Five Flags Speedway

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Five Flags Speedway

Bubba Pollard Sets Record Qualifying Time at Five Flags Speedway

A great season for Bubba Pollard just got grander.

By Bill Vilona

His No. 18 race machine, adorned in Pollard's team favorite Georgia Bulldogs colors, continued its smooth operation by capturing the pole position for Sunday's 44th Snowball Derby with a track-record qualifying time of 16.290 seconds Friday night at Five Flags Speedway.

"This is by far the biggest accomplishment I've had," said Pollard, a 24-year-old Senoia, Ga., resident.

Considering all of Pollard's accomplishments, headlined by 19 victories in 2011, it should tell you what starting first on the inside row for this renowned race means to him.

Once he steered into pit row, climbed from his Super Late Model car, put on his Georgia ballcap, and lit into a smile, Pollard quickly grasped the achievement.

"This is the biggest race in the country. This is what it's about," said Pollard, who received a $1,000 bonus from local radio station WXBM-FM 102.7, which sponsored Friday's pole qualifying.

On a near-perfect night for race engine performance, the field of cars reflected the conditions. Of the 53 cars attempting to qualify for the top-30 guaranteed positions, all but three cars traveled the half-mile, banked oval in less than 17 seconds.

"You never want it too cold or too hot, so it was kind of a good, happy medium," said Chase Elliott, the 16-year-old son of NASCAR legend Bill Elliott, who qualified ninth and was a strong contender throughout last year's Snowball Derby.

Pollard was among the last cars on the track for qualifying. One of the first was Andy Loden, from Stanley, N.C., who had the fastest time of 16.375 seconds until nearly 50 cars later.

But for Loden, getting bumped off the pole was a far better fate than he's encountered in two previous Snowball Derby trips.

"We've come here with two race cars and left with two destroyed race cars," he said. "The first year (2009), I crashed in practice Friday before qualifying when I busted a tire. Last year, we made the race, but didn't finish it.

"I honestly didn't think we were going to go that fast. I don't know where (16.375) came from. It just stuck there. When the guy told me my time, I said, 'Are you kidding me?' I'm very happy, no matter whether we're on the pole or not."

Though she didn't maintain her mini-streak of top-4 qualifying spots, defending Snowball Derby champion Johanna Long, 19, was confident about her car, after qualifying 13th in 16.555.

"The car felt good and I probably should have pushed it a little bit harder," she said. "I've been in the top four (qualifying) in all my (previous 3) Snowball Derbys, so I missed that, but I feel good about the car on the long runs for the race."

Two of Pollard's wins this season have been at Five Flags, so his strong qualifying performance was no surprise. He was recently honored as the driver of the year by the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame.

"With the season we've had, I felt like there was no reason for us not to come here and sit on the pole and run good," Pollard said. "Our expectations are really high.

"We felt good about our car all year. We were just off here or there. We have not made many laps all day. But we were dead on the money (Friday night)."

The 30 qualifying cars — which included another female driver, Kenzie Ruston, and Californian Derek Thorn, whose crew drove 36 hours from Bakersfield, Calif., to compete — will have options to practice today. There will be a 50-lap last chance race for the Snowball Derby for the non-qualifiers. The top four finishers will get into Sunday's race.

Official Snowball Derby Qualifying - Top 30 (Locked in)

1 18 Bubba Pollard 16.290
2 29 Andy Loden 16.375
3 49 Josh Hamner 16.412
4 22 Jeremy Pate 16.460
5 4 D.J. VanderLey 16.478
6 29 Jeff Choquette 16.483
7 7 Landon Cassill 16.491
8 112 Augie Grill 16.531
9 9 Chase Elliott 16.538
10 82 Grant Enfinger 16.540
11 42 Dennis Prunty 16.545
12 11 David Rogers 16.553
13 10 Johanna Long 16.555
14 17 Derrick Griffin 16.560
15 51 Stephen Nasse 16.584
16 54 Hunter Robbins 16.587
17 6 David Ragan 16.600
18 5 Jerry Artuso 16.603
19 89 Dillon Oliver 16.632
20 7 Erik Darnell 16.635
21 61 Johnny VanDoorn 16.645
22 1 Mike Garvey 16.660
23 83 Cale Gale 16.660
24 91 Heath Hindman 16.662
25 96 Ben Kennedy 16.695
26 39 Kenzie Ruston 16.708
27 75 David Odell  16.708
28 51 Boris Jurkovic 16.710
29 82 Donnie Wilson 16.710
30 26 Derek Thorn   16.719

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