PENSACOLA, Fla. – Many pundits across the country call the Snowball Derby the toughest asphalt race to make in all of motorsports, and the December classic proved why yet again on Friday night.
A bevy of heavy-hitters will have to try and race their way into the starting field for the 52nd edition of the super late model crown jewel, after all failing to crack the top 30 during pole qualifying.
Chief among those was soon-to-be NASCAR Xfinity Series regular Harrison Burton, who won the pole for the Derby in 2018 but finds himself on the outside looking in going into this year’s running.
Burton could only muster the 38th-best lap during time trials Friday night, touring the Florida half-mile in 16.682 seconds and falling nine hundredths short of locking into the field.
It was the continuation of a frustrating week for both Burton and Wimmer Motorsports, who brought back the same package they ran so well with a year ago to Five Flags Speedway but have yet to replicate that same success.
“Honestly, we’ve struggled all weekend for speed. We haven’t been good enough,” Burton told SPEED SPORT. “And that sucks, because these guys work so hard, and we’ve been working really hard all weekend trying to find things that will help us even more. We’ve been struggling for drive, struggling for drive, couldn’t get off the corner and then, all of a sudden we made a really, really small adjustment for qualifying … and it flipped the complete other way and we were plowing tight.
“I’m telling you, we have been throwing the kitchen sink at this thing all weekend. I’m sure I didn’t have a perfect lap either; I probably made a mistake here or there,” Burton added. “It’s hard to say in the moment, but it’s the Snowball Derby, right? It’s tough for a reason. That’s what makes it cool. I’m proud of our effort. We’ve been working our butts off all weekend trying to get the thing better. Everyone’s tried a different idea and I’m not quite any of them have worked the way we wanted them to, but at least we’re trying stuff and doing all we can.”
Knowing the prestige and history of the race, Burton is at peace with whatever happens Saturday.
“We’ve got an hour of practice tomorrow before the last chance race, which we can learn from hopefully,” said Burton, who starts seventh in the LCS. “If we get in, we get in. If we don’t, we don’t.”
The first man out of the grid, and thus leading the Last Chance Showdown to green Saturday afternoon, was Michigan teenager Carson Hocevar. His qualifying lap of 16.619 seconds missed the cut by a scant margin of .029 seconds in the final rundown.
Hocevar is hoping his pole starting position will allow him to stay out of trouble and advance cleanly.
“I feel like third-place and above is going to be clean,” Hocevar said. “At least it was last year. I was lucky that I fell back to third and didn’t fall further back. But there were so many cautions that there had to be a lot of crashing.”
The whole week has been a struggle for Hocevar as far as his super late model has gone, including qualifying.
“I have no clue, in all honesty, what’s been going on. I was trying to live in the moment a little bit, and I got done with my qualifying lap … got through three and four and my guys asked me how it was, and I had no clue even how to explain it to them,” he noted. “I was out of breath, but I really thought we were a little bit better than that. We picked up four tenths. I drove with everything I had for it.
“It just wasn’t enough right there.”
RedBud 400 winner Johnny VanDoorn rolls off fourth in the LCS, while All-American 400 winner Mason Mingus was scheduled to start eighth but withdrew and headed home.
“We’ve run the last chance race four times and only survived one with a clean car,” Mingus said. “That’s the one that we started from the pole in.”
Five-time Derby winner Rich Bickle starts 16th, on the outside of row eight, and NASCAR Truck Series regular Jordan Anderson rolls from 19th in his first time back at the Derby in several years.
Anderson drew an apt comparison when asked what he expects the Last Chance Showdown to be like.
“It’s probably going to be like the Truck Series race at Daytona, where it’s like six laps to go and you just do whatever it takes to get what you need,” he said. “We’ve just got to get our car driving really well. We’ve got to get it to cut better. But the last thing I want to do is tear these guys’ car up. It’s a nice car.
“We’ll give it our best and see what happens.”
In addition to Mingus, Tim Curry also withdrew following qualifying Friday night.
The Snowball Derby Last Chance Showdown will take place following qualifying and the Last Chance Showdown for the pro late model Allen Turner Hyundai Snowflake 100. That action starts at 2 p.m. CT.
STARTING LINEUP: Snowball Derby Last Chance Showdown; Five Flags Speedway; Dec. 7, 2019
- Carson Hocevar
- Casey Smith
- Michael House
- Johnny VanDoorn
- Trey Bayne
- Dan Fredrickson
- Harrison Burton
- Rodrigo Rejon
- Jett Noland
- Kyle Bryant
- David Rogers
- Brad May
- Austin Nason
- Jack Dossey III
- Rich Bickle
- Chris Davidson
- Boris Jurkovic
- Jordan Anderson
- Steven Davis
- Jerry Artuso
- Colten Nelson
- AJ Wernette