NASCAR Cup Series
Cup Drivers Wanted Harder to Drive and They Got It
Mar 5, 2022
One of the most heartwarming finishes in recent short track history took a brilliant strategic decision but some dumb luck as well. That's how Hunter Robbins broke a seven-year winless streak in taking the Alabama 200 at Montgomery Motor Speedway on Saturday night with Ronnie Sanders Racing.
Robbins was one of a handful of drivers who chose not to pit during a caution on Lap 109. Robbins had raced inside the top-three for the entirely of the first half but wasn't likely to beat a dominant Stephen Nasse on a level playing field.
So, the No. 18 chose to jump off sequence by staying out with the hope of catching a timely caution with enough time to drive back through the field on fresher tires. The timing of the caution with 38 laps to go could not have been any more fortuitous.
It gave Robbins 32 laps to make up 13 positions against a dozen cars on tires that were bolted 65 laps prior.
It wasn't easy and it took an additional caution for a spin with 15 laps left but Robbins claimed a victory that was monumental for so many reasons.
The winless streak
Taking Ronnie Sanders to Victory Lane
It’s his home track
"I wouldn't be doing this without Ronnie," Robbins said. "We've won races together, but we haven't won since we started racing together again the past two years. We've been close. We started stringing together some finishes last year and I'm just really proud of our program and looking forward to more weekends like this."
Overall, Nasse led the most laps but knew that each of the final two cautions doomed his chances at securing the iconic hand carved bear trophy.
"I hated to see that last caution especially with 10 to go because I was counting them down," Nasse said. "I don’t think anyone would have caught me where we were with 15 to go and running those green flag laps."
On the final restart, Nasse faced a no-win scenario because he had lane choice, but both Robbins and John Bolen were on fresher tires on the second row and it didn't matter who he tried to block using Matthew Craig with.
"I was more worried about Hunter, but (Bolen) was just as good," Nasse said. "It’s one of those deals where I just needed to get around Matt and hope he could hold them off and let me get away. They got around him pretty fast and that was that."
The only chance Craig had was beating Nasse out of Turn 2 on the final restart and driving away before Robbins and Bolen could swallow him up. He could not and both drivers with fresher tires were all over him.
Facing a tremendous amount of urgency, Robbins even drove into Craig's left rear just off the final restart. Robbins had to go, especially with the opportunity in front of him.
"Honestly, that pass won us the race," Robbins said. "If I don’t, (Bolen) was going to pass us and then I’m behind him and we’re on the same sequence. I was lucky that whatever happened to stall them so I could get a run happened.
"We were really lucky there, honestly, but that move is what put us in position to be where we needed to be to win the race. And we needed every lap after taking our tires."
Craig wishes Robbins had displayed a little more patience but also recognized that they were getting to the end of the race. He believes the contact out of Turn 4 was kind of unnecessary.
"I wish Hunter could have waited a little bit," Craig said. "He was going to pass us on the frontstretch. But I get it. He’s racing for the win and you can’t give up an inch."
The hiatus for Robbins away from Victory Lane was two-fold. For one, Robbins spent several years away from driving to serve as an engineer in the Truck Series with Kyle Busch Motorsports. Also, winning at this level is just hard, especially for a definition family team.
"We're probably the only front running team that doesn't have a single full-time employee," Robbins said. "It's all after hours, after work, weekends. It's why we haven't raced yet this year. That's really rewarding.
"This is all harder than it sometimes looks, and I just feel like I’m getting back in a rhythm driving and knowing what I need out of a race car to starting racing for wins. "
58th Alabama 200
Montgomery Motor Speedway