Nasse Dazzles Way Past Pollard in Blizzard Series 150; Okrzesik Bangs Through Finch for Allen Turner 100admin
By Chuck Corder
The caution flag flew before the season began at Five Flags Speedway.
A virus no one had heard of back in March put the 2020 racing schedule in flux. After a wild period of months filled with delays and uncertainties, fans were rewarded on Sunday afternoon at the famed half-mile asphalt oval to a pair of spectacular finishes at the Late Model Championships.
Stephen Nasse got the better of Bubba Pollard late in the race to capture the Deep South Cranes Blizzard Series 150. And Connor Okrzesik edged 15-year-old Jake Finch by a radiator in the Allen Turner Hyundai Pro Late Model Series 100.
Pensacola’s high banks saved its best show until the 2020 regular season finale.
Nasse locked up his fifth SLM victory of the season, second Blizzard Series win, and $12,000 courtesy of the Southern Super Series’ double-down promotion from racing at the last SSS race. Jake Garcia and Kaden Honeycutt were second and third, respectively.
“Jett (Motorsports) does a heckuva job bringing me a heckuva racecar,” said Nasse, the 25-year-old Pinellas Park native. “Without all these guys, I wouldn’t be here. They give me a hot rod, and I do my best not to mess it up. We beat the best, and it feels good.”
To be the best you have to beat the best. That’s exactly what Nasse did to Pollard, outdueling the man with 22 Blizzard Series wins and who, on Sunday, locked up his fourth career Blizzard Series track championship despite not winning the race.
After leading earlier in the race, Nasse snatched “P1” away from Pollard for good on Lap 126 following a restart.
Pollard, as he enjoys doing at Five Flags, chose the high side on the restart. That typically works for him on night racing at the famed half-mile asphalt oval. But with track conditions vastly different Sunday afternoon, Pollard’s plans proved imperfect.
“I made some mistakes today and they cost us the race,” Pollard admitted. “On the restart, I just missed it. I slipped the right rear tire, and we were done after that. Once you get it hot, you’re done. If I could’ve cleared (Nasse), I think I would’ve been fine.”
Instead, he slipped to a fifth-place finish. Still good enough to win a series-best fourth Blizzard title by six points against Nasse, who finished second on the season. The two drivers split the wins in the four Blizzard races in 2020.
“I really would’ve liked to win the championship today and to top it off with a win in the race,” Pollard said.
Five Flags, used to postponements after months of COVID-19 and unexpected changes, received another one Saturday evening when lingering rain washed out the slated night of racing after Kyle Busch laid down a sizzling qualifying lap.
An Escambia County sheriff’s deputy was tasked with guarding the cars overnight, as teams were unable to touch their SLMs and make adjustments.
Despite the Cup star’s absence Sunday – NASCAR obligations had him in Texas – the grandstands were filled with plenty of fans and plenty of excitement when qualifying finished with Pollard setting the fast time (16.466 seconds).
“These fans are great to turn out on a Sunday like this after a hard day yesterday.” Pollard said.
The Senoia, Ga., driver reclaimed the lead from Nasse on Lap 120 and appeared to be in the wind as the laps ticked away.
But the caution with 126 complete changed everything and Nasse played his cards right on the restart, forcing Pollard to try and pass him on the outside. Pollard never could quite push his No. 26 far enough ahead to clear his counterpart’s No. 51 and Nasse eventually got by him the inside. By points from previous Blizzard races, Pollard became the 2020 Blizzard Tack Champion.
“This being the last race before the (Snowball) Derby and to win it means a lot,” Nasse said.
Allen Turner Hyundai Pro Late Models
Connor Okrzesik hadn’t enjoyed the kind of year he expected after a breakout performance in 2019.
He famously outdueled both Bubba Pollard and Kyle Busch in late model races last year, winning some high-profile events and increasing his expectations as one of Late Model racing’s rising young stars.
But, the Grand Bay, Ala., driver had been met only with frustrations before Sunday’s Allen Turner Hyundai Pro Late Model 100.
A day after turning 19, Okrzesik celebrated in style by winning the 100-lap race by a nose against 15-year-old Jake Finch and late model veteran Stephen Nasse, who was looking to sweep the day after his victory in the Blizzard Series 150.
The three leaders waged a fantastic finish over the race’s final laps. With the checkered set to wave, Okrzesik and Finch swapped paint coming out of Turn No. 4 with Nasse close behind. As they reached the flag stand, Okrzesik pinned Finch against the outside wall and edged him at the line.
“I didn’t wanna get into the 81 car,” Okrzesik said of Finch. “We were all loose coming off the corner, and I just held (the throttle) wide open trying to get to the checkered flag.”
He got there by a radiator, then wheel-hopped Finch before both spun out their torn-up PLMs in Turn No. 1.
“I can’t do a burnout because the car is wrecked,” said Okrzesik, who took the lead from Nasse on Lap 80. “That sucks, but it’s amazing we finally pulled it off after so many years of trying here. It feels great. I’m just glad we won it.”
Despite not finishing the race because of tire and radiator issues, Chris Davidson won his first career Allen Turner Hyundai Pro Late Model track championship at Five Flags.
He came into Sunday’s race 18 points ahead of 14-year-old Grant Thompson. Thompson had issues of his own and failed in his quest to make up enough ground on Davidson. The Pearland, Texas, driver won the crown by a mere four points against Thompson.
“It just kept getting worse and worse,” a frustrated, but relieved Davidson said. “We weren’t gonna finish anyway today, so we pulled it in. It was a rough day, but thankfully we were good enough at the beginning of the year.”