After domination by Georgia drivers in recent years, the 55th Alabama 200 finally saw one of the Yellowhammer State’s own take home the big bear trophy at Montgomery Motor Speedway on Saturday night. It was one of the very best of all-time standing in victory lane, as Augie Grill took down win number five in the historic Late Model race.
Although he parked his No. 112 in victory lane, the win didn’t come easy. In dramatic fashion, Grill held off a late charge from Georgia driver Casey Roderick and stopped Roderick’s bid for a third straight Alabama 200 victory.
Pitting late for his four tires, Roderick guided his No. 18 Ronnie Sanders prepared Pro Late Model through the field to challenge the dominating Grill who led the race’s majority. In the end, Grill locked down the inside line, denying Roderick a chance to take over the lead.
“That was a hard fought one there at the end. I was hoping we could go green and just ride it to the end,” Grill said in victory lane. “I knew Casey would be a little bit better toward the end, he had 20-lap fresher tires, and I knew he would be tough. Hats off to Casey for racing me clean there at the end. I knew he’d be there, I knew his plan was probably to fall back and save tires. We got a little tight right at the end and it made it harder than it had to be. But I’ll take it.”
Perhaps not surprisingly, Roderick used the exact same words to describe the battle in the closing laps.
“That was hard fought right there. We didn’t have a very good car the whole race, what you saw was me struggling,” Roderick explained. “My plan was to just hang in there, just be patient, wait until our time to pit for tires towards the end. I did have 20 laps fresher tires, that makes a difference, but he was still so strong I couldn’t get him.”
Indeed, Roderick played the survival game most of the race, staying on the lead lap for long runs and dodging some late-race carnage.
Roderick’s big change came with about five laps to go, following the final restart. With Grill getting out of shape on his own in turn two, the two made contact bumper to bumper, but Roderick was not quite prepared to win on a potential bump-and-run move.
“I got into him off two; I wasn’t planning on doing that. I got in the gas trying to get a good run, he wiggled a bit, and I got into him and made it worse,” Roderick explained. “But I stayed off him down the back-straightaway and backed off. We’ve had our run-ins together, but I respect Augie a lot, and I’m not going to do that to him just to win another race. I want to do it right.”
When all was said and done, Grill declared he was in the ideal spot out front; not just for the last battle against Roderick, but against another fast Georgia driver, Bubba Pollard. Grill and Pollard had done a bit of lead swapping around Lap 40. Unfortunately, Pollard’s No. 26 suffered a broken water pump belt just past Lap 160, denying a final showdown between the two.
“I always feel like my safest place on the track is leading if my car is capable of it,” Grill said. “The car was good the whole time we’ve been here. I wish Bubba could have finished to see how we stacked up against him at the end. Hats off to all my help. These Grand American Race Cars will still win races, I promise.”
Before Roderick’s late assault, Jackson Boone looked to challenge Grill following Pollard’s downfall, keeping the No. 112 in sight after inheriting second. But Boone very nearly ended up behind the wall himself when a slow restart left his No. 7 scraped up.
“It was definitely a physical race, not as physical until we had the third-to-last restart,” Boone said. “I will take fault in that, I got a little slower restart, but then I just got hit in the rear-end, my back tires got picked up off the ground, and all I can remember was being door-slammed by two or three different people at the same time.”
Even after falling behind Roderick, Boone kept the leaders on leashes in third nearly getting an opportunity when Grill and Roderick had their bout of bumper tag.
“We had no left front downforce, so to be able to run as good as we did; we had that long green flag run with me and Augie one-two,” Boone commented. “I was beginning to think I was going to be able to catch him if it went green the rest of the race. I drove so hard for so long, the tires got a little hot at the end and Roderick got by me.”
Behind Boone, SpeedFest Super Late Model winner Connor Okrzesik dodged the chaos to finish fourth, with Justin South rounding out the top five.
-Story by: Connor Sullivan, Speed51.com Northeast Editor – Twitter: @Connor51CT
-Photo credit: Speed51.com / Melissa Strahley