There’s no sugarcoating it: Bubba Pollard is in a rare slump.
With less than three weeks until cars begin to unload in Pensacola for the Snowball Derby, Pollard doesn’t see himself as one of the favorites to win the Tom Dawson Memorial Trophy, a distinction he holds every year near Thanksgiving.
Unless something changes, the speed just isn’t there in the Pollard Motorsports No. 26 right now.
It’s a remarkable turn of events, because Pollard was putting together his best statistical season through July with seven pavement Super Late Model wins in 14 starts — and that doesn’t even include the wins he started to accumulate in his still young dirt crate Late Model program.
With Big Money Season approaching, Pollard seemed destined to pad the resume from coast to coast deep into the summer and autumn months.
Pollard made the trip to the Slinger Nationals on July 18 and eventually pulled behind the wall near the halfway point of the race. He responded with wins and podiums over the next month at Montgomery, Nashville and Pensacola, so all was quickly forgotten.
On August 4, Pollard made the trip to Wisconsin International and needed a provisional to start the Dixieland 250 and once again pulled behind the wall with a car that just wasn’t to his liking in a marquee event.
He failed to finish in the Oxford 250 on August 30 and was forced to park his ill-handling car in the Winchester 400 and All-American 400 over the past month as well.
It’s an unsettling trend and Pollard is working feverishly to figure it out before the biggest race of the year.
“A lot of it is just racing, and how quickly things change,” Pollard said on Saturday. “Rule changes, tires change a little bit. It’s a trend that’s been going on a little while. We’ve struggled at some tracks that don’t fit our program right now.
“We just have to go to work and work hard and keep pushing through a tough time. That’s what makes you better: adversity and overcoming it.”
Pollard did lead the most laps before falling to fifth on October 25 at Pensacola, but just fell off in the closing laps after losing a series of restarts to Stephen Nasse.
Even though Pollard believes his program will turn it around, he admits the past four months have stung his pride, especially with the struggles coming in five of the biggest races of the year at Slinger, Wisconsin, Oxford, Winchester and Nashville.
It’s an expectation from both the industry and the Pollard team that the No. 26 is near the front and contending in the crown jewels.
“It does sting,” Pollard said. “It’s frustrating. Those are the races you want to win, and we’ve typically put ourselves in position to win those races. It makes it hard to go into the Snowball Derby with any confidence.
“We’re at our best in the summer when there’s no grip at a lot of these tracks and we tend to fall off a little bit as it gets cooler and these tracks gain grip. It’s trended that way the past couple of years.”
Pollard also believes his team has been snake-bitten by his success in recent years.
He’s won 45 times over the past five years driving a Senneker Performance chassis and he believes the competition has elevated itself to catch up to the No. 26 team.
“There are a lot of new chassis being built right now with Rowdy and Fury, all those guys,” Pollard said. “I feel like in 2017 and 2018, we were on top of our game. We set the bar high for Super Late Model racing.
“We challenged everyone to get better, and they have, and I feel like we might have stayed in the same a little bit and not gotten where we need to be.
“We’ve got to go to work. People can buy these cars brand new and go fast. They can buy speed, but you can’t buy wins.”
Even though it looks like Pollard is struggling big, sometimes qualifying outside of the top-10 and pulling behind the wall when he’s running outside of the top-10 — he says it’s just a series of small things in a sport that is often decided by fractions of an inch and a tenth of a second.
“These cars are so refined now, that when you miss it by a fine line, you miss it big,” Pollard said. “Folks don’t understand because if we’re running bad, that could just be a .16” and it’s just tough with how many good cars are out there.
“We’ve been challenged by these more technical tracks, tracks with character, that have speed and are fast. Bumpy. You have to be on you’re A game.”
Pollard has one last race before Derby week to get right, and that’s this weekend at New Smyrna Speedway in the Florida Governor’s Cup, a race that also features expected Derby favorites Ty Majeski and Stephen Nasse.
Is this a test for Pollard to see where he stands before Pensacola?
“Come Derby time, we’re usually a top-5 car, somewhere around there to a top-8 car, so there’s room for improvement,” Pollard said. “We need to get better if we’re going to contend for the win in the Snowball.
“But you never know. There’s been years, we should have won, had a fast car and it didn’t work out. We just have to keep working hard. Confidence goes a long way in racing. We have to keep working hard. If we can get a win here, it will help a lot.
“But, overall, our program is a little unsure right now.”