Despite a degree of mutual respect between them, Bubba Pollard and Stephen Nasse have not seen eye-to-eye in quite a while and that growing animosity spilled over into the final laps of CRA Speedfest on Saturday night at Watermelon Capital Speedway.
The two were side-by-side and racing for the win with 13 laps to go when an incident eliminated both from contention — leading to an explosive confrontation in the infield of the venerable Georgia short track.
Pollard had taken the lead in Turns 1 and 2 of Lap 187 by nudging Nasse up the track in the middle of the corner. Nasse responded on the opposite end of the track by diving deep into the corner. He washed up the track and connected with the leader, sending Pollard around on the frontstretch.
Battle for the lead. @StephenNasse and @bubbapollard26 raced hard for the Speedfest win @CordeleSpeedway. "Not broadcast quality", but Ride with them as they went wheel to wheel with 17 laps to go. pic.twitter.com/dxJ388nvpX
— Bruce Nuttleman (@BruceNuttleman) January 26, 2020
As a driver involved in the incident, Nasse was sent to the rear of the field alongside Pollard.
On the ensuing restart, Pollard caught Nasse on the backstretch and there was again an incident between them. It appeared as if Pollard intentionally sent Nasse around into the run-off patch behind the pavement.
Pollard immediately pulled off the track and Nasse followed him down pit road. Nasse parked right next to Pollard and climbed atop his door — shooting double middle fingers at his rival. Nasse was then pulled off his car by Champion Racing Association officials and the crew members were also separated before any physical altercations could escalate.
— Speed51 (@speed51dotcom) January 25, 2020
For his part, Pollard says the initial contacts were a byproduct of racing for 10 grand in one of the most notorious races of the season.
“It looked like hard racing to me,” Pollard said. “I gave him a nudge. Whatever. He doored me. Cool. I used him up. He used me up. He pinched me off. It’s 15 to go, man. That’s hard racing. It’s $10,000 to win.”
Pollard said that changed with the contact in Turns 3 and 4 — and what followed as a result.
“He got mad because I passed him on the backstretch,” Pollard said. “So, he dumped me, and I repaid the favor.”
Nasse says it was hard racing through-and-through. He cited the numerous times the two had gotten into each other throughout the race on the tiny 3/8-mile bullring. He essentially agreed with Pollard on the point of hard racing for the win with 10 grand at-stake.
“I have a lot of respect for Bubba Pollard and what he’s done in his career,” Nasse said. “I will not take that away from him. But, to act to act like a childish kid like that – to try to literally put me in the fence going down the straightaway … I mean, I don’t understand what’s going on.”
Pollard says all of this is simply a byproduct of racing.
“What are we out here doing … racing,” he said. “You think Dale Earnhardt didn’t do this? How many times did you see cold hard racing out of Dale Earnhardt? What do you want to talk about? There is nothing to talk about here.”
Nasse says there has been underlying tension between the two for nearly a decade. The difference is that Nasse is now consistently running up front near Pollard and the two are now racing each other for wins essentially every week across the country.
But Nasse cited an incident between the two many years ago at Watermelon Capital as where their animosity began.
“We had a problem here many years ago, when I was maybe 15 years old,” Nasse recalled. “I accidentally ran him off the track and I came over the radio and said I was sorry. He comes up over to me against the outside wall on the front straightaway and puts me in the wall, breaks my wrist.
“I mean I let it go, it was obviously my fault. But this guy obviously can’t take defeat too well.”
Nasse says Pollard is starting to develop an attitude problem when facing adversity. He specifically mentioned the fight Pollard engaged in with Jeff Craig following a hard race between himself and son Matthew in the CARS Tour Throwback 276 at Hickory Motor Speedway.
Jeff Craig flipped Pollard the bird as they crossed the finish line during their cool down lap. Pollard climbed out of the car and charged at the elder Craig, landing several punches before being separated by sheriff deputies.
“You see it with him,” Nasse said. “I think you go back to the deal with Matt Craig. I’m no old man, so he can come over here and try it but to me, but he’s hiding behind his crew. I don’t know what to say. I have a lot of respect for Bubba and I don’t want to take that away. I like what he’s done, he’s a good racer but he’s gotta change something, he can’t drive like that.”
The two even tested together this week at Gresham Motorsports Park in advance of the track’s May revival. The two have often shared respectful conversations while at the track. So it’s not as if the tension is a constant thing between them.
And yet, Pollard said in the heat of the moment that their relationship isn’t salvageable.
“We didn’t like each other before this weekend,” Pollard said. “We don’t like each other right now. It’s on and off the track. We won’t ever like each other. We are two different people. We’re going to butt heads from here on out.”
And will anything change that from Pollard’s standpoint?