The Rattler 250 did not go as planned for many of the expected Southern Super Series championship contenders.
Many of them led for great durations of the race but were ultimately denied due to accidents and mechanical malfunctions, including defending champion Daniel Hemric, Bubba Pollard and Augie Grill — the Big Three of the tour through a year and a fraction.
Pollard led the early stages of the race, from lap 10 to lap 119 when Ross Kenseth cut down onto Pollard, sending both spinning and tearing the entire right-side of the Kenseth car off the chassis. John Hunter Nemechek was racing just outside of the top-5 and had nowhere to go but into the No. 26 and 77.
The accident ended all three contenders’ effort.
The accident occurred on a restart which followed a lengthy red flag period for fluid from Chad Finley’s busted oil line. Track officials cleaned the mess but apparently not well enough as the accident occurred due to remaining oil dry and fluid on the backstretch. Kenseth, Pollard and Johanna Long all said the track wasn’t ready.
“The race track and Southern Super Series officials didn’t make a wise decision about going green when we shouldn’t have,” Pollard said. “Race track wasn’t ready. You can’t… it just wasn’t ready.”
Long, making just her second career start in the Southern Super Series, tweeted saying that, “Track wasn’t even close to being ready when we took the green. Took out a lot of good cars.”
Southern Super Series Director Dan Spence responded in an exclusive interview with Short Track Scene saying that the responsibility is also shared by the drivers and that not one driver opposed that restart on the grounds that the track wasn’t ready for racing.
“We monitor the radios,” Spence said. “There was not one driver that said we don’t need to go green here. We asked both the drivers and our safety officials and we received approval from both — so we went green.”
Grill was taken out by Hemric on lap 136 when the two, fighting for the lead, made contact that sent Grill’s No. 112 over the Turn 2 hill. Hemric got under Grill and seemingly drove him up the track. Grill was able to drive back onto the racing surface under caution but was forced to retire after a busted radiator was discovered under caution.
Hemric led late into the race when his engine expired on lap 206, as the leader, forcing the inaugural Southern Super Series champion to make a hasty retreat onto pit road.
The end result allowed race winner and runner-up Casey Roderick and Anderson Bowen, who both intend to race for the season championship to get an early and sizeable gap over the usual contenders.
Hunter Robbins Contends Prior to Late Accident
The storied history of the Ronnie Sanders No. 18 Super Late Model in the Rattler 250 added another chapter on Saturday night, just not the one that driver Hunter Robbins had hoped for.
Ronnie Sanders won the Rattler on three different occasions and contended for it again on numerous occasions with driver Bubba Pollard. Now aligned with Robbins, the No. 18 was in contention to win a fourth Rattler before contact with Casey Roderick while fighting for the win ended his chances.
Roderick and Robbins restarted on the front row on lap 224 and raced nose-to-tail and side-by-side for the next eight laps in trying to decide the top spot. Robbins worked his way under Roderick on lap 232 and attempted to complete the pass on lap 233 going into Turn 1. Roderick pinched Robbins and the No. 18, loose, bobbled up the track, sending Robbins spinning out of contention.
Roderick went on to win the race while Robbins settled for 11th.
The two discussed the incident in the tech-shed and were seen laughing, clearly no hard feelings existing between the two long-time friends.
“It was just hard racing,” Robbins said. “The car wasn’t good at all. We came in during the break and changed shocks and springs and we had a great car after that. I just wish we could have worked on it or had it like that in the first half and it probably would have been pretty good.”
Roderick called it good, hard racing.
“We’re cool,” Roderick said of Robbins. “We go back a long way. We used to run bandoleros together when we were kids, just 10 years old. It was just real close racing, man. None of wanted to give an inch. I gave all I could on the outside just like he did on the inside.”
Southern Super Series standings (Unofficially after Round 1)
- Casey Roderick Ldr.
- Kyle Grissom -1
- Anderson Bowen -4
- Harrison Burton -6
- Chris Davidson -9
- Stephen Nasse -14
- Casey Smith -16
- Kyle Bryant -16
- Justin South -21
- Johanna Long -24