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Short Track Stars Shine at North Wilkesboro

While NASCAR stars attracted the most attention and fan fare, it was short track racers that stole the night Wednesday at North Wilkesboro Speedway.


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Tuesday and Wednesday’s events at historic North Wilkesboro Speedway saw a star-studded field of 140 cars entered in three races between the ASA STARS National Tour and CARS Tour Pro Late Model Tour and Late Model Stock Tour.

The entry blanks included NASCAR Hall of Fame member Dale Earnhardt Jr., NASCAR Cup Series champions Chase Elliott, Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski, NASCAR Xfinity Series champions William Byron and Daniel Suarez.

Yet at the end of the night on Wednesday evening, it was three short track regulars that were lifted to Victory Lane after beating the best in the business.

Augie Grill, a two-time Snowball Derby winner, took the checkered flag over NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series regular Corey Heim in the CARS Tour Pro Late Model event, Brenden ‘Butterbean’ Queen scored the victory in the stacked CARS Tour Late Model Stock race, and short track ace Bubba Pollard held off Byron, Elliott and a host of hungry drivers in the ASA STARS National Tour event.

Bubba Pollard Holds Off William Byron for ASA STARS National Tour Win at North Wilkesboro

Brenden Queen Blasts to CARS Late Model Stock Tour Victory at North Wilkesboro

With so much attention focused on these three events in part because of the NASCAR drivers’ involvement, do these victories by short track drivers expose them to a bigger audience that may not be as familiar with their stories and successes?

“It might elevate them to people that don’t realize how good they are, but to those of us who know, we’re not in the least bit surprised,” Elliott said after the 150-lap ASA STARS National Tour race. “It doesn’t surprise me. I’ve been racing with these guys a long time. Hopefully for those that it did surprise, it gives the recognition and respect to guys like Bubba that they deserve.”

Elliott and Byron may be stars on the NASCAR scene these days, but they came up the ranks racing against the likes of Pollard and Grill. While they have gone on to enjoy success at the highest level, Pollard’s racing efforts are still not his full-time job and something he says he could not do without the help of his friends and family.

The significance of winning an event such as the ECMD 150 when so much attention was placed on the race because of the NASCAR drivers’ involvement was not lost on Pollard. Although he has won a number of high-profile races in the past, although this event did not pay the most or have the most prestige, it still ranked high among his career wins.

“It’s big for short track racing, not only me, but short track racing in general,” he said following Wednesday’s victory. “Some of these (fans) that come to see Chase Elliott, William Byron, and those guys, Ross (Chastain), the guys in the CARS Tour. It’s big. Hopefully it shows some fans that there is some short track racing out there, and hopefully they’ll continue to watch.

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It’s big, not just for me, but for short track racing in general.”

Bubba Pollard

He also pointed out the increased attention from fans and media, and being able to beat some of the best in NASCAR could lead to more opportunities down the road and open doors that potentially were unavailable before.

“It could potentially bring something to me sponsor-wise. You never know,” said Pollard. “There’s a lot of opportunity there that those guys bring and with Junior and Harvick and (Jeff) Burton doing the CARS Tour, that’s big for short track racing. It’s huge. I’m just very lucky to be a part of it.”

Earlier in the week, Harvick discussed the importance of the CARS Tour ownership group helping expose the larger racing world to the stars of the asphalt short track world, helping the next Josh Berry to be discovered.

CARS Tour Event Marks First Step in Harvick's Retirement Plan

NASCAR Stars React to Late Model Racing at Wilkesboro

“It’s important for those guys to come back and race with us,” Pollard added. “Everything evolves, they have to have fun, it’s fun for them to come race with us. I think the world of them and have a lot of respect for them. The future is bright for short track racing.”

Following this week’s events at North Wilkesboro, both Harvick and Earnhardt reveled in how serious the competition was, but how much fun everyone was having - something that is often missed in the top divisions of NASCAR.

“For me, I don’t think people realize how tough this Late Model Stock division is until you get into it,” said Harvick. “When you have something like this that is so competitive that you can race with it teaches you a lot as a racer, and I think that’s really awesome for our competitor and for us as a series.”

“I’ve been here for two days, and these guys go through a tougher environment than what we dealt with in the Cup Series. We’re pretty pampered up there,” said Earnhardt. “We’ve got air conditioning to hang out in all day and buses to go to. It's just hot and miserable but at the same time you’re having the best time of your life racing out of this garage around all these people work so hard. Everybody has dirt under their fingernails, everybody is happy to be here and this is just really fun.

“The environment in the Cup garage is nothing like this,” he said. “Everyone in the Cup garage - even drivers, I was miserable as a Cup driver. You make yourself so miserable. The good days are very few. The rest of the time you’re a Cup driver is really frustrating. The vibe here is really good. I miss it.”

So while the NASCAR drivers may garner the most attention and bring more spotlight to short track racing, that does not mean they simply walk all over the competition when they show up. They may be the best in the business when it comes to NASCAR, but when it comes to short track racing the regulars are the ones they have to beat to be the best and often times that is not the case.

Image courtesy Will Bellamy, Racing America

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