A trio of racers who advanced into the 53rd Annual Snowball Derby at Five Flags Speedway from Saturday’s Last Chance Qualifier tried to steal the show, racing into the top 10 despite the slow start to their weekends.
Chase Elliott raced his way to a podium finish after starting 31st as a result of winning the 50-lap LCQ, while Chandler Smith battled from 34th to fourth. Derek Griffith started 33rd and finished ninth in the feature race.
Elliott made waves when he announced his return to the Snowball Derby on the heels of winning the NASCAR Cup Series championship with Hendrick Motorsports, his first trip to the event since winning his second Tom Dawson Trophy in 2015. However, Elliott nearly missed out on Sunday’s race entirely after qualifying 42nd.
Elliott rallied from the qualifying disappointment to win Saturday’s Last Chance Qualifier, then battled his way through the field in the 300-lap main event. Ultimately, the two-time Derby winner finished third in Sunday’s race.
Elliott was very pleased with the effort, admitting he did not have quite enough speed to challenge Ty Majeski and Derek Thorn for the win.
“It was really solid. We needed to be a little better for sure. Those guys outdid us at the end. I wish we could have got them. I felt like they were racing really hard and gave me every opportunity to join the battle. I just couldn’t get there.
“For Friday to go like it did and to come back and be in contention, it was a far cry from Friday night. I’m proud of that. I’m looking forward to next time. I don’t know when I’ll be back, but it was fun today and I really enjoyed it.”
Chandler Smith finished one spot behind his Georgian counterpart at the end of the race. Smith’s weekend started on a sour note, as his qualifying time on Friday was disallowed after a cell phone violation in the impound area.
Smith rallied from last place in the Last Chance Qualifier to finish fourth, the final transfer position into the Snowball Derby. The rally didn’t stop there, as Smith worked his way to a fourth-place finish in the Snowball Derby.
His car was one of the best at times in the race, but he also fell just short of competing for the win.
“Overall, I felt like we had a really good shot at the end. Our biggest thing was when the sun was out and it was slippery, we had the best car. It was between us and the 9 [of Chase Elliott]. When everything started cooling down and stuff, everybody started coming back to us.
“Overall, it was a great effort, coming from the Last Chance Race. All the adversity we had the fight through, and we ended up fourth.”
Meanwhile, Derek Griffith started 33rd as one of the few New England representatives in the year’s Snowball Derby field. He hoped for a top-five finish alongside Elliott and Smith, but lost valuable ground on restarts.
“We probably had a top-five car today,” said Griffith. “We had a run there where we were on the ball. We picked up a ton of spots and ran good. I just got hung out to dry every time on the restarts. I think I only restarted once or twice on the bottom.”
Despite the stress of Saturday’s Last Chance Qualifier, Griffith knew he had a strong race car at an event that has typically stymied him.
“Saturday was a little stressful day, the way that I made it in. I told the guys on test day we had a good car, we just had to make some adjustments. I think we started on the right foot and made an even better adjustment halfway through. The thing was a rocketship. We picked up so many spots. It’s the most successful Derby I’ve had, by far.”
Griffith’s day was not without a scare, as he made contact with Boris Jurkovic late in the race. The contact sent Jurkovic into the turn two wall, ending his shot at a top 10 finish.
“I think he thought there was a hole there,” said Griffith. “When they were banging doors on the fronstretch, they lost a lot of speed and I had a head of steam coming there. He wasn’t quite clear, there was enough space for three-quarters of a car there. I don’t know if he expected me to let him in, but 10 or 15 laps to go you’ve got to get every spot you can.
Stay tuned to Speed51 for continued coverage from the 53rd Annual Snowball Derby at Five Flags Speedway.
-Story by: Zach Evans, Speed51 Content Supervisor – Twitter: @ztevans
-Photo credit: Speed51 Photo