To win the inaugural Southern Super Series championship, Daniel Hemric needed everything to go right and everything to go wrong for Bubba Pollard — and that’s exactly what happened in the closing stages of Saturday night’s All-American 400 at Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville.
Pollard entered the race with a sizeable 53 point advantage — roughly 20 positions on the track. And with 20 laps to go, Pollard had overcome several pit stops and shock issues and was running eighth on the penultimate restart when Kyle Benjamin ran into the back of the No. 26 and triggered a multi-car accident that knocked Pollard out of the race.
Hemric was in the middle of the melee and just escaped without a scratch on his Carswell No. 98 Ford. He would capitalize on his good fortune on the final restart and surge to second place behind a race-dominant Chase Elliott — but was unable to capture the top spot.
As a consolation prize, Pollard’s 20th place finish combined with Hemric’s runner-up status was enough to earn him the first-ever Southern Super Series championship by one point — a fitting reminder of the parity experienced by the tour in its first season.
Climbing out of his car during post-race, Hemric wasn’t entirely sure if he was the champion. Series officials were calculating the numbers and he had to wait about three minutes before getting the word from Speed 51’s Elgin Traylor.
“I hate to say that I’m disappointed in this deal because I hate to see Bubba go out like that,” Hemric said after receiving the word. “That’s horrible and everyone hates to see something like that but man I really wanted to hold that guitar but I came up five laps short.”
Unbeknownst to Hemric was that the winner of the All-American 400 and Southern Super Series champion each would receive custom Gibson guitars.
At the end of the day, Hemric never even expected to be in position to win the championship. He entered the weekend 48 points behind Pollard and was riding behind him on the track with 25 laps to go. He considered himself fortunate above all else.
“Things just fell our way, with the cautions dropping the way they did,” Hemric said. I can’t believe our tires held together like they did. There was one caution period that lasted a long time and could have cost us a chance to get to the front and that was a key factor in not getting back to Chase.”
Before the race, Pollard had admitted nervousness, saying that he had never raced for a championship before and that he didn’t even know how to points race. That fear was validated in the closing laps when he and Benjamin made contact at the end of the race. Pollard was distraught and left looking forward to next season.
“It wasn’t meant to be I guess,” Pollard said. “We’ve had such an up and down season. We’ve had to fight motor issues, car issues and crew chief issues. But it’s my guys that I really hate it for. They do all the hard work and they do it for free.
“They do it for me and they deserved this championship. It’s part of racing, it’s an unfortunate deal but we’ll come back from it and give it another shot next year.”
Hemric won the inaugural Southern Super Series standings by one point with John Hunter Nemechek in third and 221 points behind. Mike Garvey and Hunter Robbins completed the top-5.
The 2014 series scheduled is expected to be released prior to the Snowball Derby next month at Pensacola Five Flags Speedway.
Videos of the championship deciding accident and interviews with Hemric, Pollard and Benjamin can be viewed below.