NASCAR Influence Runs Deep At Snowball Derby

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NASCAR Influence Runs Deep
The contingent of NASCAR stars taking on this year's Snowball Derby is one of the deepest in the event's history. (Jacob Seelman photo)

PENSACOLA, Fla. — There always seems to be a touch of NASCAR flavor at the Snowball Derby, but this year’s 53rd edition at Five Flags Speedway features the heaviest NASCAR presence in recent years.

For starters, the most recent two NASCAR Cup Series champions — Kyle Busch (2019) and Chase Elliott (2020) — are entered in the $25,000-to-win event at the historic half-mile paved oval.

Both Busch and Elliott are two-time winners of the Tom Dawson Trophy. Busch took the honors in 2009 and ’17, while Elliott’s pair of Derby victories came in 2011 and ’15.

Busch will pilot his own Kyle Busch Motorsports No. 51 entry, while Elliott will wheel a No. 9 fielded by James Finch and crew chiefed by veteran mechanic Ricky Turner, as Busch and Elliott each attempt to taste Snowball Derby glory for a third time in their respective careers.

Only Rich Bickle Jr., a record five-time Snowball Derby champion, has won the event more than twice.

While Busch and Elliott’s presence alone would make NASCAR fans stand up and take notice, there’s solid representation at Five Flags from the NASCAR Xfinity Series and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series as well.

Noah Gragson, a two-time Xfinity Series winner and playoff contender this past season, was a late addition to the entry list and will drive a Wauters Motorsports entered machine that has been supplied by Finch’s camp.

Gragson took home the Snowball Derby trophy in 2018 driving for Kyle Busch Motorsports and competed in late models for team owner Richie Wauters before joining Busch’s stable.

The Las Vegas, Nev., native raced for JR Motorsports in the Xfinity Series this year and finished fifth in points, best among those who did not make the Championship 4.

Grant Enfinger leads the way for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series contingent at the Derby.

A Championship 4 driver for ThorSport Racing this past year, Enfinger is returning to competition at the Super Bowl of Late Model Racing for the first time since 2016.

He’s a two-time runner-up in the Derby, finishing second in 2008 and ’13. Enfinger is in a car entered by Go Fas Racing NASCAR Cup Series owner Archie St. Hilaire.

Derek Kraus is another Snowball Derby hopeful. Kraus drove for McAnally Hilgemann Racing in the No. 19 Toyota Tundra and finishing 11th in Truck Series points.

Kraus will drive his familiar, family-owned No. 9 for the sixth straight year at the Snowball Derby.

Truck Series young guns Chandler Smith and Carson Hocevar are on the entry list, too, driving for Wilson Motorsports and VanDoorn Racing Development, respectively.

Both teenagers ran part time in Truck Series competition this year, with Smith wheeling a KBM-prepared Toyota Tundra and Hocevar piloting a Chevrolet Silverado out of the Niece Motorsports stable.

Hocevar swept the CRA Late Model Triple Crown events this year, winning the RedBud 400 at Anderson (Ind.) Speedway, the Winchester 400 at Winchester (Ind.) Speedway and the Money in the Bank race at Michigan’s Berlin Raceway.

Meanwhile, Smith finished second at the All American 400 at Tennessee’s Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville and has been with Wilson Motorsports for several crown jewel events already this fall.

And Ty Majeski, who raced most of the Truck Series season for Niece Motorsports before being replaced late in the year by Trevor Bayne, is back in his familiar No. 91 with Toby Nuttleman as crew chief.

Majeski looked to be on his way to victory in last year’s Snowball Derby before a crash during an overtime restart while he was leading the field eliminated him from contention.

Among other NASCAR-owned or operated divisions, ARCA Menards Series drivers Kaden Honeycutt, Derek Griffith, and Corey Heim look to make the Derby field, as does Cayden Lapcevich, a former NASCAR Pinty’s Series champion.

There’s even NASCAR influence at the Derby outside of the driver’s seat.

Florida young gun Daniel Dye, who turns 17 on Friday, will compete in an entry fielded by Ben Kennedy Racing, the team owned by NASCAR Vice President of Racing Development Ben Kennedy.

Kennedy, a former driver in his own right, is the great-grandson of NASCAR founder Bill France Sr.

Practice for the 53rd Snowball Derby begins on Thursday, with qualifying set for Friday night. The 300-lap main event for super late models takes the green flag at 2 p.m. CT Sunday afternoon.