Going into the Clyde Hart Memorial Thursday night at New Smyrna Speedway, all eyes were on the debut of NASCAR Cup Series champion Kyle Busch at the Florida half-mile. However, the battle for the win came down to a trio of Sunshine State natives, with Stephen Nasse taking the top honors.
Nasse scored the victory in Thursday's David Rogers Super Late Models feature over three-time track champion Brad May and rising star Jett Noland battled throughout the night near the front of the field. Ultimately, Florida drivers claimed the top six positions in the final running order, ahead of the Kyle Busch Motorsports duo of Sammy Smith and Busch.
Nasse was first challenged by Noland, driving in the Anthony Campi No. 81. However, Nasse was able to distance himself from the rising star over the course of a long green-flag run.
“Noland gave me a pretty good run for my money in the 81," Nasse told Speed51. "He was pretty fast, I was worried about him in the first 20 or 30 laps. We were able to get a good green-flag run and I kept getting distance, car length by car length. Once I had a comfortable gap, I was able to match his times."
Late cautions were a challenge for Nasse, with his car not showing the same speed on restarts as it did over extended stints.
“We had a couple of cautions there and they really hurt me. I just couldn’t get the car fired off on a restart quite as good as I could on a long run. Even starting in third gear, I couldn’t get a good, straight shot."
That opened the door for May to throw his proverbial hat into the ring in the battle for the signature cowboy hat worn in victory lane by the Clyde Hart Memorial winner. Nasse ultimately held off May to secure the victory.
“Thankfully Brad drove me clean on the last restart," said Nasse. "He had a shot where he could have run me up the track and probably got the position. He kept it off of me for the most part and raced me hard. Once we were able to get in front of him, we set sail.”
For his part, May knew he had a chance to compete for the win but did not want to force the issue against a competitor and team he respected.
“I’ve got a lot of respect for him and that team," said May. "With 13 to go, I got the chance to restart beside him. I wasn’t going to do anything, run him up or anything. I got beside him, but I just couldn’t clear him.”
Noland settled for a third place finish, slotting in behind May after a challenging battle of their own.
“We had a nice battle going on there with Brad May. We tried to get under him a few times, cut our nose off a little bit but it was good, hard racing.
“I think we would have had something for Nasse. We just needed to get past Brad May, and we would have had a good show for the fans.”
The results sheet will say Nasse beat Kyle Busch on Thursday night, but Nasse considers that "victory" a hollow one. He hopes Busch will make a return to New Smyrna in the future and the two drivers can truly battle for the win.
“It’s one of them things where I’d rather race him for the win and have it come down to the wire than just beat him and lead every lap like I did. That doesn’t make it as exciting for me. It’s cool, yeah, you can say you beat Kyle Busch, but it’s not actually beating him.
“I want to race door-to-door with him. I want to outdrive him one night. Tonight, my car was just a lot better than his. He couldn’t get a handle on it. It’s one of those deals. Hopefully, he’ll come back around and we can get more racing in the future.”
-Story by: Zach Evans, Speed51 Content Supervisor - Twitter: @ztevans
-Photo credit: Speed51 Photo
Clyde Hart Memorial Unofficial Results
- Stephen Nasse
- Brad May
- Jett Noland
- Bobby Good
- Michael Atwell
- Daniel Dye
- Sammy Smith
- Kyle Busch
- Connor Okrzesik
- Daniel Keene
- Matt Craig
- Travis Wilson
- Hudson Halder
- Anthony Sergi
- Jesse Dutilly
- Kris Wright
- Steve Weaver
- Doug Elliott