PENSACOLA, Fla. – Stephen Nasse went from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows in a span of roughly three hours Monday night at Five Flags Speedway.
The night started with unbelievable jubilation, as Nasse survived a multi-car accident in overtime and then led the final two-lap dash to the finish to win the 52nd annual Snowball Derby, at least so he thought.
Following post-race technical inspection in the so-called “Room of Doom,” Nasse’s apparent victory was stripped and that jubilation turned to extreme heartbreak and dejection, with the 24-year-old from Pinellas Park, Fla., exiting the tech shed quickly and ducking away to process the events of the night.
His Jett Motorsports No. 51n was tossed out for a titanium violation in the brake system, an area of the car which the Snowball Derby and Five Flags rule books specifically state no titanium is allowed.
The matter was expounded upon by chief technical inspector Ricky Brooks following the awarding of the Tom Dawson Trophy to official winner Travis Braden.
“It had titanium (brake) piston caps all the way around the entire car,” Brooks explained. “It’s blatant in the rule book; there’s no titanium allowed. They were fastened to an aluminum piston and aluminum (brake) caliper, and what that does is keeps the heat from sinking into the caliper and the piston. They were drilled to keep from holding the heat going into an aluminum piston and aluminum caliper.”
Brooks noted that the practice does hold an advantage, but couldn’t say for sure if it was a difference-maker for Nasse Monday night. He also said it wasn’t something that could have been checked earlier in the week, during one of the pre-race inspection periods.
“Yes, there is an advantage (to it),” Brooks said. “I don’t know if it helped him win. But it’s like any other disqualification we’ve had here in the past. It’s in the rule book in black and white. If we don’t go by that, then none of this matters.
“It’s something inside the car that we just can’t check during the week,” Brooks added. “It’s no different than an illegal motor.”
As for Nasse, he opened up on the matter in a statement released to social media later in the night, while Travis Braden was celebrating with the Tom Dawson Trophy that Nasse originally hoisted on the frontstretch in a throng of team members, fans and supporters.
“I need to start by saying that I have the best guys in the business behind me. My Jett Motorsports guys are amazing and we had two badass cars,” Nasse wrote. “I drove from 36th to first with no power steering. We also have the best people supporting us, and one of those are Brembo Brakes, who I highly recommend for all your brake needs.
“We left PFC Brakes (recently) because they weren’t willing to help us and were playing favorites,” Nasse continued. “The first thing that tech asked us to do is remove the brakes, because they had a ‘tip’ from their major supporter at PFC Brakes, Chris Dilbeck. In our brake system, there was a small titanium cap which does not enhance performance at all.”
Dilbeck responded to Nasse’s allegation in his own statement on social media Tuesday morning, noting that he wanted to see the race won on the race track just as anyone else would.
“I don’t want to see any race decided in tech,” Dilbeck said. “It was unfortunate that PFC didn’t win the race on the race track. I feel like PFC probably had the best car of the day, along with the vast majority of the field. Myself, representing PFC at the Snowball Derby, I try to help every PFC customer to the best of my ability to go win the race.
“It’s very unfortunate that the race was decided in tech. At the same time, the car that won the race (Braden) was not a PFC customer either,” continued Dilbeck. “Stephen Nasse is a great race car driver, and we were glad to have him on PFC (for) the time that we did. I enjoy watching him race just like any other race fan.”
Nasse pointed out later in his statement that last year’s winning Snowball Derby car, the Kyle Busch Motorsports No. 51 of Noah Gragson, had an engine which was ultimately regulated via Balance of Performance regulations.
The Hamner race engine was heavily talked about among industry members during the first half of the year. A dyno test from last December revealed an observed power advantage, which was later regulated.
“Last year, the winning car was cleared with an illegal motor, which was an advantage,” wrote Nasse. “This sport is nothing but playing favorites. I’ve been the classy guy and the nasty guy (over the years).”
While Nasse has no plans of backing down going into 2020, his dejection Monday night was clear, and understandable as well.
“At the end of the day, I’m just a guy trying to be the best I can,” Nasse said. “To win the biggest race of my life and have it taken away like this just sucks. I appreciate all the support.”
Monday night was the third disqualification at the Snowball Derby in the last seven years. Chase Elliott was bounced in 2013 for having a tungsten weight in his car instead of lead, handing Erik Jones his second Derby win. Christopher Bell lost out in 2015 for a weight violation, with Elliott the official winner.