Chandler Smith and Donnie Wilson Motorsports had run out of ways to lose races at Five Flags Speedway over the past six months but didn’t want to tempt fate upon taking the white flag on Saturday night.
They simply got beat in the Snowball Derby in December.
They suffered an engine failure in May.
They were disadvantage by a series of cautions on Friday night.
What else could go wrong? … Wait, don’t ask that.
“I was thinking ‘alright, suckers … someone must have like a road block before the start finish line,’ and I was just waiting on it, but luckily nothing like that happened tonight,” Smith said.
Indeed, there was no literal road block or figurative hurdle to overcome, and Smith led the final 70 laps unchallenged to score his first win since joining forces with Wilson last season to chase the marquee Super Late Model races alongside his NASCAR Truck Series schedule with Kyle Busch Motorsports.
An eight-car invert based on the results of Friday night meant Smith would start seventh. The No. 26 methodically worked its way through the top-five and was running second by Lap 23. By the end of Lap 29, Smith had picked off leader Michael Atwell and began to set sail.
Jake Garcia was able to keep within 1.5 seconds throughout most of the remaining laps while saving tires but could never get close enough to make a move. Casey Roderick made a late charge from outside of the top-five to finish second but likely needed a caution at some point over the final 30 laps.
Given how his year has gone, Smith expected it, but it never came.
“Dude, that’s to say the least, because I’ve had the worst luck … in anything I’ve driven this year,” Smith said. “We’re either off on balance, or we’re good and something happens. Something just always doesn’t seem to go our way.
“But finally, it’s like a monkey has come off my back.”
It’s been a trying season for Smith, the top Toyota development prospect, who is 11th in the Truck Series standings without a win after earning dozens of victories in ARCA and Super Late Model competition before this year.
“The Good Lord has been testing my faith this season,” Smith said. “I just have to keep on digging and believe in the path He has for me.”
Roderick saw what Bubba Pollard was able to do on Friday with the cautions and believes he could have replicated that performance but never got the chance.
“They didn’t fall our way tonight,” Roderick said. “It fell perfectly right for Bubba last night. Tonight, I just needed to run too hard there at the end and needed one more caution to put us there with him at the end. It just didn’t go our way.
“I’m very happy with the performance of the car. I got here late on Thursday and didn’t spend too much time on the track. We have a really good package and it’s fast everywhere we’ve gone. We just need some better luck and I was just happy to get a good finish tonight, honestly.”
Saturday’s race was much more procedural than the Friday prelude. The only significant incident was Friday winner Pollard breaking something on the right front and connecting with the wall in Turns 3 and 4.
Track position was key and passing was a challenge, especially on tires that had been produced and released within the month and did not have time to cure, a byproduct of the national shortage affecting motorsports at all levels right now.
That’s what prevented Jake Garcia from better capitalizing with a car that finished third on both nights.
“We just used the right fronts too much there,” Garcia said. “I thought we had fixed it from last night and the right front was smoking again. I don’t know. I think these tires are really fresh and didn’t have time to cure. I’m not a tire expert but something has changed on them and they were just really hard to manage and predict from what they usually are this weekend.”
Erik Jones, making his second straight start for BJ McLeod and Travis Braden, finished fifth, which is what he predicted before Friday and where he was set to finish on Friday before suffering a flat.
“That was a good prediction wasn’t it,” Jones said. “The car was way better. Pretty small changes. I didn’t think we were that far off last night, but the field is so tight and close that you have to be right on.
“The racing here has changed so much since I was here last. There isn’t much fall off and the pace is so much quicker than what it used to be. There isn’t as much saving anymore. To get a top five with these guys in their first time out, I think everyone’s happy with it.”
The Southern Super Series season will continue on August 14 at Watermelon Capital Speedway with the Georgia Summer Nationals.
- Chandler Smith
- Casey Roderick
- Jake Garcia
- Michael Atwell
- Erik Jones
- Jeff Choquette
- Jace Hansen
- Stephen Nasse
- Jeremy Doss
- Matt Craig
- Ryan Crane
- Willie Allen
- Jett Noland
- John Bolen
- Jake Finch
- Ross Kenseth
- George Gorham
- John Heil
- Dusty Williams
- John DeAngelis
- Jared Irvan
- Kyle Bryant
- Connor Okrzesik
- Kyle Plott
- Jackson Boone
- Anthony Cataldi
- Justin Drawdy
- Bubba Pollard