The critics have been loud for nearly a decade. But now it’s time for them to sit down and listen. For the last seven-plus years, Stephen Nasse has heard the catcalls and boos, read the articles and tweets and watched the videos all saying the same thing: he didn’t have what it takes to be a winner.
After 300 laps at Mobile International Speedway Sunday, it’s Nasse’s turn to talk.
He took control of the Mobile 300 in the second half of the event, and never looked back after taking the lead for good on lap 214.
In the final stages, he lapped up to fifth place, and could have went further if not for a competition yellow with 30 laps to go. The final sprint was no different, and he pulled away from the field to claim the biggest win of his career.
“I was almost in tears in the car because this means so much to me,” said Nasse. “I have went through so much, with people downing me and doubting me. Today, we about lapped the field. It definitely feels good to give the others a punch right in the gut and show that we are just as good as everyone else. Tonight, we put it on all of ‘em. ”
Since winning the Easter Bunny 150 in 2011, Nasse saw his seemingly bright future dim somewhat. Over the last seven-plus years, Nasse has had more than his fair share of run-ins, controversy and heated moments.
Four years ago, Nasse was involved in an on-track scuffle with Brian Webster at Showtime Speedway in Florida. In 2015, Nasse had clashes with Steve Wallace at Southern National Motorsports Park in North Carolina. In 2016, he had memorable tangles with Dalton Sargeant at Winchester Speedway and William Byron at the Snowball Derby. Earlier in 2018, Nasse went to blows with Donnie Wilson in the Blizzard Series opener and he and Josh Brock had an infamous post-race encounter following the Redbud 400.
The incidents, combined with the near-debilitating battle with a severe case of pneumonia in 2013, fueled his desire to win even more so.
When all the dust was settled at Mobile, Nasse had his marquee win and a chance to talk about the past
“I have always been up front, and right there my entire career,” said Nasse. “I just had so much stuff happen to me to keep me from winning consistently. I was sick and then later my attitude wasn’t right and got the best of me. Now is my chance to shine, and show that I can do this no matter what other people say.”
Donnie Wilson dominated the race’s early stages, leading 113 of the race’s initial 135 laps. But the second half of the race saw Wilson fade severely, going two laps down and never challenging.
It was another frustrating day in a year filled of them for Wilson.
“We just had bad strategy that got us behind where we couldn’t make it up,” said Wilson. “We tried to stretch the second set of tires, and you just can’t do that here. When you are off just a little, you get a lap down in a hurry.”
Just as Nasse was seen as one of racing’s youngest stars a few years back, the man who gave him the biggest challenge during the final stretch is perhaps on the cusp of his own run to greatness.
Connor Okrzesik – who lives just five minutes from Mobile International Speedway – gave the hometown crowd plenty to cheer about. Okrzesik led six laps and nipped at the heels of Nasse in the final 30 laps.
Okrzesik didn’t park it at the end race, but feels his time is drawing close.
“Today’s win would have meant the world to me,” said Okrzesik. “I want to win a race in this Super. That drives me everyday. If we keep working, it will happen.”
Prior to the race, many penciled Bubba Pollard as the favorite to win. But Sunday just wasn’t his day.
Pollard never led a lap, and uncharacteristically spun out on his own. The frustrating day was their own making, per the driver.
“We made the wrong decisions and didn’t stick to our normal game plan,” said Pollard. “We just got beat. We didn’t do our normal thing set-up or strategy wise and it cost us a chance to win.”
Pollard began his rise to the top of the late model world in his early 20’s. Although, Nasse has been racing for years, he is still just 23 years old.
Sunday’s win could be the launching pad for his own climb to rock-star-like status.
“This is the type of win that can lead to a lot of others,” said Nasse. “This isn’t just a regular series race or whatever. This is 300 laps against some of the best racers out there. This could be my breakout day. I sure need it.”
Casey Roderick became the sixth champion in Southern Super Series presented by Sunoco history this weekend. Roderick clinched the championship in qualifying on Saturday afternoon. Speed51.com will have more on his championship season soon.
-By Ryan McCollough, Speed51.com Deep South Editor – Twitter: @RyanLMcCollough
-Photo Credit: Speed51.com/Melissa Strahley