Christopher Bell stormed into the field for the 48th annual Snowball Derby Saturday afternoon at Five Flags Speedway, starting on the rear of the 25-car Last Chance Qualifier race and driving all the way to the win over the course of 50 laps.

Bell, who had unofficially set a track record in Derby qualifying Friday evening, was forced to start at the rear of the Qualifier because his time was disallowed in post-qualifying inspection Friday. Chief technical inspector Ricky Brooks ruled that the Kyle Busch Motorsports team had left too much clearance between the right rear quarter panel and the right rear wheel, a violation of the ABC Template Body unified rulebook.

Bell thus needed to finish in the top four of the 50-lap Qualifier to advance to Sunday’s 300-lap feature, but he left little doubt from the drop of the green he would still be racing come the morrow. He was in the top-10 within the first dozen laps, into the transfer spot by lap 30, and into the lead by lap 42.

Bell cruised from there to advance to his first career Derby appearance. Also transferring were Christian Eckes, Cassius Clark, and Caleb Adrian. Clark, the former PASS North champion, will make his first Derby start since 2007 while the other three drivers made their first Derby.

“It’s unreal to make the show in my first time here,” Bell told after waiting to make sure his car passed technical inspection this time. “Tomorrow, we got to really take our time and make sure we don’t get ourselves in trouble. Make passes when we can get them and let my pit crew do their job, and I think we’ll have a chance at the end of 300.”

Adrian was particularly relieved, holding off Paul Shafer Jr by five carlengths to take the final open spot in the Derby. Fast all week, Adrian struggled in Friday’s qualifying and had to scrap and claw his way to the big show the hard way.

“Yesterday was a huge disappointment,” conceded Adrian. “We had a top-five car for sure and I just missed it when it was time. It’s such an amazing feeling to be in the Snowball and I hope I back it up like my teammate Jeff Choquette did [a few strong Derby runs in the Adrian car]. I was able to learn how to save the tires a little more today but I’m not sure it’ll transfer to tomorrow. The track was so cold so the tires had a lot more grip. I think we’ll wind up going twice as fast tomorrow.”

Twenty-one drivers ultimately failed to qualify for the Snowball Derby. Florida favorites David Rogers and Junior Niedecken were looking to make their all-time leading 31st and 29th Derby appearances respectively, but both parked early. Midwestern stalwart Brian Campbell might have been a surprise non-qualifier on paper, but his car simply lacked speed from the start of practice this week. Perhaps the biggest name to not qualify was Todd Gilliland.

Gilliland, who has wins in ARCA, CARS, and the NASCAR K&N Pro Series this season also lacked for speed all week but it seemed like a sure bet he would eke his way into his first Derby. No dice for Gilliland, whose season ended on a disappointing note. But as he has all season, Gilliland looked at the tough moment as a learning experience.

“We came in here with really no expectations,” Gilliland admitted. “It’s our first Snowball Derby, but you always think you have a chance to make the race, run in the top-10 maybe even the top-five. We struggled ever since we got here, but everyone worked hard on this thing. We probably wound up changing everything ten times. We’ll work harder, come back here and test more next year and be a contender.”

The 48th annual Snowball Derby will go green at 2 PM CT on Sunday. Ty Majeski and Chase Elliott will lead the field to green. 51TV’s coverage will begin at 12 PM with Trackside Now coverage starting the day off at 8 AM.

Snowball Derby Starting Lineup

1 91 Ty Majeski Time Trials
2 9 Chase Elliott Time Trials
3 48 Preston Peltier Time Trials
4 5S Dalton Sargeant Time Trials
5 11 Logan Boyett Time Trials
6 7 Casey Roderick Time Trials
7 21 Johanna Long Time Trials
8 51N Stephen Nasse Time Trials
9 20 Spencer Davis Time Trials
10 3 Kaz Grala Time Trials
11 5H Daniel Hemric Time Trials
12 43 Derek Thorn Time Trials
13 112 Augie Grill Time Trials
14 31 Kyle Grissom Time Trials
15 9 William Byron Time Trials
16 2 D.J. VanderLey Time Trials
17 5 Jerry Artuso Time Trials
18 26 Bubba Pollard Time Trials
19 77 Zane Smith Time Trials
20 9 Derek Kraus Time Trials
21 2W Donnie Wilson Time Trials
22 45 Kyle Plott Time Trials
23 83 Scotty Ellis Time Trials
24 12 Harrison Burton Time Trials
25 H2 Bret Holmes Time Trials
26 42 Chad Finley Time Trials
27 67 Clay Jones Time Trials
28 17 Quin Houff Time Trials
29 8 Noah Gragson Time Trials
30 07 Corey LaJoie Time Trials
31 51 Christopher Bell Last Chance 1st
32 15 Christian Eckes Last Chance 2nd
33 13 Cassius Clark Last Chance 3rd
34 29 Caleb Adrian Last Chance 4th
35 99 Casey Smith Blizzard Prov.
36 1 Garrett Jones So. Super Prov.
37 8 John Hunter Nemechek Defending Champ

— Story by Tim Quievryn // Southeast Editor // @thethirdturn

— Photos by Staff

Bell Makes Most of Last Chance, Races Into Snowball Derby