Derek Griffith’s car was not quite as dominant in Saturday night’s Pro All Stars Series Easter Bunny 150 as it had been one evening before.
But in the closing laps, it was more than dominant enough.
The Hudson, N.H. phenom shook off multiple challenges from Joey Polewarczyk to emerge victorious in the 16th running of the PASS tradition at Hickory Motor Speedway in North Carolina.
“Joey was on rails, and I knew he was gonna be the one to beat when he took off there early,” Griffith said in victory lane after sweeping the first two events of the 2021 PASS Super Late Model schedule.
Griffith clocked in with the fastest lap in Saturday afternoon’s time trials, setting the stage for a repeat of his dominant Friday-night performance. But it was Polewarczyk, also from the town of Hudson, who set the pace early. Rolling off from third on the grid, “Joey Pole” blew past polesitter Carson Hocevar to take the race lead on lap 16.
Hocevar dropped through the top five, finally pulling to a stop on the frontstretch to bring out the evening’s first caution on lap 60. Griffith, who had settled into second, used the outside line on the restart to power past Polewarczyk and into the lead.
Polewarczyk shadowed his hometown rival, with Friday night runner-up DJ Shaw closing in on the two leaders. On lap 97, Shaw dove under Polewarczyk looking for second, but contact between Shaw’s right front and Polewarczyk’s door unsettled Shaw’s car and sent him spinning in turn four. Shaw recovered as the caution flew, relegated to seventh for the restart.
That left Griffith and Polewarczyk up front, with Mike Hopkins looking to pounce from third. A single-car spin on lap 112 set up another restart, with Polewarczyk charging to the lead from the outside. But Polewarczyk’s advantage was quickly erased by a suspension failure for Evan Hallstrom, setting off a spin that collected Trevor Sanborn and Ben Rowe.
Griffith pulled ahead at the drop of the green, and while Polewarczyk was able to grab a momentary lead off a lap-131 restart, Griffith was able to slip ahead once and for all in the sprint to the checkers.
“My race car wasn’t quite as good as it was last night,” Griffith said of the race-long battle. “Just tried to bide my time, make sure we made all of the right choices. Man, [Joey] gave me a hell of a battle at the end. Just the hardest I’ve had to work in a race car for quite a while.”
Polewarczyk, who emerged victorious after a door-to-door duel with Griffith in last September’s Granite State Pro Stock Series feature at Star Speedway, was satisfied with his first PASS podium finish since early 2019. Polewarczyk did not compete under the PASS banner last year, instead claiming the 2020 GSPSS championship in his first full-season effort since 2015.
“We just didn’t hit anything tonight, really,” Polewarczyk joked about what he had changed from Friday night. “We got here early and changed pretty much the whole setup of the car, and really got it driving better. We didn’t have it cutting like we wanted to yesterday, but these guys worked real hard.”
Mike Hopkins repeated Friday’s podium performance with a third-place finish. “We missed it some tonight, but we’re digging,” the 2019 PASS National Super Late Model Champion said. “We’ll come back. I’ll win one of these before I retire.”
Shaw rebounded from his spin to run as high as third before slipping to fourth. Rounding out the top five was 2020 GSPSS rookie Jake Matheson, who improved on Friday’s 17th-place result to run in the top ten all night in only his second-ever PASS attempt.
Cory Casagrande atoned for a poor run in time trials, driving from deep in the field to finish sixth. Lucas Ransone, the 2009 Myrtle Beach 400 winner, was seventh, ahead of Ryan Kuhn, Travis Benjamin, and early frontrunner Gabe Brown.
Only twenty-seven cars took time in qualifying, with a few new arrivals replacing teams that were unable to repair their cars from incidents in Friday’s race. Officials opted to scratch the planned consi, helping to move the night’s schedule along.
The Pro All Stars Series returns to more familiar territory next weekend, as the PASS North Super Late Models will anchor the first day of Thompson (Conn.) Speedway Motorsports Park’s 47th Icebreaker opening weekend.
Unofficial Results, PASS Easter Bunny 150 at Hickory Motor Speedway:
1. (12G) Derek Griffith
2. (97) Joey Polewarczyk
3. (15) Mike Hopkins
4. (60) DJ Shaw
5. (52) Jake Matheson
6. (7CT) Cory Casagrande
7. (17) Lucas Ransone
8. (72) Ryan Kuhn
9. (7) Travis Benjamin
10. (47) Gabe Brown
11. (10) Kate Re
12. (1) Kyle DeSouza
13. (90) Derek Kneeland
14. (12) Dennis Spencer
15. (7X) Justin Crider
16. (85) Travis Stearns
17. (38) Joey Doyon
18. (40) Jordan Miller
19. (1VT) Evan Hallstrom
20. (29) Trevor Sanborn
21. (4) Ben Rowe
22. (12C) Annabeth Barnes-Crum
23. (4NH) Trevor Bleau
24. (43) Devin O’Connell
25. (14) Carson Hocevar
26. (21) Joey Doiron
27. (14C) Anthony Constantino