PENSACOLA, Fla. – It took everything he had, but 16-year-old Erik Jones held off NASCAR star Kyle Busch to score a career defining victory in the 45th annual Snowball Derby late-model race Sunday at Five Flags Speedway.
The Michigan native did everything right in the late stages of the 300-lap event. He was the leader when a caution flag waved for a spin involving Hunter Robbins with 25 laps left. The lead-lap cars came down pit road for tires, with Busch beating Jones off pit road to take the lead.
On the restart Busch cleared Jones, but the running order didn’t stay that way long. On lap 283 Jones drove to Busch’s inside and retook the lead he lost on pit road. Busch battled back, moving to the inside of Jones for several laps before Jones finally cleared Busch with eight laps left.
Once clear of Busch, Jones slowly pulled away as Busch fell into the clutches of a fast closing Jeff Choquette. Choquette drove around Busch to take second, but by that time Jones was long gone. He easily beat Choquette and Busch to the finish line to win his first Snowball Derby.
Jones led 124 laps, more than anyone else during Sunday’s race.
Busch’s third-place finish wasn’t without controversy. Earlier in the race Busch made contact with former Kyle Busch Motorsports employee T.J. Reaid while the pair were racing for the lead. That contact directly led to a massive crash that involved several front runners, including Chase Elliott, Bubba Pollard and Ross Kenseth.
Officials responded by sending Busch to the rear of the field for the restart. Later, as Busch was battling hard with Steve Wallace and several other drivers for position, a crash took place that eliminated Wallace and other drives from the event. Wallace, clearly unhappy with Busch, exited his car and threw a hammer at Busch’s No. 51.
Jeff Fultz, who was the last car to advance into the Snowball Derby from the Saturday’s last chance race, finished fourth. Elliott, the defending Snowball Derby winner, overcame a great deal of accident damage to finish fifth.
Grant Enfinger, Kyle Benjamin, polesitter David Ragan, Chris Davidson and John Hunter Nemechek completed the top 10. The top 15 cars finished on the lead lap.
Erik Jones, Jeff Choquette, Kyle Busch, Jeff Fultz, Chase Elliott, Grant Enfinger, Kyle Benjamin, David Ragan, Chris Davidson, John Hunter Nemechek, Ross Kenseth, Dwayne Buggay, D.J. Vanderley, Johanna Long, Donnie Wilson, Hunter Robbins, Chuck Barnes Jr., Clay Alexander, Kyle Jones, Austin Theriault, Casey Smith, Steve Wallace, David Rogers, Ben Kennedy, Brad Rogers, T.J. Reaid, Bubba Pollard, Nelson Piquet Jr., Daniel Hemric, Logan Boyett, Mike Garvey, Stephen Nasse, Jeremy Pate, Brian Campbell, Paul Kelley, Augie Grill, Steve Dorer.