The 49th Annual Snowball Derby was worth waiting two days for. Christian Eckes and John Hunter Nemechek put on a show during the final laps that fans won’t forget for a long time. The teenage drivers swapped the inside lane and the lead four times during the final two laps before 16-year-old Eckes nipped 19-year-old Nemechek at the line by 0.017 seconds.
“I can’t even believe I’m standing here right now,” Eckes said in Victory Lane. “I thought our day was over when we had that incident down the backstretch. Man, I just can’t believe this. This is the Snowball Derby and this is just crazy.”
Nemechek stayed quiet most of the day after starting in the back half of the field. He took the lead from Ty Majeski on lap 287 and seemed to be on his way to his second Snowball Derby victory.
After spinning early on lap 75, Eckes battled his way back to the front to mix it up for the win in the closing laps. He found his way on Nemechek’s back bumper with less than five laps to go.
Eckes finally found a path to the inside of Nemechek coming to the flagstand with two laps to go. He made the pass but his lead was short lived, as Nemechek pulled a crossover off of turn two. Eckes returned the favor once again coming to the white flag. Having the inside lane turned out to be the difference as they drag raced to the checkered flag.
“I can’t even believe it right now,” Eckes said. “To be honest with you, I came here hoping for a top 10 and to get the win is just ridiculous. I can’t, I can’t, I can’t even believe this.”
While Nemechek was disappointed with the second-place effort, he was proud to be a part of the dramatic finish in front of the great crowd that patiently waited two day to see the race.
“He made the crossover move pretty much one corner earlier than I did,” Nemechek said. “I should have backed off and held him to the outside and he wouldn’t have got to me. But heck of a race. I can’t thank all the fans enough for coming out on a Tuesday. This is awesome to be able to put on such a close finish for you guys. That’s how you win a race right there. He showed what he could do and rubbin is racing.”
For much of the race it seemed as though Chad Finley would be the driver celebrating an underdog victory. He led a race high 179 laps before suffering a problem under the hood with 18 laps remaining.
Pre-race favorite Ty Majeski led the first 42 laps of the race, but faded late to finish third. 2016 Southern Super Series champion Donnie Wilson and 14-year-old Chandler Smith completed the top five.
Post-race technical inspection went quickly with the top-three drivers making their way across the scales after the race. Chief Technical Inspector Ricky Brooks told Speed51.com it was a quick process because of the vast amount of pre-race tech they did throughout the week.
Fast Facts & Notes:
- The race went green some 51 hours after the originally scheduled time.
- David Rogers made his 31st start in the Snowball Derby, one shy of Red Farmer’s record.
- Race winner Christian Eckes led only the final lap of the race.
- Ty Majeski finished third for the second year in a row.
- Chad Finley led a race high 179 laps.
No Revenge for Bell: Christopher Bell took the checkered flag in 2015 only to lose the race in the tech line. He led laps again in 2016 only to go firewall deep in to the third turn wall. Bell told 51 he was run up the track in the back of the pack and that ended his night.
Grill Game: Augie Grill entered the race as a two-time Snowball Derby winner and a three-time Snowflake 100 winner, but he was swept up in several accidents in the first 100 laps leaving him 27th.
Armstrong’s Midnight Run: Dalton Armstrong’s crew drove like madmen to return to Five Flags Speedway on Tuesday after starter Clay Jones had to withdraw due to work obligations. Armstrong battled for a 17th-place finish.
Hemric Heartache: NASCAR driver Daniel Hemric has had success in all forms of racing and is a former winner and Blizzard series champion at Five Flags Speedway, but the Snowball Derby has been anything but kind as he was lapped early.
Blizzard Winner Out Early: Harrison Burton won a Blizzard Series race at Five Flags this season and looked to be a contender in the Snowball Derby. Unfortunately, he didn’t make it to halfway due to rearend trouble.
Click here for 51’s Trackside Now coverage presented by PFC Brakes.
-By Brandon Paul, Speed51.com Editor – Twitter: @Brandon_Paul51
-Photo credit: Speed51.com
49th Annual Snowball Derby Official Results
Five Flags Speedway – Pensacola, Florida
|2||8||John Hunter Nemechek|
|19||01||Derek Scott, Jr.|