It didn’t take long for Senoia, Georgia’s Bubba Pollard to find his way around Oxford Plains Speedway.
Pollard arrived at Oxford Plains Speedway Friday with the goal of learning as much as he could about the 3/8-mile Maine oval before going head on into his first career Oxford 250. While the former Southern Super Series champion found the track challenging, he was having fun while trying to figure out the legendary facility.
“It’s definitely different,” Pollard told Speed51.com. “It’s got more banking in the corners than it does down the straightaways so that’s kind of throwing us off but as far as driving I think we adapted pretty fast as far as getting around the place. Just having to make changes to the race car that we’re not familiar with, not something that we normally we have to do with the way we’re changing the race car. We had to step outside the box I guess and change the way we think. We’re changing a lot and I feel there’s a lot of speed left in the race car.”
“I feel like back home that’s where we’ve been the most successful or had the biggest advantage over people is maybe with some grip, but here you have zero grip,” Pollard claimed. “You’re always turning, you’re always on the right rear and the left front is always up, so it’s quite a bit different than what we’re used to. We’ll just keep plugging away but it’s different. It fits into what I’m used to as far as driving, being patient and being smooth. It actually reminds me a lot of the dirt car back home racing it.”
Despite the work ahead, Pollard and his team have already made the best out of their northbound experience, and they are looking forward to the pageantry of race day on Sunday.
“It’s cool to come in and see all these grandstands, man. They’ll be packed out [on Sunday]. To see all the campers and the people is cool. We were at the casino last night having fun, lost money and there’s race fans in there and you mingle with them and talk with them. They’re excited. It was cool. We’re going to check out some local racing here and have some fun.”
For the most part, Pollard is confident he will be a contender on Sunday. That sentiment was backed up by his fellow Senneker Performance driver Ben Rowe, a two-time Oxford 250 winner.
“We tested yesterday and his third lap on the track he was quicker than me,” Rowe said. “He’s a little bit better than me today but he’s run these chassis a lot, he knows what he needs and he’s that good. Bubba Pollard is just that good, let’s face it. And he likes to eat, like me, so he’s good to be around.”
GERRY FASTEST, LOADED UP AND HEADED TO BEECH RIDGE
Last year’s Oxford 250 winner Curtis Gerry comes into the 2018 edition still undefeated in PASS competition at Oxford, riding a five-race winning streak. After sorting through a minor issue early in the afternoon, Gerry put down a 15.592 second lap during Friday’s three-hour practice, which stood atop the board when final practice concluded.
“It’s definitely good. First practice we went out and we had a problem, we had a plug skipping. We got that sorted out,” Gerry said. “We went out and laid down that fast lap and it stuck all day. We went out late trying to beat it and we were a little shy of that. Car is really good, unloaded good so I’m pretty confident coming back Sunday.”
Friday’s run gives Gerry peace of mind on Saturday, as he will make the one-hour drive south to Beech Ridge Motor Speedway for the penultimate race of the 2018 NASCAR Whelen All-American Series schedule at the track.
“I’m going back to put it on the scales for tomorrow, just kind of a routine thing. We’ll go race Saturday night [at Beech Ridge] and hopefully have a clean race and come back here on Sunday.”
BENJAMIN THE UNDERDOG?
Travis Benjamin was in the shadows the majority of the afternoon, mostly tending to the No. 7’s tire inventory. He made it out in the final 45 minutes of practice, just running 26 laps, but it was enough to show some speed and end the day third on the speed chart.
“Today for us is tire day. You get your tires; you get a lot of them, too. That’s our main goal,” Benjamin said. “Then at the end there you shake the car down. We had three hours today, two hours tomorrow and another couple on Sunday. There’s plenty of time to dial the car in hopefully.”
After coming up short in the Oxford 250 the past three years and with such a competitive field this time around, there are some who are pinning Benjamin as somewhat of an underdog for Sunday’s race. It’s a role that Benjamin is ready to embrace.
“I hate to say it, I love it,” Benjamin commented. “Last night I was thinking about it and it kind of makes me a little more hungry. The last three or four years we’ve been the car to beat every time we come to this place. We’re not that this year so I think I kind of like it.”
BUTCHER GOING 100-PERCENT
Nova Scotia’s Cole Butcher is entering this year’s Oxford 250 armed for battle with a new Distance chassis. After working much of the afternoon, Butcher eventually came out swinging and placed his No. 53 second on the board.
