Stephen Nasse joined a prestigious list of drivers Thursday who have been drafted nine times in the Speed51 Short Track Draft, with his best career draft selection of fourth. But, should he have been drafted even higher?
In 2019, our Short Track Draft evaluation when Nasse was selected 23rd overall by a panel of industry experts noted that Nasse needed to put together complete races to move up the draft boards. Nasse did that several times over in the coming year.
First, he rallied from an early issue to win the U.S. Short Track Nationals at Bristol Motor Speedway. Then, he put together one of the most complete – and dominant – showings you will ever find in a marquee Super Late Model race, leading 392 laps of the Winchester 400 for the win.
While he did not officially record the victory due to a post-race disqualification stemming from technical inspection, Nasse’s drive in the Snowball Derby from the back to take the checkered flag first also wowed fans and experts alike.
Travis Braden, the driver who did leave Pensacola, Florida last December with the Tom Dawson Trophy was so impressed with Nasse’s season, he voted him number-one on his Short Track Draft ballot.
“I went with Stephen Nasse as my number-one pick,” said Braden during the Short Track Draft Selection Show on Thursday. “If you were a team owner and you were going to pick a guy that can come in and win a race, do what it takes to win, I think he’s arguably the best that we saw in 2019.”
Another criticism of Nasse over the years has been his passion, which has led to plenty of arguments and fights. While every car owner wants a race car driver who wants to win, Nasse’s fiery temper has sometimes been seen as a detriment.
However, the Florida native was remarkably resolute and composed following the biggest disappointment of his career to date, the Snowball Derby disqualification. That’s something that impressed Braden as well.
“Stephen and I have raced together for years now, but I’d say we’ve talked more since the Snowball Derby than we had in the years prior. At the time, I didn’t think it was something that would have changed the outcome of the race. He held his head high about it, and I gained a lot of respect from everyone on his team out of it.”
Even without the Snowball Derby victory, Nasse’s 2019 season is the kind of year that rockets drivers up the draft boards. After Christian Eckes won the Myrtle Beach 400 and the Snowball Derby in the span of a month in 2016, he jumped from 32nd to third in the following Draft.
So, what would keep Nasse from being one of the top three picks? One factor may be age. All three drivers ahead of Nasse were younger, with teenagers Sam Mayer and Hailie Deegan taking the top two spots while Nasse will celebrate his 25th birthday on Tuesday.
Those teenagers also competed regularly in the ARCA Menards Series at a national and regional level. Nasse made an appearance in the ARCA Menards Series East at New Smyrna Speedway in February, finishing sixth. Nasse believes drivers in those series may be weighed too favorably in relation to Super Late Model stars.
“I feel like me and my team proved a lot going to the ARCA race at New Smyrna. It was just me and my regular Late Model guys, a very underfunded team, and we brought home a sixth-place finish.
“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little disappointed. I think the year that I had this year, it would be hard to top. I just feel like it needs to be a progressive deal. These people coming in that are young, and, don’t get me wrong, they have a lot of talent. Sam raced at New Smyrna a couple of years ago and I had some respect for him then. But I think they take these things too fast.
“I think we won a lot of races this year, and some big ones. We were in contention at all the big ones. I don’t know what more I could do to go on top of that. That’s the only disappointing thing. I guess maybe not disqualified in the Snowball Derby, but other than that, I basically went to each race with a high competition level and performed very well.”
Of course, there’s always still the chance for “Nasty Nasse” to show up and usurp “Classy Nasse,” something he fully believes impacts voters.
“I think that making dumb decisions, on and off the race track, that tarnishes your name a little bit. I feel like I’ve been able to get some respect back from some of the people.”
With that said, he thinks those displays of passion shouldn’t harm his draft stock as much as it has, pointing to other sports where athletes are drafted on raw talent and not looks or marketability.
“My thing is, you look at any professional sports, NFL guys or NBA guys, they’re not always the most straightforward or well-spoken individuals, but they’re drafted for what they can do on the field to perform. I feel like we’ve gotten away from that a little bit. You put a group of us in a Super Late Model field, and I promise I’ll be fighting for a win.”
To hear more from Nasse following his selection or re-watch the Short Track Draft Selection Show, click here.
-Story by: Zach Evans, Speed51 Content Supervisor – Twitter: @ztevans
-Photo credit: Speed51 Photo