Pensacola, FL — The 49th Annual Snowball Derby was worth waiting two days for. Christian Eckes and John Hunter Nemechek put on a show during the final laps that fans won’t forget for a long time. The teenage drivers swapped the inside lane and the lead four times during the final two laps before 16-year-old Eckes nipped 19-year-old Nemechek at the line by 0.017 seconds.
“I can’t even believe I’m standing here right now,” Eckes said in Victory Lane. “I thought our day was over when we had that incident down the backstretch. Man, I just can’t believe this. This is the Snowball Derby and this is just crazy.”
Nemechek stayed quiet most of the day after starting in the back half of the field. He took the lead from Ty Majeski on lap 287 and seemed to be on his way to his second Snowball Derby victory.
After spinning early on lap 75, Eckes battled his way back to the front to mix it up for the win in the closing laps. He found his way to Nemechek’s back bumper with less than five laps to go.
Eckes finally found a path to the inside of Nemechek coming to the flagstand with two laps to go. He made the pass but his lead was short lived, as Nemechek pulled a crossover off of turn two. Eckes returned the favor once again coming to the white flag. Having the inside lane turned out to be the difference as they drag raced to the checkered flag.
“I can’t even believe it right now,” Eckes said. “To be honest with you, I came here hoping for a top 10 and to get the win is just ridiculous. I can’t, I can’t, I can’t even believe this.”
While Nemechek was disappointed with the second-place effort, he was proud to be a part of the dramatic finish in front of the great crowd that patiently waited two day to see the race.
“He made the crossover move pretty much one corner earlier than I did,” Nemechek said. “I should have backed off and held him to the outside and he wouldn’t have got to me. But heck of a race. I can’t thank all the fans enough for coming out on a Tuesday. This is awesome to be able to put on such a close finish for you guys. That’s how you win a race right there. He showed what he could do and rubbin’ is racing.”
For much of the race it seemed as though Chad Finley would be the driver celebrating an underdog victory. He led a race high 179 laps before suffering a problem under the hood with 18 laps remaining.
Pre-race favorite Ty Majeski led the first 42 laps of the race, but faded late to finish third. 2016 Southern Super Series champion Donnie Wilson and 14-year-old Chandler Smith completed the top five.
GRILL TAKES THE FLAKE
Augie Grill is no stranger to victory lane at Five Flags Speedway (FL), but there was something special about winning Saturday’s Snowflake 100.
Grill started in 21st and quickly made his through the field, to put himself in position to outduel NASCAR Camping World Trucks star John Hunter Nemechek on a late-race restart. Grill, now a three-time winner of the Snowflake, choked back tears in victory lane.
“To me, this is one of the biggest races in the country,” Grill said. “It’s not the Snowball, but only the best Pro Late Models are in this race. To come from 21st to first really makes this special. It is great to take a step forward, and not a step back with my driving. It feels really good.”
PARKER WINS CAUTION-FILLED PRO TRUCK FEATURE
Big pileups and tangled crashes filled Saturday’s end-of-the-night Pro Truck feature. At the end of the night, it was Jarrett Parker surviving it all to win the 50-lap race.
“I’m unbelievably happy right now,” he said. “I gave it my all. It feels amazing.”
RUBLE, GORHAM ETCH NAMES INTO SNOWBALL DERBY LORE (By Chuck Corder)
Korey Ruble proved on Day 2 of the 49th Annual Snowball Derby what many short-track drivers across the southeast already knew.
He’s as good a wheelman as there is.
The 31 year old from Headland, AL, bided his time for most of the 50-lap Modifieds Snowball Derby before turning on the afterburners late to capture his first career Derby crown.
A slew of Faith Chapel Super Stocks drivers from around the Orlando area were a part of a deep 25-car field at Pensacola’s high banks or the Super Stocks Snowball Derby.
Winter Haven driver George Gorham Jr. led most of the race, but needed a late-race miscue by Panama City’s Corbitt Moseley to reclaim the lead with just two laps left in the 50 lapper.
Gorham took advantage and never looked back to win his first career Super Stocks Derby title.
BUTTRICK & B.J. DOMINATE SNOWBALL DERBY THURSDAY
Steve Buttrick waited. And waited. And waited some more.
The veteran wheelman stalked the rear deck of Mark Barnhill for 18 laps before finding the perfect spot to make his move. The move was quick and decisive, as he held on the rest of the race to take the Sportsman feature of the 49th Annual Snowball Derby.
Barnhill made a minor slip in turn four and allowed Buttrick to get to the inside for what turned out to be the race-winning move.
B.J. Leytham led flag-to-flag to capture Thursday’s Bomber 30-lap feature.
Leytham survived a myriad of cautions throughout the event, and could distance himself from field shorty after every restart.
Full results for all divisions can be found by visiting www.5flagsspeedway.com.