“It’s the first time at Oxford Plains Speedway for us this year. We were here last Fall. We’re here with a new car, one of the Jeff Taylor rocket ships, just like Curtis Gerry, Travis Benjamin and the rest of the crew,” Butcher stated. “We unloaded fairly good. We’ve worked on it a little bit, put some tires on at the end and we were able to run up to P2. I’m very happy with the car; it’s pretty consistent and the tire temperatures are all where we want them to be. Tomorrow is another day, Sunday is another day and hopefully we unload the same.”
As was the case in 2017, the Oxford 250 comes with a schedule conflict for Butcher, who runs full time on the Parts for Trucks Pro Stock Tour in the Canadian Maritimes. Last year, Butcher made the trip north on Saturday, but this year he is throwing caution to the wind and putting all his focus on winning the 250.
“We went through this last year and there was a little bit of rain that caused some issues,” Butcher began. “I have a replacement driver, Russell Smith, Jr., he’s a great driver. He races Sportsman cars at home and he’s well known up in our area. I’m sure he’ll keep the fenders on it and do what he has to do to keep our points lead with the Maritime Pro Stock Tour. While he’s focusing on winning the Cummins 200, we’re going to be here focusing on winning the Oxford 250.
“I believe it’s going to help out 100-percent. You can’t focus on two things at once and get 100-percent. Russell is going to give 100-percent at the Pro Stock Tour and we’re going to give it 100-percent at the Oxford 250.
ROWE HAPPY WITH SENNEKER
While Ben Rowe had plenty of good things to say about fellow Senneker driver Bubba Pollard, he had plenty of nice things to say about his own brand-new Senneker racecar that he is debuting this weekend.
“We got good right there at the end I thought, running some laps that were comparable to everybody else except the 7 (Gerry),” Rowe stated. “You watch his lap times and he’s just head and shoulders above everybody. I thought we were pretty good; we were a little off. I’d like to pick up another tenth in speed but it drives good. To me here, you’ve got to get it driving good to maneuver around everybody else. I’m pretty happy with it. Hopefully we can work on a few things tonight and we’ll have tomorrow to go through. We need that tenth I think just to be in the ballpark with the top eight, nine or 10 good guys.”
POLE HAPPY ON OLD TIRES
Joey Polewarczyk, Jr. was one of the happiest drivers at Oxford on Friday, despite timing 38th of 49 cars that recorded a lap. The cause of his lack of speed being simply that Joey Pole and his crew decided not to put fresh tires on the No. 97.
“Usually we’re always searching for front end grip here, trying to get the car to turn in. Obviously, with fresh tires you’ll always have that but today we stayed on used tires all day,” Polewarczyk explained. “We came and tested here last week and put 80 laps on a new set of tires. We came home, made some more adjustments on it and that’s all we stayed with today. With started with 80 lap tires and I think we put 60 or so laps more on them.”
“We’re way down on the charts but it’s Friday. It’s not really go-time yet. We’ll start of tomorrow on fresh tires and see what we’ve got. Drivability wise for 120 lap tires, I’m very happy with the car. Tire temps look good, tires look good; that’s something we usually struggle with here is trying to keep the tires on the car. That’s another reason why we spent the day on old tires.”
Despite making his best attempt at putting four tires on the car during the closing stages of practice, Pole’s crew talked him out of it.
“I really, really wanted to put a new set of tires on there right now but those guys wouldn’t let me, they want to wait. I just said, ‘Well, there’s no point in really doing anything more right now.’ Tomorrow will be the true sign I guess. We’ll see where we are competitively. We didn’t get to put them on today to see where they stacked up but if it drives like that on new tires I think we’ll be right there.”
PLANNED DAY OFF
One the favorites among the experts to win the Oxford 250 on Sunday is that of Reid Lanpher. However, Lanpher’s No. 59 wasn’t spotted on the track Friday afternoon and was still locked in the team’s hauler.
One of the other notables who didn’t make a lap Friday afternoon was home track favorite TJ Brackett who will also wait until Saturday before turning laps.
Be sure to visit Speed51.com for more from Friday’s practice, including video reports and on-boards on the Speed51 Network.
While you are there, be sure to purchase your video ticket for Speed51’s pay-per-view broadcast of all the qualifying and feature racing on both Saturday and Sunday.
-Story by Connor Sullivan, Speed51.com Northeast Editor
-Photo credit: Speed51.com / John A. Miller