Noah Gragson came to Pensacola, Florida with unfinished business, looking for a win in the Snowball Derby to complete his tenure with Kyle Busch Motorsports. Gragson finished that business on Sunday at Five Flags Speedway (FL), winning the 51st Annual Snowball Derby and continuing KBM’s success at the event.
Gragson took the lead with six laps to go, as then-leader Harrison Burton stumbled on older tires. Once out front, Gragson outran Ty Majeski to hold on for the victory in the biggest Super Late Model race in America.
For Gragson, it was an emotional win, as he etched his name in the history books of Super Late Model racing during a crossroads in his career.
“It feels so good to get this Snowball Derby win,” Gragson told Speed51.com. “We got the second-biggest Late Model win last year at the Winchester 400. To cap off my final race with Kyle Busch Motorsports and my final race with Toyota before moving over to JR Motorsports next year full time in the Xfinity Series feels really special for myself and my team.”
“We won the Snowball Derby. It’s unbelievable. I’m just so very thankful.”
Harrison Burton stormed to the lead in the final 100 laps of the race, opting for an alternative pit strategy banking on a long green-flag run to the finish. The long green-flag run took place, and Burton drove from 12th to the lead on lap 274.
However, the caution flag flew just five laps later, as Kyle Bryant spun on the backstretch. Burton and his team had used its last set of tires on their gamble, leaving Burton helpless when the rest of the field pitted behind him.
During that round of pit stops, Gragson’s team got him off pit road first. That put Gragson in position to challenge Burton, and he capitalized.
“This is huge for me, myself, my team,” Gragson said. “My pit crew members, they did a hell of a job on pit road. We gained spots all night long. That last stop was the money stop. I felt like it gave us the opportunity to give us that track position.”
“With [Burton] having such old tires, I already ruled him out,” Gragson added. “I knew he was going to be fifth or sixth or whatever it was going to be in four or five laps. I knew it was between me, Jeff Choquette, and Ty Majeski.”
Burton fell to tenth, even worse than Gragson’s expectations as he suffered on the older tires. A disappointed Burton knew he was 21 laps away from Snowball Derby glory but stood by the gamble as his only shot at the win.
“We had it,” Burton said. “We just needed 20 more laps. It sucks, but that was our only play to win. We lost track position in the pits a few times and we could just never get it back. We figured we’d try something, and it almost paid off.”
“It’s part of racing,” Burton continued. “It was a gamble we had to take, and it didn’t work out. I want to win one of these really, really bad. We’ll move on, get better, and learn from it.”
Over the final laps, Gragson held off a charging Ty Majeski. Gragson said he just focused on making laps, because looking in the rear-view mirror wasn’t going to help him – literally.
“I couldn’t see out of my rear-view mirror at all, as dark as it was,” Gragson said. “I just focused on hitting my marks. I could never figure this place out before this weekend. It feels so good.”
Majeski also knew the caution was his shot at taking the win, but felt he ran out of time to challenge Gragson on such a short dash to the finish.
“Man, we just needed a couple more laps there at the end,” Majeski said. ”Just disappointed. Obviously we wanted to win. We had a really, really good car. Especially when the sun went down, it came alive.
“Thankfully the caution came out and we had a shot at it,” Majeski added. “Just came up a little bit short.“
Now, Gragson leaves Kyle Busch Motorsports, but not without etching his name in both the team’s and Snowball Derby history.
“He’s been my idol growing up, the guy I collected die-cast cars of,” Gragson said of Busch. “I’ve just been moving my way up the ranks from Bandoleros to Legend cars, to the K&N Series to the Truck series. I thought I had skipped a step in the Super Late Models, and I thought it hurt my development.
“It means a lot to run for Kyle Busch Motorsports,” Gragson added. “It’s my last race with them, after a two-year stretch. To get to hang a banner up at Kyle Busch Motorsports, it feels so surreal.”
Race fans who missed the 51st Annual Snowball Derby can watch our Speed51.com broadcast of the event. Click here to watch an on-demand replay of the race. Fans can also click here to view our Trackside Now updates from the race.
Unofficial Results – 51st Annual Snowball Derby
Five Flags Speedway – Pensacola, Florida
|17||20||Jack Dossey, III|
|21||7S||Paul Shafer, Jr.|