It wouldn’t be CRA Speedfest at Watermelon Capital Speedway without a controversial finish.
Chandler Smith survived 200 laps around the South Georgia bullring to capture his first-ever Super Late Model victory while second-place finisher Bubba Pollard was left seething over a series of race control decisions.
The first occurred on Lap 175 when Pollard, leading the race, spun off the nose of Smith in Turn 4. Pollard was trapped behind lapped traffic and slowed in front of Smith, leading to the seemingly accidental contact between the two leaders.
Per the CRA rule book, both drivers were sent to the rear of the field; Pollard for spinning and Smith for the contact between the two.
However, both drivers methodically worked their way through the field when another incident on Lap 178 potentially altered the course of the race. Carson Hocevar and Conor Okrzesik spun in Turn 2 with Smith spinning to avoid contact.
Smith was allowed to retain the position he had before the spin, in front of Pollard, notable because that essentially decided the outcome of the race when both sliced their way through the top-5 over the next 20 laps.
Smith was exuberant in Victory Lane, the damage to his right front fender notwithstanding.
“Hey, we’re here in Victory Lane, aren’t we?”
Pollard, apparently upset about the earlier contact, drove Smith up the track during the cool down lap before they both parked on the frontstretch. Pollard let out an expletive upon climbing out of his No. 26 but quickly retreated back to his cockpit when television cameras came to interview him.
According to a crew member, Pollard was upset that race control didn’t send Smith to the rear of the field after he spun on Lap 178. But since that spin was to avoid contact, CRA rules allow a driver to reclaim his position.
A CRA official reached out to Short Track Scene immediately after the race to provide an explanation.
“The two 14 cars (Hocevar and Okrzesik) spun and per the rule book, those that spin after the initial incident get their spots back as long as they don’t pit. Pollard’s complaint that Smith shouldn’t get his spot back is completely incorrect.
“It’s written plainly for everyone to see in the race procedures.”
To the officials point, it’s a rule that has indeed been enforced on numerous occasions.
Pollard never got back out of his car and was eventually pointed towards the tech inspection area. Short Track Scene approached him for comment after the race but was simply told, “no.”
Meanwhile, for Smith, Saturday night was the culmination of several near misses in his three-year Late Model career. Smith led the prestigious All-American 400 from the pole but suffered a mechanical failure from the lead.
He finished third in the Winchester 400 after leading laps in that race too. The 15-year-old has come close but just couldn’t close out until Saturday night.
“This feels good, I’ll tell you that much,” Smith said. “The Winchester 400, the All-American 400 was so frustrating. But it came down to this. We finally got a win.”
The controversial finish will somewhat overshadow what had been a competitive race from start-to-finish. Near the midway point of the race, Pollard, Smith and defending winner Harrison Burton raced nose-to-tail and side-by-side for a 15-lap stretch.
That duel only ended when Burton suffered a brake failure that ended his chances to repeat as a Speedfest winner.
With the victory, Smith collects $10,000 and Pollard took home $5,000 for his second-place run. Pollard also won the $5,000-to-win Pro Late Model race earlier in the afternoon.
The complete results of Speedfest can be found below.
- Chandler Smith
- Bubba Pollard
- Jeff Choquette
- Chase Purdy
- Raphael Lessard
- Stephen Nasse
- Conner Okrzesik
- Brandon Jones
- Carson Hocevar
- Jerry Artuso
- Austin Thaxton
- Steve Dorer
- Nick Neri
- Anthony Sergi
- Stuart Dutton
- John Coffman
- Jeff Firestine
- Bronson Butcher
- Scotty Ellis
- Harrison Burton
- Corey LaJoie
- Justin Ashburn
- Casey Roderick
- Kyle Bryant
- Cayden Lapcevich
- Josh Brock
- Mason Diaz
- Jeff Gordon
Read more Short Track Scene:
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- CARS Tour offers souped-up loyalty program for LMSCs in 2018
- Bubba Pollard enters Greenville Pickens Meltdown