A Georgia racer parked a No. 26 Super Late Model in victory lane at SpeedFest Saturday evening.
No. Not that guy.
Chandler Smith charged through the field with less than 20 laps to go to grab the ARCA/CRA Super Series win at Crisp Motorsports Park for the biggest victory of his young racing career.
“We came so close last year and never could finish the job,” said Smith. “Tonight we did it. We finally finished it off.”
As the race entered the final stages, Smith stalked the rear deck of leader of Bubba Pollard. As the lead pair exited turn four amidst lapped traffic, there was contact between at least three of the four cars in the area, with Pollard going around off the bumper of Smith.
Smith was sent to the rear of the field by CRA officials.
“We were behind lapped traffic, and he just came to a stop in the corner,” Smith said. “I had nowhere to go. I even apologized on the radio and said that I understand going to the rear if I need to. However, I don’t ever do anything like that intentionally…. I was raised better than that.”
With 23 laps to go, Smith was involved a melee in turn two with Carson Hocevar and Connor Okrzesik. However, this time Smith was allowed to keep his position.
Smith was slowing to avoid the two spinning cars when he was tagged from behind and sent for a spin of his own. As per the CRA rule book, cars are allowed to slow to avoid a crash and keep their position. The caution flag was already out for the two No. 14 machines, so Smith was allowed to keep his position.
On the final run to the checkers, Smith chased down leader Jeff Choquette and made the winning pass with 15 laps to go.
“This car was a rocketship tonight,” Smith said. “I knew we were the car to beat, and knew we were going back to front.”
Pollard, who was vying for a sweep of the SpeedFest events after winning the Pro Late Model race earlier in the day, scratched his way to second at the finish, but was visibly frustrated after the event and declined interview requests. Pollard’s frustration stemmed from the Hocevar/Okrzesik incident and the decision to leave Smith in the top five.
Smith had been close to grabbing a marquee win several times over the last few seasons, but never was able to close the deal. To score his biggest victory to date in his home state by outrunning the nation’s best short track racer, Smith was taken back.
“It means everything,” Smith said. “I mean, we just beat Bubba Pollard at his home track. It means the world to me because we just be the best short track racer in the U.S. right now. I’m feeling pretty good right now.”
With Pollard and Smith’s tangle, it appeared as if Choquette had a third SpeedFest win dropped in his lap. However, he was unable to hold off Smith during the race’s final stages; which is something he attributes to rough restarts with another driver.
In 2017, a win at SpeedFest launched Harrison Burton to a career-best season. After years of near misses and so closes for Smith, a win in Cordele could very launch him to a defining year.
“This is a dream come true,” Smith declared. “I can’t believe we did it.”
Race fans can watch all of Saturday's feature action via an on-demand broadcast on Speed51.com.
-By Ryan McCollough, Speed51.com Southeast Correspondent
-Photo Credit: Speed51.com
ARCA/CRA Super Super Series - SpeedFest 200 Official Results
Watermelon Capital Speedway (GA) - January 27, 2018
Pos # Driver
1 26s Chandler Smith
2 26 Bubba Pollard
3 9c Jeff Choquette
4 81 Chase Purdy
5 51L Raphael Lessard
6 14x Conner Okrzesik
7 51N Stephen Nasse
8 19 Brandon Jones
9 14 Carson Hocevar
10 5 Jerry Artuso
11 15 Austin Thaxton
12 10 Steve Dorer
13 17N Nick Neri
14 20s Anthony Sergi
15 32 Stuart Dutton
16 58 John Coffman
17 58F Jeff Firestine
18 23 Bronson Butcher
19 83 Scotty Ellis
20 12 Harrison Burton
21 07 Corey LaJoie
22 98 Justin Ashburn
23 18 Casey Roderick
24 79 Kyle Bryant
25 71 Cayden Lapcevich
26 17 Josh Brock
27 24 Mason Diaz
28 56 Jeff Gordon