The Rattler 250 was over before it truly began for many of the expected contenders as a second lap crash severely damaged nearly a third of the field on Sunday at South Alabama Speedway.
The incident began amongst the leaders when Stephen Nasse attempted a crossover move to the outside of pole sitter Anderson Bowen in Turns 3 and 4, making contact, and sending both cars spinning in front of the entire field.
South Alabama Speedway is a tight 3/8-mile bullring and with both leaders blocking the entire racing surface, drivers had nowhere to go but into each other or into the inside retaining wall.
Officially involved in the ordeal was a variable all-star roster that included Bowen, Nasse, Chad Finley, Kyle Grissom, Bubba Pollard, Johnny Brazier, Spencer Wauters, Bret Holmes, Daniel Hemric, William Byron, Cody Coughlin, Dominique Van Wieringen, Daniel Keene and Cole Rouse.
Grissom qualified third and started second on the inside line. As a result, he had nowhere to go once both leaders got sideways. He spun and Pollard drilled him, making nose-to-nose contact with both of their Super Late Models.
This brought out a 55 minute red flag. With the field officially stopped in Turns 3 and 4, Grissom hopped out of his damaged car and immediately walked over to the prone No. 51, with Nasse still inside, and began lambasting his rival for initiating such an early catastrophe.
Afterwards, Grissom was left to reflect about what happened while father, NASCAR veteran Steve Grissom and team, picked up the pieces.
“We were just trying to get settled in,” Grissom said. “We came out of Turn 2 and I had just kind of settled into third and seen Nasse shoot up on the outside and next thing I know, I see Anderson Bowen sideways going into Turn 3.
“It was kind of a slow lazy spin. Then everyone just piled in there and now we have a tore up race car. Unbelievable, lap 2 of a 200 lap racing deal and you have someone like (Nasse) trying to win it on the first lap — pretty aggravating.”
For his part, Nasse accepted both the blame and the responsibility for the crash and wished he hadn’t been the cause of so many damaged Late Models. He also offered the the following explanation for why it happened the way it did.
“It was all my fault,” Nasse said. “I was running with (Bowen) on the outside and kind of let him go but I got a good run coming off of (Turn) 2 and dropped down on his back bumper off of (Turn) 3 and he let off a little bit and I wasn’t expecting him to lift and we just got together.
“Like I said, it was my fault and I feel bad because we wrecked a lot of good stuff on that first lap. That’s not how I was raised to race and I feel bad about it. It’s been on my mind all day and I can’t take it back. But we all make mistakes and anyone who says they don’t are lying to you.”
Bowen felt like the move was intentional or “retaliatory,” even with no logical reason to have been expecting payback for something. This is the first time that Bowen and Nasse have been involved in a major conflict with each other and unfortunately it roughed up some of the discipline’s biggest names.
“Honestly, I don’t think it was a racing deal,” Bowen said. “When the car is in front of you and you square up to the rear bumper, it’s not really racing you are trying to move him out of the way.
“When you do that to complete the second lap, it’s not how you race, but we will move on to the next one.”
Pollard entered the race as one of the heavy favorites, especially coming off his $25,000 victory in the Winter Showdown at Kern County Speedway in California just two weeks prior to the Rattler. Like Grissom, Pollard had nowhere to go and drilled both Grissom and the inside retaining wall.
“I didn’t see it, I don’t know and I had nowhere to go,” Pollard said.
Fortunately for the defending Southern Super Series champion, the hour long red flag allowed his team ample time to complete repairs. He had worked his way close to the top-10 after the halway point when engine woes ultimately derailed his afternoon.
“It’s a shame because we had a good race car,” Pollard said. “It bent everything in the front end but we straightened it all out and made it halfway drivable. I really wish we could have seen what it had because I think it was capable of winning the race.”
Finley was also involved echoed the sentiments of the rest of the field in saying that it was just too early for that kind of racing.
“I think Nasse was away overdriving for lap two of a 250 lap race where caution laps don’t count so that’s the longest race of the season — longer than the Derby, I would think,” Finley said. “It’s unfortunate, not just for us but for everyone else here too. I know everyone works really hard on their cars and it’s been such a competitive weekend.
“I feel really bad for all the other cars involved. It’s just unfortunate that something like that transpired on lap 2.”
Kyle Busch Motorsports development driver Christopher Bell went on to win the race, his second of the season after his triumph in the Bruce Gowland Memorial 100 at New Smyna Speedway in February.