PENSACOLA, Fla. – Cole Butcher led two out of three practice sessions for the 52nd annual Snowball Derby on Thursday at 5 Flags Speedway, throwing his name into the hat as a contender for the Tom Dawson Trophy.
Butcher’s best time of the day was good enough for second overall on the time sheets, clocking in at 16.481 seconds (109.217 mph) in the No. 53 Atlantic Tiltload-sponsored late model.
The Canadian young gun and double Maritime Pro Stock Tour champion is seeking his first Derby victory. He’s coming off a ninth-place finish in last year’s Derby after starting from the front row.
While Butcher topped the charts more than once, Jesse Dutilly’s lap from the opening session on Thursday of 16.458 seconds (109.369 mph) held up to end as the fastest clip of any driver for the day.
Teenage sensation Gio Bromante, driving for Anthony Campi Racing, landed third quick over Jeremy Doss and Boris Jurkovic.
NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series team owner David Gilliland was sixth overall, followed by Corey Heim, Derek Thorn, Hunter Robbins and All-American 400 winner Mason Mingus.
Notable names who struggled to find top speed Thursday included multi-time ARCA Midwest Tour champion Ty Majeski (11th), Truck Series standout and Kyle Busch Motorsports pilot Chandler Smith (13th), former Derby polesitter Preston Peltier (18th) and perennial contender Bubba Pollard (19th).
NASCAR K&N Pro Series West champion Derek Kraus, driving for Donnie Wilson this week, was 22nd on the combined speed charts. Fellow young gun Harrison Burton ended up a disappointing 32nd-fastest.
Two-time Derby winner Augie Grill landed 36th after the first day of practice for the prestigious event.
Country Pleasin’ Sausage Pole Night for the 52nd annual Snowball Derby is scheduled for 6 p.m. CT on Friday. Burton is the defending pole winner, topping Derby qualifying last year for the first time.