Add leading the most laps but getting beat on tire strategy to the growing list of ways that Bubba Pollard has now lost the Snowball Derby.
Pollard led 117 laps from the outside pole, but guessed wrong on the timing of the final caution, and that may have ultimately denied him his long-anticipated first victory in the Super Bowl of Short Track Racing.
The 30-year-old has repeatedly called this the best Super Late Model he has ever built for Five Flags Speedway. But it wasn’t fast enough when he needed it to be, losing the lead to Jeff Choquette on a Lap 235 restart.
He initially stayed right behind Choquette, but Kyle Busch passed both of them en route to his second victory in the event.
Pollard was basically caught saving tires for a caution that never came.
“We didn’t have the best car right there when it mattered,” Pollard said. “We were just too free. We freed up because we knew the track would get tighter at night and freed it up too much, getting ready for the last set and we never got to put on the last set.”
The leaders ran the final 125 laps on the same set of tires. Busch simply made it work better than Pollard and Choquette.
“Who would have guessed we would run the final 130-something laps on the same tires,” Pollard said. “You just don’t see that.”
There was the final caution with 80 laps to go, but Pollard once again, just thought one more caution was coming — as did his closest competitors.
“That’s part of racing there,” Pollard said. “If we pit there with 80 or whatever to go, you’re not going to make it back to the front. It’s just one of those things. It wasn’t meant to be.”
Of course, had he beat Choquette into Turn 1 on the Lap 235 restart, it’s probably a different story. But more importantly, he believes Kyle Busch settling back and letting himself and Choquette burn their tires won them the race.
“He’s one of the best, and that’s why,” Pollard said. “That’s why he’s Kyle Busch. He said he had a good long run car and we were better on short runs with tires. We really needed those tires to win the race.”
That now makes 13 Snowball Derby appearances in 15 years for Bubba Pollard, who is the winningest driver at Five Flags Speedway without a Tom Dawson Trophy.
“That’s our best shot right there,” he said. “That’s the best car we’ve ever built. It’s just disappointing. We’ll just come back and try it again.”