With Stars Piling Up DNFs, Grissom Scores Victory in Blizzard Series Openeradmin
By Chuck Corder
Five Flags Speedway has been the catapult for quite a few famous sons of legendary NASCAR drivers in recent years.
Chase Elliott, son of “Million Dollar” Bill, won the Snowball Derby in 2011 and the current Hendrick Motorsports driver is line to hop in Jeff Gordon’s Sprint Cup ride next year.
Most recently, it was 17-year-old John Hunter Nemechek, offspring of Joe, hoisting the Tom Dawson trophy last December.
On Friday night, another son etched his name in Five Flags lore during the opening Super Late Model race of 2015 at America’s Favorite Home Track.
Kyle Grissom, son of former Nationwide Series champion Steve Grissom, held off a spectacular field to win the Mt. Dew Kickstart 100, the first of four Deep South Crane Rentals Blizzard Series race of the year.
“That was pretty awesome to win here,” said the 25-year-old Grissom, whose father won in Pensacola in 1986. “We came here a lot last year and struggled all year. We worked real hard.
“The guys helped me night and day for the last few weeks. It drove great all night. And we were finally able to hold on in Pensacola.”
Nineteen-year-old Dominique Van Wieringen, driving a Nemechek car, finished second and Casey Smith rounded out the podium.
With Pensacola’s own Johanna Long running a NASCAR schedule this season, Van Wieringen’s eye-popping result in her first career race at the famed half-mile asphalt oval gave Five Flags fans another female driver to rally behind.
She ran in the top-five all night, serving notice early on with a power move on the outside that saw her leap to third, passing SLM studs Bubba Pollard and Daniel Hemric in the process.
“It was a helluva race and I loved every second of it,” Van Wieringen said. “I’m very happy.”
Pollard led for much of the second half of the race, but broke with nine laps left and the defending series champion collected his third DNF in three Southern Super Series races in 2015.
Hemric was equally strong, contending throughout until coming to the pits a lap before Pollard broke. Hemric’s night ended because of a broken axle.
With two perennial favorites done for the night Friday, it meant a first-time winner at Five Flags would be crowned.
Grissom, who started on the pole after a redraw and led the first 64 laps of the race until Pollard overtook him, withstood hard charges from Van Wieringen and Smith to earn a trip to Victory Lane.
“I think he had best car,” Grissom admitted of Pollard, who set the fast time (16.3 seconds) in qualifying Friday. “But we were able to get out front early and I didn’t wanna fall back.”
Bubba Pollard didn’t leave Five Flags Speedway empty-handed.
He failed to get it done in the Blizzard Series opener, the race that is near and dear to his heart, but the Senoia, Ga., driver did rebound in the 25-lap Pro Trucks feature.
Pollard held off Langham Motorsports teammate Jake Moore in the closing laps with Brian Weimer finishing third.
“It was a good time,” Pollard said. “Jake had a good truck tonight. It was all I could do to stay in front. These things are quite the handful. Maybe it didn’t look like it, but it was.”
Pollard and Moore, the class of the 14-truck field, put on a great show and battled for most of the race.
Moore took a couple of peeks, and even looked like he would pass Pollard in the final 10 laps.
But Moore never found the extra gear to reach clean air around Pollard.
His car, another’s car, it matters little to Steve Buttrick.
A four-time champion for the Sportsman Snowball Derby, Buttrick’s familiar blue No. 33 still needed work when the sun came up Friday.
The Cantonment driver thought he wasn’t going to race. That is until he got a call from Jimmy Goodwin, who drives the Sportsman No. 60.
“He said he had to go to work, and would I be interested in driving his car tonight,” Buttrick said.
He quickly accepted Goodwin’s offer and made the owner proud by winning the 25-lap feature Friday night at Five Flags Speedway.
“We put it on the trailer and came over,” Buttrick said. “No practice and I had no idea what the car would be like.”
He quickly learned he had enough muscle to pass reigning Snowball Derby champion Brannon Fowler with five laps remaining and never looked back.
“Yeah, he started to fall off,” Buttrick said of Fowler. “I wasn’t speeding up. You’ve gotta have the car the whole time.”
Prior to the green flag dropping it appeared Buttrick had no car. The No. 60 came to a halt around Turn No. 3 and many fans feared Buttrick’s night was done.
But it was only some straps that had come loose.
Fowler dominated the early going, shooting out like a rocket ship and putting the field comfortably in his rearview mirror.
But he failed to hang onto the lead with Buttrick charging down the stretch.
Butler U-Pull-It Bombers
Geno Denmark made it two for two in 2015.
The Dauphin Island, Ala., driver won the season-opening Butler U-Pull-It Bombers race last week at Five Flags Speedway.
He backed up that trip to Victory Lane with two more this Friday night.
Denmark dominated his heat race en route to a win to begin the night and then swiped another checkered flag in the 20-lap feature following a disqualification.
Collin Kraft of Mobile finished first, but his first career victory at the famed half-mile asphalt oval was tossed out in technical inspection.
That pushed Denmark to the top spot with Robert Balkum assuming runner-up honors and John Kevin Merritt rounding out the podium.
Denmark rebounded from a Lap 1 crash into the outside wall between turn Nos. 1 and 2 that sent him to the tail end of the field.
He quickly worked his way up to second, but ultimately ran out of time chasing down Kraft.
That is until the cars reached the “tech shed.”