Super Late Models
Stephen Nasse Poised to Make Big History with Snowball Win
Dec 2, 2022
There are only two drivers on the premises of Five Flags Speedway guaranteed to start the 55th Annual Snowball Derby and that comes to a great relief of Southern Super Series champion Hunter Robbins and track Super Late Model champion Bubba Pollard.
For everyone else, and there are 53 drivers set to take time on Friday night, this is the most dramatic qualifying session in motorsports.
Here’s how it works:
Qualifying will lock-in the top-30 cars based on speed. Two provisional starting spots will also be awarded to the Southern Super Series and track champion, thus Robbins and Pollard. If those two drivers qualify inside the top-30, the provisionals will be awarded to the next highest finishing driver in track and touring series points respectively.
That means Stephen Nasse, second in Five Flags Speedway and third in Southern Super Series points, will almost every likelihood made the race. Which is important, because he has struggled in qualifying the past several years and has used that provisional frequently and immediately driven to the front each year.
"I don't care about qualifying too much," Nasse said. "Don't get me wrong. My guys care. I would love to qualify up front. It would make things so much easier. It's easier to avoid missing a crash,
"But for us, we focus on having a super-fast race car, and if we don't, it doesn't end up too well for me. Short run speed is great but long run speed is king."
It’s a luxury a lot of teams don’t have approaching tonight as 20 cars not locked in after time trials will have to go to a 50-lap last chance race on Saturday evening. That race will take the top four to set positions 31-34 and finalize the starting lineup for the race.
Defending winner Chandler Smith would have been guaranteed a starting position but is not entered.
"The most intensity that we’ll feel all weekend may very well be in the couple of hours that precede Friday night’s pole position qualifying," says speedway general manager Tim Bryant.
It never fails that every year a surprise driver fails gets bumped. In 2020, it was Bubba Pollard, who failed to make the show but had his track championship to fall back on. However, Chase Elliott, Noah Gragson, Connor Okrzesik, Kodie Conner and Augie Grill were all bumped to the last chance race.
It was the most star-studded last chance race in format history and is indicative of how different qualifying and racing here is. It’s something Brad Keselowski, making his race debut is keenly aware of.
"I've learned that what it takes to qualify well here, isn't necessarily the same as what it will take to race well," Keselowski said.
The 2012 Cup Series champion admitted that that there are nerves over just making the show.
You can feel the mood in the air. Drivers, typically affable and personable, go stoic and stone-faced as they wait in line and watch the first couple of cars go out. Not even three-time and defending pole winner Derek Thorn is immune to the pressure.
"You go into like a trance," Thorn said. "I don’t talk to anyone. You just sit in the car and you make sure you’re ready to go. You can’t give up a single tenth – not against this field."
Ty Majeski says the vibes are ultimately hard to describe.
"So, we feel confident about our qualifying speed, but it's the atmosphere and hype that is nerve-wracking and not the difficulty of making the race," he explained. "I feel like there are other races that are more challenging to qualify for.
"This race is certainly hard to make and there's a lot of great teams and good drivers, but it's the atmosphere and hype that makes you nervous. There's nothing like it and you just have to be here and experience it to feel it in the air."
Drivers need to be careful to not get disqualified for a simple mistake, too. In 2020, Smith had his qualifying times disallowed because he had a cell phone in his car to watch lap times, something that is not permitted.
He started last in the last chance but raced his way into the main event.
Derek Griffith is seeking to make his fifth consecutive appearance in the race, but he has never qualified well at the Florida half-mile.
"I know what I need in a race car to race well, but I struggle with qualifying, especially here sometimes," Griffith said. "You see sometimes a guy runs a line that doesn’t make any sense and they’re three-tenths faster than you.
"A little bit nervous but as long as we make it in, that’s all that counts."
55TH ANNUAL SNOWBALL DERBY QUALIFYING ORDER