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Snowball Derby

Chase Elliott, Noah Gragson Headline Snowball Derby Last Chance Race

50 laps and four positions separate 21 drivers from the Snowball Derby

Daylon Barr Photography

It’s the most stacked last chance race in the history of the Snowball Derby.

The showdown to determine who advances to the biggest race of the year is headlined by the reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion, a multi-time NASCAR Xfinity Series race winner, the PRA Super Late Model champion, a Five Flags Speedway champion and they will all be led to the green behind a two-time winner of the Snowball Derby who also failed to advance.

Only the top-four will advance into Sunday and this race is at least 10 deep of drivers who could win the entire thing if they can simply take the green flag.

Chase Elliott.
Noah Gragson.
Connor Okrzesik.
Kodie Conner.
Augie Grill.

That list doesn’t even include multi-time ARCA winner and Truck Series regular Chandler Smith, who will be starting shotgun on the field after having his time disallowed in the impound lot during time trials.

Derek Thorn Takes Snowball Derby Pole

There is also an expectation that a big name or two will fail to advance into top-30, but who could have exactly seen this coming? Not even Bubba Pollard and Jeremy Pate cracked the top-30, both electing to use the Five Flags Speedway and Southern Super Series points provisionals to take the final two spots on the Field of 36.

This was the first time Elliott had been in a Super Late Model in five years and he says it showed.

“We qualified poorly, and when you qualify poorly, you go to the Last Chance race,” Elliott said on the Speed51 qualifying broadcast. “That’s how it works. I just need to do better. I did pretty poor this weekend giving good feedback, and I certainly didn’t do a good job getting up on the wheel in qualifying, so I will try to do better tomorrow.”

Elliott is the 2011 and 2015 winner of the event.

Gragson put his deal together at the last minute, not announcing his agreement to drive for Richie Wauters with support from James Finch until last weekend, and the car had been ill-handling all weekend.

“It’s going to be a new experience for myself,” Gagson said on the Speed51 broadcast. “All the guys on this Phoenix Construction team, they’ve been working their tails off. I’m very thankful for the opportunity to come race.  We’re not done yet, we’ve still got the Last Chance race. I’ve never missed a race in my career, so I’m going to try to keep that going.

“There’s a lot of fast race cars and a lot of fast drivers out there.  It came together late, but I don’t have any excuses.  We just need to keep working on it, keep trying hard, and we’ve got the team to do it.”

Gragson is the 2018 winner of the event.

Why Bubba Pollard is Driving a No. 71 at the Snowball Derby

Meanwhile, Grill will lead the superstar laden field to green with a resume that includes wins in the 2007 and 2008 Snowball Derby.

“I ran a decent first lap and I just messed up 3 and 4 on my second lap,” Grill told Short Track Scene. “It’s the best the car had been and I hadn’t completely prepared for it. Just .03 is what I needed. The field was real tight.”

Grill never considered leaving.

“We’re here and we’ve already spent the money, so you might as well go for it,” he added. “Once you’re in the show, anything can happen.”

That’s the hope that Conner will hold onto as well, as the 2020 All-American 400 pole winner will start second on the inside row behind Augie Grill.

“Everyone knows what’s on the line,” Conner said. “It’s going to be sporadic and I worry that we may not come back in one piece. I thought we had it. We had pretty good speed, I picked up .3 from where we had been all week. We’re still getting better. I hate losing that one practice session due to the rain today because I wanted to try some things, but I didn’t get the opportunity.

“Having that hour is big because there are so many cars here and you have to wait your time, and then you have to make your adjustments.

“I’m pleased where we are, all things considered, because there are a lot of great drivers here, but I hate that we couldn’t get another pole.”

Okrzesik wasn’t sure if he felt convicted or was making excuses, but doesn’t understand why he didn’t have the speed to make the top-30 after being fast all week.

“I needed some different Hoosier Tires,” Okrzesik said. “I think we were about a tenth better than all our teammates all freaking week. I didn’t mess up my entry and we just plowed tight the whole way through the corner.

“It’s something with these codes, it was junk, and I don’t know if I’m making an excuse or what. I think we’ll have a problem making the race. We were one point away from a provisional, so that sucks. But I don’t think we’ll have any issues making the race.”

And then there’s Smith coming from the back … in 50 laps.

“We’re going to be fine,” Smith said. “We got this.”

The last chance race for the Snowball Derby is Saturday afternoon following Snowflake 100 qualifying and the Snowflake 100 last chance race, which all begins at 1 p.m. CT. The event airs live on Speed51.

LAST CHANCE STARTING LINEUP

  1. Augie Grill
  2. Casey Johnson
  3. Kodie Conner
  4. Austin Nason
  5. Noah Gragson
  6. Carson Hocevar
  7. Derek Griffith
  8. Gabe Sommers
  9. Dalton Zehr
  10. Hudson Halder
  11. Chase Elliott
  12. Connor Okrzesik
  13. Sammy Smith
  14. Kyle McCallum
  15. Kason Plott
  16. Perry Patino
  17. Justin T. Johnson
  18. Ryan Crane
  19. Kyle Bryant
  20. Colten Nelson
  21. Chandler Smith

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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.

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