Thursday officially kicked off on-track activity at the 52nd Annual Snowball Derby presented by BJ’s Wholesale Club, as Super Late Model teams tackled Five Flags Speedway (FL) for their first practice sessions. The day of practice was a confidence booster for some and a day of major adjustment and reflection for others.
After the day of practice, Jesse Dutilly set the fastest lap of the day at 16.458 seconds around the Pensacola, Florida half-mile. Dutilly was excited to unload with immediate speed on used tires during the first round of practice.
“We unloaded with a lot of speed,” Dutilly told Speed51 after the first round of practice. “That’s good to get out of the gate. I was on used tires, so I’m real happy with the car. We still have a couple of things we want to work on with the car to make it a little bit better.”
Cole Butcher was fastest in the final round of practice to close the day, and was excited with the balance of his entry out of the Donnie Wilson Motorsports stable.
“The car has a really good balance, race-wise and qualifying-wise. We’ll see what happens when we get to qualifying tomorrow. You just have to get prepared mentally and physically. Do your homework at home and also with the guys at the shop. I’ve been with the guys at Wilson Motorsports for the past couple of weeks getting everything ready. We’re close with everybody. It helps when you have a great time. Hopefully we’ll make the right moves and be there at the end.”
While some front-runners unloaded with immediate success, others struggled on practice day. Bubba Pollard brought a brand-new car to this year’s Snowball Derby, but ultimately decided to park it in favor of his tried-and-true Super Late Model from the 2019 season.
“We tried a couple of different things trying to get better on it, and it probably wasn’t the right race to bring it to,” Pollard explained. “We felt comfortable with what we had and what we’ve been racing all year. It was the smartest decision to go back to that. I think we’ll be fine. We’ve still got some progress to make in race runs. We’ve got to have some more drive and things like that.
“I’m looking forward tomorrow. I think we’ll be fine. We’ll see how it is.”
Texas young gun Kaden Honeycutt is feeling much more confident in his second appearance at the Snowball Derby. After finishing 30thin last year’s race, Honeycutt was seventh in final practice.
“I’m feeling really confident right now,” Honeycutt said. “Overall we did really well. The first session went well for us. That’s way better than we did last year, we were 38thor 40th.”
Honeycutt has done plenty of homework to prepare for his sophomore appearance in the Derby.
“Last year, I looked at Speed51 videos, looked at Jeff Choquette’s in-car, Bubba Pollard’s in-car, anything I could find. Today, I talked to Jeremy Pate a little bit about different kinds of lines, what I do differently from him. I’ve been looking at data, any kind of data I can find is really helpful.”
NASCAR Cup Series driver Corey LaJoie is back in a Super Late Model this weekend. He has plenty of respect for the level of competition he is facing.
“No different than any other Sunday, the energy around here is like a Cup race. It’s hard, the competition of these guys is the best in the country. There are a handful of guys here that should be racing on Sunday. I got lucky and I’m able to do it, but it’s always fun to come here and race this race. It’s a challenge to race these Supers only once a year. It’s something to get used to every time I jump in it, but I’m glad to see we have a little bit of speed. I think we can tweak on it a little bit more and get into contention.”
LaJoie sees the Derby as a chance to relax and compete in a fun environment without the pressure of the Cup series spotlight, especially in the week after signing an extension with Go Fas Racing.
“This trip, I’ve been the most relaxed. I’m trying to take it all in and enjoy the moment. It’s not often I get to come to the track, have fun, have a legitimate chance to work on my stuff and win the race. You see all your buddies here from growing up. It’s a lot different than the environment on Sundays, and that’s what I love about coming down here.
“My excitement level is high and my stress level is really low. I got that Cup deal done last week, so I know I have a job for the foreseeable future. We can worry about that stuff, come to Daytona. Right now, we’re working towards Sunday and winning that Tom Dawson Trophy.”
Race fans can watch all of the action during this week’s 52nd Annual Snowball Derby on Speed51. Click here to order your four-day passes or single-day tickets today.
-Story by: Zach Evans, Speed51 Southeast Editor – Twitter: @ztevans
-Photo credit: Speed51 photo