Bubba Pollard came into the 46th Annual Oxford 250 expecting great things – after all, he won the 2018 edition in just his first attempt at the Maine classic. However, this year’s car was non-cooperative for much of the weekend and that led to a frustrating race for the defending race winner.
After going two laps down, Pollard ended up pulling off the track after completing just 165 of the 250 laps. He would ultimately be credited with a 42nd-place finish in his second attempt at the Northeast’s premier Super Late Model event.
“We just kind of struggled, I don’t know,” Pollard said after the race. “We weren’t bad, and then we made a few changes right before the feature I think that just was definitely not the right way. We should have just stayed more basic, to like what we ran last year instead of trying to get tricky with it and get better. I think maybe what we had last year was good, and we just didn’t realize it.
“For some reason, tuning the motor was a lot more important this year than it was last year, I don’t know if it was just the way the track was, or the tires, or something like that, but it was a little different than what it was last year and just got us behind there.”
Despite his tough luck at Oxford, the national Late Model superstar and his crew are not missing a beat. After Pollard brought the car back to the pits, the crew immediately began getting to work on the Pro Late Model that they will run in the Canadian Short Track Nationals at Jukasa Motor Speedway this coming weekend.
“We just got to get ready,” Pollard said. “We’re going to leave the hauler up here. We have to be at Jukasa on Saturday morning, so we’ll switch cars out and get things ready. Few things we had to do, and we’ll get back at it and hopefully have a better weekend than we did here.”
Former Oxford Track Champion Turns Heads
Local racer Alan Tardiff had a strong run Sunday evening, leading 45 laps en route to a 10th-place finish. The Lyman, Maine driver took advantage of the Lap 98 caution flag to make adjustments to his car and put on new tires, which allowed him to drive to the front and take the lead on Lap 135.
From there, he stretched his lead out to more than five-and-a-half seconds before a caution flag on Lap 179. Tardiff and Vermont driver Nick Sweet were the only top running cars that stayed out during the caution, and Tardiff lost the lead to Sweet on a subsequent restart on Lap 182. Tardiff never got the handle back on his race car, falling down the order to tenth place despite a late pit stop for fresh tires.
“When we came in that [caution] there at like (Lap) 182 I think it was, we put right side tires on,” Tardiff stated. “It didn’t quite match up with my lefts and the car was just way too free. The car from lap like 90-something to 180 was pretty matched up, and I think it was one of the best cars I’ve ever driven here at Oxford.”
As much as Tardiff would have liked to win, he said the team’s main goal this year was to work on the pace of the car and to try and lead a few laps. With a $100 lap leader bonus on the line, Tardiff wanted to lead as many laps as he could. He ended up pocketing $4,500 from lap money alone.
“We had a pretty good piece there for a while, and I thank my guys for giving us a really good shot at maybe putting something together for the end there,” Tardiff said. “We looked at it, car was good, just get out front and lead some laps. Pace was really good and we’d rather put ourselves in position, which we kind of screwed ourselves up under the pit sequence.
“But hey, you know what, hindsight, we did what we had to do to make the amount of money that we could secure at the end of the day. Everybody wants to win but you have to have a perfect day for that. But what we could control was leading laps and making some money then, so that’s what we did.”
Close But No Cigar for the Six-Time PASS Champ
From the moment drivers unloaded their cars Friday morning, Johnny Clark looked like the man to beat. He led five of the six practice sessions and posted the fastest lap of the day on Friday, and he was in the top five for all four sessions on Saturday. However, as Clark knows all too well, race day is an entirely different story.
“I think fourth was probably the worst we were all weekend,” Clark said. “But the fastest car doesn’t always win. We really missed it. Going into the heat, I mean the thing was a rocket for five or six laps in the heat race, and I thought we could fix it. We probably should have put it back, that’s my bad.”
Clark paused and sighed.
“I’m still in disbelief, I can’t believe we were so close. How many opportunities are you going to get at the Oxford 250 like that, you know, to lead all those practices? Still, leaps and bounds where we were a month ago here. The Port City guys sure helped us out a ton, and we’re better and we’ll keep working in that direction.”
Clark will join Pollard and Oxford 250 runner-up finisher Derek Griffith at Jukasa Motor Speedway for the Canadian Short Track Nationals next weekend.
When asked if he would jump ahead to the 2020 Oxford 250 if he could, Clark responded emphatically.
“Oh, absolutely. Next weekend!”
Shaw on the Podium Again
D.J. Shaw hung around the top 10 all night and even led some laps before ultimately earning his second podium finish in the race. Despite coming up short of the prize he wants most, his third-place finish was a bright spot for the defending PASS North champion.
“That was a fun race there, man. That was everything everybody had for [the last] 60 laps,” Shaw said after the race. “Man, if we had just a little better track position for that long run there we maybe could have done something. But it feels good to finish third, run up front, be competitive here and go for a 250 win.”
But even after finishing third, the Center Conway, New Hampshire driver was already itching to get to next season’s Oxford 250.
“We got to lead some laps, run up front, be there at the end and make them sweat a little bit, but just couldn’t quite seal the deal tonight. I’m ready for next year,” Shaw stated. “We started off the year so strong here [at Oxford]. I was excited, but by the third race, we were just not that good. We’re getting better and better. We’re ready to fine tune just a little bit more and I think we’ll have something.”
-Story by Ian Pettigrew, Speed51.com Northeast Correspondent - Twitter: @ian_pettigrew
-Photo credit: Speed51.com / Melissa Strahley