Fireworks Exploding all Around Him, Roderick Remains Calm to Score First Victory at Five Flagsadmin
By Chuck Corder
The fireworks came in bunches Friday night at Five Flags Speedway.
Above the famed half-mile oval thanks to the track’s annual pyrotechnical display. And for 100 laps on every inch of the abrasive asphalt.
There was past series champion Daniel Hemric who saw his valiant charge from the tail end come up empty.
There was perennial contender and defending Blizzard Series and Southern Super Series champion Bubba Pollard, whose night ended with a whimper after staying in the top-five for 90 of the 100 laps.
There was 14-year-old Harrison Burton, son of NASCAR star turned NBC analyst Jeff Burton, learning valuable lessons about restarts.
When all the beating and banging settled, though, it was 22-year-old young gun Casey Roderick who stood above the damage to capture the Rubber & Specialties 100, the second of four Deep South Crane Rentals Blizzard Series races this year.
Roderick became the fifth different Southern Super Series winner in as many races this season.
“I’ve been wanting to win here for a long time, since 2008,” said Roderick, who drove for NASCAR legend Bill Elliott a few years back. “We’ve run a lotta races since then. I’m glad to be back and happy to be competing for a championship. We’re still learning as a group.
“I was pretty loose on the restarts getting going to green. I was worried one of guys hanging n the outside was going to pinch me down and I couldn’t get a good run. But thankfully, I had a great car tonight.”
Donnie Wilson and Mike Garvey finished second and third, respectively. The three drivers that occupied spots on the podium managed to stay out of the mess and avoid being caught up in the numerous cautions.
Hemric’s car was still being worked on as the 26-car field took its warm-up laps before the opening green dropped.
When he returned, he was a man on a mission. Chewing up spots left and right in a hurry.
Hemric wasn’t afraid to use his bumper to navigate a compacted field. He was seventh by the midway point, but late in the race fell off the pace because of mechanical troubles.
Chad Finley, the fast qualifier (16.367 seconds), led 66 of the first 70 laps by taking a different approach than what most fans and drivers are accustomed to seeing out of their leaders.
All night while he was operating in clean air, Finley drove the highest line of the track, some two grooves higher than the rest of the field.
That strategy worked perfectly until Burton started putting some pressure on Finley. Burton assumed the lead from Finley for good on Lap 70 with Pollard and Hemric sprinting to second and third, respectively, while Finley struggled to fall in line.
Once Hemric’s night ended with little fanfare, Roderick sensed it was his time to go.
He raced Pollard door-to-door around the racetrack until Pollard’s tires couldn’t save his No. 26 from spinning.
Out front, by some eight car lengths, Burton was tickled to see all the aggressive driving happening behind him.
But when a late caution flew, Burton’s shot at the biggest win in his young career was in jeopardy.
Sure enough, when the flag man dropped the green with 85 laps complete, Burton spun his tires and gave the room Roderick needed to take the lead for good by Lap 87.
Say this for Bubba Pollard: The man is a showman, no matter what vehicle he’s racing.
Pollard, the Senoia, Ga., driver makes his bones up on the steering wheel of a Super Late Model.
But, when he climbs inside the Howard Langham-owned No. 1 Pro Truck, he’s virtually unstoppable.
Pollard got his second 25-lap feature victory in as many as races this season, coming from the tail end of the eight-truck field Friday to collect another checkered flag at Five Flags Speedway.
“This class is always a good race,” Pollard said. “These guys are tough, so I certainly had to work for it. With the late models, there’s a lotta pressure, but this is all about enjoying the drive and having fun.”
Pollard earned the pole, but chose to accept a $100 challenge to move to the back of the pack before the opening green flag dropped.
Another Georgia driver, Brian Weimer, finished second and Andy Wojtaszczyk rounded out the podium.
“Bubba’s like a NASCAR guy around these tracks,” Weimer said. “I’ll get him one of these days.”
Teenager Ryan Worsham led a few laps early on, but began to crack under Pollard’s pressure when the race approached the 10-lap mark.
As Worsham concerned himself with Pollard, Weimer trailed close behind the two leaders. When Worsham went high to block Pollard from taking the first position, Weimer pounced on the opportunity to take the lead.
After Pollard got around Worsham on Lap 13, he began peeking for the lead from Weimer. He slingshotted inside of Weimer in Turn 1 and the two raced side-by-side around the oval for an entire lap before Pollard assumed the lead on Lap 15.
Jim Pokrant’s return trip to Victory Lane was doubly sweet.
It had been a few years since Pokrant had earned any type of win, heat or feature race, at Five Flags Speedway.
And so after he climbed out of his patriotic No. 07, Pokrant decided to make the most of the spotlight.
He thanked his longtime girlfriend for sticking by him through thick and thin, and then Pokrant pulled a ring out of a pocket in his fire suit and asked her if she’d take his hand in marriage.
“Yes!” came the enthusiastic response from his new fiancée and subsequent roars and cheers of encouragement bellowed from the packed house.
Pokrant took the lead from Dayton Sidner, the eventual runner-up, and never looked back.
“First of all, I’ve gotta thank everybody that works on the car,” Pokrant said. “I’ve gottta thank the good Lord above, and all the soldiers that fight every day for our freedom.”
Geno Denmark’s dominance continued Friday night at Five Flags Speedway.
Denmark, who took the lead on Lap 9 of the 20-lap feature, got his third win in four races, holding off a courageous charge from Robert Loper.
“I was driving a little out of control there early, and I hate that for the other cars,” Denmark said. “I wasn’t watching where they were going and I nearly paid for it.”
Loper, the only other feature Bombers winner this season in Pensacola, came home with a runner-up finish a week after posting his first-career victory at the famed half-mile asphalt oval.
Loper pulled off the most daring move of the night when he shot the gap between defending track champion Michael Nelson and another driver to take second with four laps left.
He could never manage to get to the side of Denmark, though, and settled for second.