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Bubba Pollard is Back … in Victory Lane at Pensacola in Instant Classic

It’s been a long time, but the results looked familiar on Friday night

Bubba Pollard isn’t willing to say that he’s back after winning the Universal Fabricators 100 on Friday night at Five Flags Speedway, but it certainly looked like a throwback performance.

Well, except the qualifying run that relegated the four-time track champion to 17th at the start of the race, necessitating the steady march towards the front.

But Pollard found himself back there with fellow track champion Casey Roderick and together they methodically worked their way through the front half of a stacked 37-car field until they were both in the top-five inside of 20 to go.

That’s when Roderick suffered a flat tire and Pollard drove to second on the ensuing restart. Head-to-head with fellow Georgian, a dominant Chandler Smith, Pollard began knocking over a tenth off the lead per lap and took the lead with two to go and drove away to his first win of 2021.

For Pollard, it was the first win for the 34-year-old since the Florida Governor’s Cup on November 11, Friday night marking only his fourth win over the past 12 months. The performance also came after a statement race in which Pollard could have won at Jennerstown Raceway on July 4.

Is Pollard back?

“I don’t know about that,” Pollard said. “Racing is so tough. It’s hard to win these races.”

That’s coming from the winningest driver in Blizzard Series and Southern Super Series history.

“We have a shot,” Pollard said of his status entering the late summer stretch. “I feel like we had a chance to win Jennerstown and gave it away. So, we come here, didn’t qualify well, and we got some details and some small things to work out.

“We know we have a fast race car, but we can’t put ourselves behind on track position like that. I’m glad to be back … eh, I’m not back … because we didn’t go anywhere.

“We won 12 races last year and people forget that, it just wasn’t the ones that count.”

It was a strange season for Pollard because he frontloaded his season, and it looked like an all-time historic season was underway by June, but it fell apart in the summer and autumn months. His performance in the marquee events like the Oxford 250, Slinger Nationals, All-American 400 and Snowball Derby left a bitter mark on what was an otherwise solid campaign.

Pollard spent the autumn months trying to get right, eventually swapping over to the VanDoorn Racing Development house car for the Derby, and now moving over to Port City Race Cars over the past month.

So, what’s gone wrong over the past 12 months?

“Shoot, just been working,” Pollard said. “We’ve opened a race track (Senoia Raceway) and are running a business (Pollard Construction) and building new race cars (Port City) and there’s just been a lot going on.

“We’ll see in six months or a year, but this has been a building process all the way, for all of it.”

For Smith, it was the second consecutive race in as many months that his No. 26 Donnie Wilson Motorsports team dominated at Five Flags but didn’t come away with the win. In June, it was due to an engine failure and on Friday, he just got beat by one of the all-time greats on a late run to the finish.

What was the difference?

“Cautions and drive,” Smith said. “Those cautions especially, because I don’t know where Bubba ran all day, but he wasn’t in the top-five, so those cautions kept coming out and he kept progressing up. That was the biggest difference maker.”

It goes back to the poor qualifying effort that Pollard hopes to clean up on Saturday because he knew he had a race winning car that shouldn’t have been back there anyway.

“I was letting Casey (Roderick) create the picks for me and I was just following him through the holes,” Pollard said. “That let me save and drive smart. You watch these guys during practice and you know they’re going to fall off so you just have to save and drive smart.

“But you can’t save starting 17th unless you have a good car and we did.”

Even after cracking the top-10, Pollard was shuffled out when he re-started on the outside and trusting that he had a good car.

At the same time, he caught some lucky breaks when Roderick fell out while running in the top-five. He wasn’t the only one. There was an incident that led to Grant Enfinger getting sent into the wall while racing three-wide with Jake Garcia and Erik Jones. Enfinger was fifth at the time. Hunter Robbins had a mechanical failure while running fifth.

Each of those cautions played to Pollard’s advantage and against Smith, who had led over 150 laps at Pensacola this year with nothing to show for it yet.

He was even aware of how similar this was to his most recent Truck Series defeat on the dirt at Knoxville, where he got beat on a late restart following a lengthy red flag.

“It is what it is, but we came back with the same package from last time,” Smith said. “We made very little adjustments and we just struggled with the drive and the biggest difference maker were those cautions.”

