Derby duelists Derek Thorn and Chandler Smith triggered a massive pile-up
The long-anticipated Snowball Derby rematch delivered but neither Chandler Smith nor Derek Thorn were around to see the end of the race.
Instead, it was a reunited Stephen Nasse and Jett Motorsports who emerged through the chaos to win an eventful Rubber & Specialties 100 -- which was collectively the third race of the Southern Super Series season, the first event of the Blizzard Series at Five Flags Speedway and the first half of the Pepperjack Kennels Twin 100s.
Most important to Nasse is that the victory came against a 32-car field that wasn’t too dissimilar to the ones that take the green flag during the first weekend of December every year. The triumph also follow a stretch of races where Nasse has often found himself up front but too frequently eliminated by various parts failures.
As a result, Nasse was quite emotional in Victory Lane on Friday night.
"It almost feels like a Snowball Derby win to me," Nasse said. "It has been a tough journey. I feel pretty stupid walking away from Jett. They are one hell of a team and Pat Jett really knows how to orchestrate the setups to make these racecars go fast.
"This team is truly amazing. Plus, my dad has been putting his hard-earned time in. I’m super thankful to have my mom here, too. To do this here, I really appreciate everyone coming out."
Before he could win the race, Nasse had to avoid the most controversial incident of the night, and one that involved the two contenders from the Snowball Derby in December.
Smith had led the first 35 laps and was under serious pressure from Thorn for several laps when contact from behind sent the reigning Snowball Derby winner sideways in front of the field. With nowhere to go, Cole Butcher, Jake Finch, Jake Garcia, Jett Noland and Boris Jurkovic all piled into the incident.
Nasse was third at the time and was the first to narrowly avoid Smith. He inherited the lead when race control sent Thorn to the rear of the field.
The Derby was controversially decided by a bump-and-run in December. Thorn had led all 289 laps to that point when Smith executed the race winning maneuver to claim the Tom Dawson Trophy. It was a move that left the six-time SRL Southwest Tour champion none-too-pleased at the time.
"I was overly aggressive, but the spin was not intentional, spinning him out wasn't intentional," Thorn said. "Just too early in the race. We didn't want to go to the back and we spent too much money to have cars torn up.
"I went for a move off (Turn 2) and anticipated him to be back on the gas sooner. I was rolling the top a little bit tight behind him. By time he checked up, I was already committed to continue high and he was slowing down faster than I could slow down and he went around."
Thorn tried to explain that sentiment to Smith during a post-race conversation. Smith declined an interview request after the crash and the conversation.
Thorn was later involved in another incident on Lap 44. Coming back through the field, he aggressive took Michael Atwell and John Bolen three-wide. The resulting contact sent Atwell around with a flat tire.
Race control responded by parking Thorn the rest of the night for aggressive driving.
"I'm mad at myself," Thorn said. "Those guys bounced off each other three times in two laps. I should have waited until the backstretch. I didn't. I know better than that and I didn't. I should have just stayed on the track and kept my nose clean. My own fault being overly aggressive and trying to get back to the front. Those guys were coming down and I had nowhere to go."
The race began with a literal bang too, as several cars ended up in a wad before a full lap could be completed. The incident began with apparent contact between Augie Grill and Anthony Cataldi driving out of Turn 4. Hudson Halder, Dustin Dunn and Eric White had nowhere to go and were wiped out in the melee.
Over a dozen cars were involved in crashes on Friday night.
"I was just trying to get rolling to make it to lap 100," Dunn said. "There is no reason to be racing like that. I had two car lengths ahead of me and still had no room to check up. It's unbelievable. The guys of this caliber shouldn't come here and wreck on the first lap. This is a lot for a team like mine. This is going to hurt
As for the finish, Pollard finished second to continue a hot start of second, first and second to open the Southern Super Series season, with John Bolen completing the podium. This was the first top-five for Bolen in a Super Late Model since the 2009 Snowball Derby.
Meanwhile, Pollard was just surprised by the level of aggression on Friday with another race to go on Saturday and felt fortunate to have kept his car out of someone else’s mess.
"It’s crazy how these guys are driving," Pollard said. "I don’t know what they’re thinking. We had a good racecar. We were able to make our way to the front, but we were just a little too tight there when we needed to go."
Meanwhile, the rest of the top-five included Jackson Boone and Daniel Dye. This is important because the best average finisher across Friday and Saturday night will earn a Superstar Racing Experience ride on June 18 when the 2022 season opens at Five Flags Speedway.
For now, Nasse enjoys the advantage, and was most pleased just to be back in Victory Lane against this caliber of competition.
"Everybody has been working so hard at the shop," Nasse said. "We’ve got this car hooked up right now. We’ve been focused so much on coming here and winning races. I hope we can do the same thing on Saturday. Good things are coming."
Southern Super Series Rubber & Specialties 100 Five Flags Speedway April 9, 2022
1. Stephen Nasse 2. Bubba Pollard 3. John Bolen 4. Jackson Boone 5. Daniel Dye 6. Matt Craig 7. Hunter Robbins 8. Michael Hinde 9. Augie Grill 10. Blaine Rocha 11. Tyler Tanner 12. Michael Atwell 13. Gavan Boschele 14. Jake Finch 15. Ryan Crane 16. Dustin Smith 17. Kyle Bryant 18. Derek Thorn 19. Chandler Smith 20. Jett Noland 21. Boris Jurkovic 22. Cole Butcher 23. Jake Garcia 24. William Sawalich 25. Preston Peltier 26. Colin Allman 27. Anthony Cataldi 28. Eric White 29. Hudson Halder 30. Dustin Dunn DNS. Kyle Plott DNS. Rocky Samson
Story by Matt Weaver / Racing America