PENSACOLA, Fla. – Harrison Burton went out early and sweated out a bunch of heavy-hitters, but ultimately withstood all challengers to earn the pole for the 51st annual Snowball Derby on Friday night.
Burton, the seventh of 47 cars to take time during qualifying, toured the Five Flags Speedway half-mile in 16.273 seconds (110.613 mph) with his No. 12 DEX Imaging Toyota to earn the top starting spot for the 300-lap crown jewel super late model race.
The pole effort for Burton marks his first top-10 start in five Snowball Derby attempts. His previous best in Derby qualifying was 15th in 2016.
“What an awesome feeling,” Burton told SPEED SPORT. “We came here to win the pole and win the race, and we did the first half of that here tonight. I feel like we’ve still got some work to do on this thing yet to turn it into a race-winning car over 300 laps, but man, this feels good.
“I held my breath the whole run, honestly,” added Burton with a chuckle. “That’s probably the hardest I’ve ever driven. The track and the car were so hooked up that I could just drive it harder than you would ever think. Our last lap, I took some risks there, I think … to go as hard as I did, but it paid off.”
The teenager also noted that he had no troubles from his left foot during qualifying, either, after breaking a toe during a recent vacation to the Bahamas.
“It was sore at the end of practice yesterday, but I didn’t have any trouble right there,” Burton smiled. “That’s one of those things that you just have to put out of your mind and focus on going to work.”
Burton’s father, retired Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series star Jeff Burton, flew in from Las Vegas and made it to Pensacola just in time to watch his 18-year-old son top the time sheets in qualifying.
Jeff Burton tipped that a last-minute adjustment may have been the difference for Harrison on his run.
“We knew he had a good car; we just hoped that we made the right decisions,” the elder Burton said. “We made a last-second air pressure change after Preston (Peltier) ran, based on the speed that he put up, and we weren’t sure if it was right … but we had to do something!
“It was a fun day all around. It’s been so much fun to watch Chris (Wimmer, crew chief) and Harrison work together. They’ve always run well here and they make a really strong pair.”
Canadian Cole Butcher (16.327/110.247) will join Burton on the front row for Sunday’s race, while Pelter – who won the pole for the Derby one year ago – will roll off third in his quest to claim the Tom Dawson Trophy.
“These Generator Source guys did a good job, for how far off we were on Thursday, to get us to this point,” noted Peltier. “We were terrible, but they never gave up. … I might have had something for it, but I spun my rear tires a little too much leaving pit road and the car was just a little snug rolling.
“Top three is good, we’ll take it, and move on to the race on Sunday.”
Jeff Choquette and Connor Okrzesik completed the top five, followed by Logan Boyett, Chandler Smith, soon-to-be NASCAR Xfinity Series regular Noah Gragson, John DeAngelis and Raphael Lessard.
Perennial Snowball Derby favorites Donnie Wilson and Bubba Pollard qualified 11th and 12th, respectively.
Other notable names who locked into Sunday’s starting grid by qualifying inside the top 30 Friday night included Stewart Friesen (14th), Ty Majeski (19th), Derek Thorn (20th) and Tyler Ankrum (24th).
Spencer Davis was the final driver to make the field on speed, qualifying 30th in the No. 29 entry.
To view complete qualifying results, advance to the next page.