Friday at the Snowball Derby is called the most intense day of qualifying in short track racing, and it lived up to its billing this season at Five Flags Speedway (FL).
Going down to the last car, Stephen Nasse sat on the bubble with defending race champion Christian Eckes taking the track. Nasse had every reason to believe he would be forced to settle for his Southern Super Series provisional starting spot.
Instead, Eckes ran a 16.660-second lap time, matching the lap posted by Nasse and Donnie Wilson earlier in the session. By virtue of being the first of the three drivers to turn his qualifying lap, Nasse kept the 30th and final lock-in spot for Sunday’s 50th Annual Snowball Derby.
“It was definitely nerve-wracking. I was gritting my teeth,” Nasse told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “I could have sworn we were going to be out of it. Christian will normally lay down a pretty quick lap. He’s had a good car all weekend, and we’ve been struggling on the speed side.
“We got really lucky there, but we’ve got a lot of work to do, and we can’t shy away from that,” Nasse added. “We’re going to get to work tomorrow and going into Sunday’s race.”
At the top of the field, it was Preston Peltier taking the pole for Sunday, with a blistering lap time of 16.319 seconds – a lap so fast, it surprised Peltier himself.
“I didn’t expect to be here. I thought it would be Bubba [Pollard],” Peltier admitted. “These guys just gave me a great car. This is the best piece I’ve ever strapped into. I’m really looking forward to Sunday, and we’ll see what happens.
“It didn’t feel fast at all. When it’s like that, you know you have a good car.”
While Eckes is guaranteed a provisional starting position in Sunday’s race by virtue of winning last season’s race, he still faced bitter disappointment from not earning himself a better starting position in the race.
“It’s definitely disappointing,” Eckes said. “I made a mistake and it cost us. We have a good race car, I thought we were going to qualify about top-ten, top-fifteen. I think we have a strong enough race car to contend for the win on Sunday.”
Eckes believes his performance in race trim still gives him a chance to win Sunday despite the qualifying effort.
“We worked on race trim a lot today and yesterday,” Eckes said. “We have a really good race car in race trim, it’s really consistent. We’ll work on it a little bit more, contend on Sunday. It’s not the spot we wanted, but still fortunate enough to be here.”
Nasse finds himself on the other end of the spectrum. He finds himself once again placed near the rear of the field for the Snowball Derby, after transferring in from the Last Chance Qualifier in 2016. He also has been searching for stronger performance out of his car this weekend, but knows from last year’s experience that gains can be made.
“I was hoping going into this weekend that I wouldn’t put myself into the same position as I did last year,” Nasse said. “Here we are, and I find myself there again. All I can do is overcome it. We proved last year we can come back and contend for a win, and I thought we had the best car at the end of that Derby. If we can do the same thing we did then, we’ll be good again this weekend.”
Peltier is happy with the pole, but hardly sentimental with the ultimate goal awaiting Sunday. He remains focused on the big picture, hesitant to celebrate going down as the pole-sitter for the 50thSnowball Derby.
“I don’t get all caught up in the drama of things,” Peltier said about the milestone. “I try to keep a level head. We’ve got to come here tomorrow and work on this thing, make sure we have a decent piece for Sunday.”
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Live video tickets for the 50th Annual Snowball Derby can be purchased by clicking here.
-By Zach Evans, Speed51.com Southeast Correspondent - Twitter: @ztevans
-Photo credit: Speed51.com / MoJo Photos
Snowball Derby Qualifying Unofficial Results
Presented by Racecar Engineering:
3 112 Augie Grill 16.419
4 5M Mason Mingus 16.437
7 14D Chris Davidson 16.461
8 91 Ty Majeski 16.475
9 53B Cole Butcher 16.480
10 55D Spencer Davis 16.514
11 9C Jeff Choquette 16.514
12 18 Casey Roderick 16.520
13 14C Connor Okrzesik 16.521
14 36 Dan Fredrickson 16.
15 51 Kyle Busch 16.530
16 4 Kyle Plott 16.530
18 99L Raphael Lessard 16.552
19 11B Logan Boyett 16.553
20 18G Noah Gragson 16.571
23 46 Cole Rouse 16.582
25 53J Boris Jurkovic 16.621
26 07 Corey LaJoie 16.624
27 19 Kason Plott 16.649
28 01 Jake Crum 16.653
30 51N Stephen Nasse 16.660
31 2W Donnie Wilson 16.660
33 9K Derek Kraus 16.664
35 32D Tyler Dippel 16.705
36 8F Tate Fogleman 16.734
38 33 Dustin Smith 16.744
39 7 John DeAngelis Jr 16.749
40 11R David Rogers 16.769
41 79 Kyle Bryant 16.778
42 89 Jeremy Pate 16.782
43 22 Donald Crocker 16.786
44 79A Joe Aramendia 16.815
45 16 Steven Davis 16.843
46 45 Rich Bickle Jr 16.847
48 58C John Coffman 16.882
49 43 Dennis Schoenfield 16.897
50 4R Ben Rowe 16.947
52 32 Stuart Dutton 17.137
53 58F Jeff Firestine 18.159