memoirs Friday at the famed half-mile asphalt oval during 102.7 WXBM Pole Night Qualifying.
The last of 58 cars to qualify, Elliott’s blistering and eye-popping mark of 16.133 seconds not only helped assure him of his first career Derby pole for Sunday’s 46th running of the Snowball, but it also set the all-time track record for SLMs in Pensacola.
“We had a good lap,” Elliott understated. “I thought it was decent, but i didn’t know how good it was. I’m excited for this weekend, but the focus now turns to (Saturday) and Sunday.”
He topped previous marks set by Bubba Pollard, who qualified second for Sunday’s race. Two years ago Pollard’s 16.290-second time was tops in Derby history.
Earlier this season, during qualifying for a Buddy’s home Furnishings Blizzard Series race, Pollard came home in 16.145 to establish the overall SLM track record.
Elliott shattered both of those marks much to the chagrin of Pollard.
“Ah, it don’t matter,” the easygoing Pollard said. “The race is all that matters.”
And the Senoia, Ga., driver figures to be in perfect position to hoist his first career Tom Dawson trophy come Sunday evening.
One of the final 10 drivers out Friday, Pollard’s 16.245-second turn was a new Derby record. Albeit very briefly.
“We were able to put up a good lap,” he said. “At least we’re in a good starting spot.”
That will be on the outside of Row 1 alongside Elliott.
The biggest news to come out of qualifying for most of the night were the disappointments drivers experienced.
Reigning Blizzard Series track champion and the inaugural winner of the Southern Super Series, Daniel Hemric was first out Friday and his 16.313-second time immediately set the bar for his rivals.
That number held up, as one by one drivers failed to even come close to Hemric’s time. Most of the field was stuck in neutral and rarely put up a formidable challenge, as they hovered around the mid-16.4s and 16.5s .
Johanna Long, the 2010 champion and local she-ro, qualified a mediocre 23rd. NASCAR driver Landon Cassill, who Long beat in 2010 sits 29th.
Another NASCAR regular David Ragan, who sat on the pole at last year’s Snowball, was one of the few that followed Hemric to put up a respectable effort. He qualified eighth.
Two-time Snowball winner Augie Grill, whose car directly followed Pollard out of stop-and-go, put himself in great position Sunday and will start fifth. Ross Kenseth, son of Sprint Cup star Matt, is 11th.
Ben Kennedy, the grandson of NASCAR founder Bill France and son of International Speedway Corporation CEO Lesa Kennedy, won the K&N Pro Series East race at Five Flags earlier this year. He qualified 16th.
Reigning Snowball champion Erik Jones (12th), whose duel with NASCAR bad boy Kyle Busch last year impressed the Sprint Cup star so much he hired Jones to drive for him.
The top 30 made it into Sunday’s field, which means some notable names will compete for four spots in this afternoon’s last-chance race. Donnie Wilson, who finished second to Long, will be joined by Jeff Fultz, David Rogers, 2010 pole sitter Cale Gale, Junior Niedecken, Josh Hamner and D.J. VanderLey, who famously finished second to Elliott in 2011.
They’re all chasing Chase, though. Here’s betting this featured act has plenty left for an encore.