While the big race out in Southern California offered the prestige, the Meltdown at Greenville Pickens Speedway on Saturday brought the action.
And once the dust settled, it was Brandon Setzer that emerged as the surprise winner.
The $10,000-to-win season-opener attracted the likes of Bubba Pollard, Augie Grill, Donnie Wilson, Jeff Fultz and Matthew Craig to the historic South Carolina half-mile – many of them for the first time. In fact, the first half was a showdown between Craig (the winningest driver in the Carolinas last year) versus Pollard (the winningest driver in the country over the past decade) in a head-to-head battle.
In the end, neither driver won the race, but they were the talk of the town following 150 laps.
On Lap 127, a leading Pollard chose the bottom lane at restart cone and second-place Craig followed him. On the next lap, Craig drove hard into Turn 1, barely lifting and launching Pollard hard backwards into the outside retaining wall.
Wilson went high in the hopes of avoiding the melee and instead piled into Pollard, completely destroying both cars.
— S1apSh0es (@S1apSh0es) February 3, 2018
The incident was set up on the prior restart where Pollard chose the bottom, Craig chose the top and they bounced off each other in Turns 1 and 2.
Craig was immediately parked in the infield by track officials and escorted off the property in a white pick-up truck. Pollard said it was the hardest hit he has ever taken in his career but didn’t have anything else to say about Craig or the crash.
For his part, Craig released the following statement on Twitter.
— Matthew craig (@matthewcraig54) February 4, 2018
Once the destroyed Pollard and Wilson cars were removed from the racing surface, Fultz was credited with the lead. Setzer took the lead on the ensuing restart, winning the drag race off the backstretch into Turn 3.
Setzer pulled away from Chandler Smith for the remaining 20 laps and never expected to find himself in Victory Lane.
“I have no idea,” Setzer said. “We just kept our nose clean and saved a little bit in the first half — saved some breaks, saved some car and just stayed out of trouble. We just bided our time at the (25 to go) break, made the right adjustments and they kept crashing. We kept dodging them.
“We found ourselves fourth on the outside, and I’m like ‘this ain’t that bad’ and it just started to stick. It was really good, and then on that last restart, I knew we could make that work. Chandler was running us down on that final run and I don’t think we could have made it last, but it was just the right number of laps.”
It was a sentiment that Smith agreed with, too.
“We just ran out of time,” Smith said after leading some laps in the second half of the race. “We didn’t scrub the tires off after the break and that cost us some spots. But hey, after a win and second place, this is a great way to start the season.”
Smith, somewhat controversially, won Speedfest last weekend at Watermelon Capital Speedway.
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