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 Speed51.com 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 // Speed51.com Southeast Editor // @thethirdturn
-- Photos by Speed51.com Staff