Pollard, after breaking the lengthy winless spell, just hopes to return on Saturday and keep the momentum from Jennerstown and Pensacola pointed in the right direction.

ENFINGER JUNKED IN LATE CRASH

With 17 laps to go, Grant Enfinger found himself three-wide and on the outside of Jake Garcia and Erik Jones in a battle for fifth.

Garcia bobbled and it sent Enfinger hard backwards into the wall. As a result, the Go Fas No. 32 was damaged beyond immediate repair and will not be able to return for the second half of the doubleheader on Saturday.

“I’m just disappointed because we do this for fun and (crew chief Michael) Shelton worked his tail off and we made gains,” Enfinger said. “We weren’t contenders, but we were right there with a good solid car.

“Thanks to Archie (St. Hilaire, team owner) for letting us do this and I hate we just got dumped at the end. It was go time and (Garcia) was better than us there, but we got dumped.”

Enfinger, Shelton and St. Hilaire have been making steady gains on turning their FURY Race Car into a winner and made their closest gains yet since joining forces for the Snowball Derby in December.

“It’s done for a while,” Enfinger said, indicating the march back towards the front will be reset.

The 2015 ARCA champion and current Truck Series contender ran inside the top-three for most of the race and had an epic battle with Michael Atwell for third — swapping the position between them several times throughout the night.

ERIK JONES RUNS TOP-10 IN HIS SUPER LATE RETURN

In his first start at Five Flags Speedway in a Super Late Model since 2014, NASCAR Cup Series winner and two-time Snowball Derby winner Erik Jones ran top-10 throughout the night and expects to be even better on Saturday.

In the debut effort for the No. 78 owned by BJ McLeod and Travis Braden, Jones posted the 10th best speed in time trials and ran around the top-10 throughout the first half of the race.

After a little bit of attrition and after the tire conservation strategies played itself out, Jones was running seventh when Garcia and Enfinger connected right beside him.

All told, it was something for them to build upon, as this is a brand new FURY Race Cars that Braden has been thrashing to get ready this summer.

“It was okay, we were pretty loose,” Jones said. “We were in a good spot at the end, I felt like. We got lucky with some bottom lane restart and cycled up to seventh. I don’t think we had a winning car by any means but maybe we could have scratched out a top-five.”

That was until a flat tire in the closing laps forced him to pit road.

“We weren’t going to bring out a caution for that and I feel like it was a good run for these guys,” Jones said.

Jones said repeatedly that Super Late Models are much lighter and faster than he remembers, especially at Five Flags and it has required an adjustment from him in advance of Saturday night.

“The pace is higher and there isn’t as much (tire) falloff,” Jones said. “There’s probably some different stuff that I could do. We have some work cut out for us, but I’m looking forward to getting better.”

The top eight finishers from Friday night will be inverted for the start of Saturday’s 100 lapper, placing Jace Hansen and Jeff Choquette on the front row.

RESULTS

  1. Bubba Pollard
  2. Chandler Smith
  3. Jake Garcia
  4. Stephen Nasse
  5. Kyle Plott
  6. Michael Atwell
  7. Jeff Choquette
  8. Jace Hansen
  9. Matt Craig
  10. Jackson Boone
  11. Ryan Crane
  12. Jeremy Doss
  13. Jake Finch
  14. George Gorham
  15. John DeAngelis
  16. Kyle Bryant
  17. Erik Jones
  18. Grant Enfinger
  19. Casey Roderick
  20. Connor Okrzesik
  21. Casey Smith
  22. Johanna Long Robbins
  23. Justin Drawdy
  24. Ross Kenseth
  25. Michael Hinde
  26. Willie Allen
  27. Hunter Robbins
  28. Jared Irvan
  29. Jett Noland
  30. Anthony Cataldi
  31. John Heil
  32. Connor Mosack
  33. Dusty Williams
  34. Kodie Conner

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Matt Weaver is the owner and founder of Short Track Scene. Weaver grew up in the sport, having raced himself before becoming a reporter in college at the University of South Alabama. He is also the associate motorsports editor of Autoweek Magazine and its website, which allows him to cover the highest levels of the sport.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Earl Williams

    July 24, 2021 at 12:01 pm

    Great race and great article tying it all together.. thanks Matt

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