“The first 100 laps don’t mean much. Everybody’s going to go harder in the second 100. It’s going to be tougher.”

Those were the words of Chase Elliott, after cruising to a comfortable lead before the halfway break of Sunday’s SpeedFest ARCA/CRA Super Series 200. He ordered adjustments and two fresh tires, not knowing just how much his words would ring true in the laps to come.

Elliott made a furious charge back to the front after a cut right front tire slowed him right at the drop of the final 100-lap run to the finish and then watched as seemingly unbeatable Bubba Pollard and John Hunter Nemechek made contact and opened the door for Elliott to claim his 6th career SpeedFest victory, 3rd in the Super Late Model division. It is the first Super Late Model victory since last year’s SpeedFest triumph for Elliott, the 2014 NASCAR XFINITY Series champion.

At certain points Elliott’s victory seemed inevitable. The young star was fast all weekend and was fully reunited with former crew chief Ricky Turner for the first time since 2013. But at no point did it seem as impossible as on the restart after the halfway break. Coming to the green flag though Elliott slowed dramatically. A few cars had nowhere to go, crashing behind him as Elliott drove off the turn one banking to give the field as much room as possible.

The resulting caution gave his crew the opportunity to look under the car and look for any parts of the suspension, suspecting that something had come loose and cut down the tire. But the crew ultimately decided that Elliott must have run over something on his fresh tire after rolling back onto the track and gave him the green light to go for it.

Chase Elliott goes off track with a flat tire (Speed51.com photo)

Chase Elliott goes off track with a flat tire (Speed51.com photo)

Elliott restarted 20th, but quickly disposed of most of the field. The sense of inevitability returned when Elliott made it back to third before the thirty-to-go mark. But Elliott’s charge stalled out and the race seemed instead to come down between Nemechek and Pollard, each trying to write their own compelling storylines. Nemechek won the last Super Late Model race of 2014 (the Snowball Derby) and was looking to show that he had only gotten stronger during the short offseason. Pollard, after years of barely coming up short in both Late Model divisions, was looking to record his first SpeedFest triumph.

But all of that changed with four laps to go. Going into turn two, the front of Nemechek’s machine got into the rear of Pollard’s machine and Pollard went for the 360. After viewing a replay of the action on 51TV, CRA race officials determined that Nemechek caused the caution and sent him to the rear with Pollard. Elliott inherited the lead and the rest was history, as Elliott cruised to a five carlength triumph on Kyle Grissom.

“Unfortunately we had a right front go down after the first half,” Elliott told the 51TV after his climbout. “That was the worst possible time to have a tire go down. We only had one set of tires, and we had a lot of laps on the practice tires we needed to strap on [to replace the flat]. So we swapped the good fresh tire on to the right front and put the old on the right rear.”

“We got a little help there and I would have rather have beaten them straight up. I don’t think I could have beat them unless I had fresh tires. I found something there in the last few laps but they were still getting away a little. I would have liked to have it go green the whole say so I didn’t have to have an excuse, but we’ll take it.”

After the race Nemechek confronted Pollard in the pits, feeling as though Pollard chopped him off. Pollard understandably, wasn’t thrilled either. Things were a bit heated, but like racers often do, they cooled off a little before sharing their thoughts.

The winning Bill Elliott Racing team (Speed51.com photo)

The winning Bill Elliott Racing team (Speed51.com photo)

“I just got turned around out there,” lamented Pollard. “It’s part of racing I guess. We talked about it. We both went down in the corner hard there and I suppose he just got into us. We had a great car today and made some awesome adjustments, but I just hate it for my guys. They worked hard, all for the team. We were in position to win – that’s all we can do.”

“I got my nose up to his left rear tire and he cut down [across the nose],” commented a still-frustrated Nemechek. “And I guess the race officials up in the tower said I got into the back of him. Everyone there who watched the replay clearly states that I was underneath him. It’s kind of a B.S. call, but we’ll talk [with CRA] about it and see what we can resolve.”

The contact was a bit ironic after the two put on a clean and competitive battle for the win in the JEGS/CRA All-Star Tour 125-lap feature. Nemechek got the better end of that deal, edging out Pollard on the final restart. In post-race ceremonies for that race both drivers complimented each other and said they had a lot of respect and trust in each other on the track.

Grissom and third-place David Ragan took advantage of the late-race drama to round out the podium behind Elliott.

“We caught a couple of good breaks with a couple people having trouble and all,” said Grissom. “We lost a few spots there after the break, but after a while we got in a groove and started making our way back to the front. Clawed our way to fourth and slid through that mess [between Pollard & Nemechek]. Couldn’t get Chase at the end, but we made the best of it.”

“We probably deserved to finish 4th, maybe 5th”, commented hometown favorite Ragan, “but anytime you can get here in one piece and with a 3rd. We only race a late model a few times a year and we have a lot of fun. But this is an important race for me, I really want to win it. I grew up near here and this is the biggest race here. I had a blast, and we’ll do it again next year.”

Super Late Model action kicks off in full force in a few weeks at New Smyrna Speedway’s World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing while the ARCA/CRA Super Series goes into hiatus until April’s Toledo Speedway event.

— Tim Quievryn // 51’s Third Turn // @thethirdturn
— Photo Credit: Speed51.com

SpeedFest SLM 200 Results

(powered by 51's Third Turn)
Fin St # Driver Laps
29Chase Elliott200
731Kyle Grissom200
377David Ragan200
1012Harrison Burton200
483Scotty Ellis200
2242Chad Finley200
87Paul Shafer, Jr.200
2351Brandon Oakley200
526Bubba Pollard200
18John Hunter Nemechek200
1429Anderson Bowen200
2098FRussell Fleeman199
164Dalton Armstrong199
1157Cole Timm199
2778Madeline Crane199
2602Steve Renner198
94PKyle Plott196
2515Ron Young153
68PJordan Pruitt145
2118Jordan Ives134
1207Austin Wayne Self125
155Dominique Van Wieringen124
2498AJustin Ashburn102
1798Todd Gilliland100
192Kyle McCallum100
1879Kyle Bryant98
131Mike Garvey55
2858John Coffman45

Nemechek, Pollard Tangle; Elliott Wins SpeedFest