Bad news, good news, Noah Gragson.
The trophy girl rejected the kiss but the Tom Dawson Trophy for winning the Snowball Derby is the only smooch the best short track drivers who travel south to Five Flags Speedway each December truly want.
The 20-year-old NASCAR regular held off Ty Majeski on a restart with six laps to go deliver back-to-back Snowball Derby victories for Kyle Busch Motorsports in his final start for the team before joining JR Motorsports in the Xfinity Series next season.
In his final start for Kyle Busch Motorsports, Gragson delivered back-to-back Snowball Derby victories to his team one year after the boss won it for a second time in 2017.
But the victory was not without some degree of good fortune as Gragson needed a caution for his strategy to work itself out. That occurred when Kyle Bryant spun in Turn 3 with 20 laps to go.
Pole-sitter Harrison Burton had just taken the lead from Ty Majeski before the previous caution but had used up his final set of tires to get there. Had the race stayed green, Burton most likely continues pulling away and wins the race.
But with the caution, Gragson and several other leaders hit pit road. Gragson came in third and left first amongst those who came down pit road. He would restart next to Burton on two different restarts and beat him both times.
As a result, Gragson won the Snowball Derby, the fourth for KBM behind the two for Busch and Erik Jones’ second.
“It hasn’t sank in yet,” Gragson said. “I’m not sure it will for awhile. “I guess I finally figured this place out. Actually, not really. I don’t really feel like I figured it out.
“It was just an all around team effort. To be able to win this race in my last race for Kyle Busch Motorsports was extra special for all of us.
“We won the Snowball Derby. I can’t believe it.”
The pit crew that propelled Gragson to the Tom Dawson trophy was in fact the same one that serviced him in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series this season. While they came up just short in the championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Gragson got the job done on a late restart against two of the best short trackers in Majeski and Jeff Choquette.
“Our crew members did a hell of a job on pit road,” Gragson said. “We gained spots all night. That last one, they nailed it. That’s why we won the race.”
Harrison Burton arguably had the best car but was besieged by bad luck.
The 2017 NASCAR K&N West champion started from the pole and led 88 of the first 92 laps. He pitted when others didn’t inside the final 100 laps and saved his tires as best as possible during a long green flag run that saw Ty Majeski pull to a commanding lead.
Burton slowly reeled Majeski in and took the lead with 26 laps to go. Had the race stayed green, he likely pulls away from the field and wins the race. But a caution with 21 laps to go for a Kyle Bryant spin opened the door Gragson and his KBM pit crew to capitalize.
Burton had used his last set of tires and was forced to stay out. Burton selected the outside lane for the penultimate restart and was beat by Gragson, but that didn’t count as a Bubba Pollard spin meant the order would revert to the last completed lap.
Gragson again beat Burton on the final restart and drove away.
Burton gave it everything he had but his tires were too far gone.
“I was going to try,” Burton said of his efforts to hold the field off. “I picked the top because the only way I could’ve won the race was get a better launch then them somehow and hope they would be two-by-two behind me. Sometimes it doesn’t shake out your way. We made a call that was a little outside the box, and I’m proud of that.”
Gragson was able to clear Burton into Turn 1 and Majeski followed him into second. Majeski was faster than Gragson but simply ran out of time. Had the race been another lap, he would have had a chance to make something happen.
Ultimately, Majeski’s car used a wide-5 hub and that slowed each of his stops enough to cost him time to the leaders.
“We had a good pace the whole race, we just didn’t have the track position to go with it,” Majeski said. “It’s unfortunate. Feel like we had the best car tonight, but that is all part of it. I just wasn’t close enough. I certainly would have moved him up and come side-by-side racing him to the line.”
With Majeski taking second, Jeff Choquette, Connor Okrzesik and Casey Roderick completed the top-five.
The race was completed in just under two and a half with caution flags counting for the entire 300-lap distance.
Other notables who finished outside the top-5 included NASCAR K&N Pro Series West champion Derek Thorn (12th), Derek Kraus (16th), Raphael Lessard (25th), Bubba Pollard (26th) and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series regular Stewart Friesen (34th).
- Noah Gragson
- Ty Majeski
- Jeff Choquette
- Connor Okrzesik
- Casey Roderick
- Chandler Smith
- Donnie Wilson
- Tyler Ankrum
- Cole Butcher
- Harrison Burton
- Jeremy Doss
- Derek Thorn
- John DeAngelis Jr
- Chase Purdy
- Jesse Dutilly
- Derek Kraus
- Jack Dossey III
- Kyle Plott
- Spencer Davis
- Logan Boyett
- Paul Shafer Jr
- Derek Griffith
- Dennis Prunty
- Kyle Bryant
- Raphael Lessard
- Bubba Pollard
- Stephen Nasse
- Michael Atwell
- Corey Heim
- Kaden Honeycutt
- Chris Davidson
- Preston Peltier
- Perry Patino
- Stewart Friesen
- Carson Hocevar
- Austin Nason