Corey Heim got four chances at it but just couldn’t clear Bubba Pollard in a battle between the two most recent winners of Speedfest at Watermelon Capital Speedway.
It proved to be a satisfying victory for Pollard on several levels as it’s always an accomplishment to win at his home track, much less on consecutive years, but also against one of the Donnie Wilson Motorsports cars and one of the recent elite drivers.
He also did it in an unexpected start driving in a Senneker Performance chassis after his primary Port City car was delayed coming back from California. Oh, and not to mention, Pollard held off Heim on right side tires that were taken 50 laps prior.
“We line up, he’s second, twenty laps to go and we’re done,” Pollard said. “He’s got tires and we’re done. It goes to show you what kind of car we had. We had a car capable of winning and I drove my ass off. I couldn’t give him more than an inch and that’s all I had.”
Prior to the race, Pollard conceded he was a little concerned about the long-term speed of the car, only because he had never driven it. There was no notebook beyond the short runs from practice on Thursday and Friday.
He had conviction in the car, but didn’t know for sure, the way he typically wants to know when taking the green flag.
“I didn’t know if it would get tight, get free, I had no idea,” Pollard said. “I let Jake (Garcia) go (earlier in the race) to see where he was beating me and where I was beating him. It was some strategy and we didn’t do anything all day beyond letting some air out of the left front tire, let er ear.”
And she ate.
It was kind of a mixed bag for Heim taking his right sides so much later because there is marginal speed to be gained in doing so, but at the loss of track position and a car that gets tighter, especially if the track took rubber.
And it took rubber.
“I just needed to be better at the end,” Heim said. “He got his car driving better in practice all weekend. It’s on me to read the track a little better. I didn’t anticipate the track taking rubber the way it did. That’s on me set-up for that instead of the looser conditions.
“We didn’t quite have it today. I thought we had the race won on tires based on how much better we were on level tires, but we got to Bubba, and it was just a different level of speed.”
Certainly, the track position helped Pollard too, as he had clean air and lane choice for each restart. He chose the outside on every restart, kept even with Heim through the backstretch and was able to drive off Turn 4 to complete the pass.
But three times, the caution came out, and reset the field.
Additional heat cycles could have freed up Heim enough to stay with Pollard through Turn 4, or at least rough him up, and Heim could have chosen to be a little more aggressive. It was something Pollard recognized and appreciated.
“I had good drive all day,” Pollard said. “I really could beat him off the corner. I could turn better than him. They were tight, especially when he picked up the throttle and got free off, and if I could keep him pinched down in 3 and 4, especially in the middle, he couldn’t get off the corner.
“I knew as long as I hit my marks, I could beat him. He could rough me up, but he couldn’t beat me.”
And Pollard said he is going to return that respectful gesture to Heim the next time they race together and if the roles are reversed.
Garcia held serve with Pollard early in the race, and could get to he and Heim, but it ultimately came down to track position and execution. The Ricky Turner led team claimed a solid podium.
“Needed to be a little bit better, needed a little bit of track position,” Garcia said. “I feel like we were right there with Bubba and Corey. We hit on some things and found out a lot of ways we could be better in the future.”
Garcia is full-time in Trucks this season but plans a slate of Late Model starts when his schedule allows too. That also will allow Chase Elliott to jump in a Turner car for the occasional start as well.
Speaking of Elliott, it was a challenging weekend for the 2020 Cup Series champion in his first Super Late Model start in two years and first at Watermelon Capital in seven years. He couldn’t get a feel for his car all week.
He qualified 15th and eventually parked his car behind the wall after it was involved in a fender bender late in the race. It wasn’t a contending effort, and Elliott spent much of the day just trying to build a notebook for future races.
The decisive moment of the race came on Lap 76 when Pollard and Casey Roderick led roughly half the field to take their tires then. The rest of the field took their tires 50 laps later. The top five came on a mix of the two strategies.
- Bubba Pollard (76)
- Corey Heim (126)
- Jake Garcia (126)
- Casey Roderick (76)
- Timothy Watson (126)
“I was on that same strategy as Bubba, we were rolling tight center that first run,” Roderick said. “We were trying to bide our time until that first adjustment. Made some good adjustments and thought, man we’re pretty good, and it went tight on me again.”
No doubt a byproduct of the rubber again.
“We made up a little ground, but just needed to be a little better, need to work on my communication more with Anthony.”
William Byron was in the top-five mix for most of the race, but an ill-handling car forced him to pit early and he just couldn’t get the car to where he wanted before finishing eighth.
“We were just very tight the first 70 laps or so,” Byron said. “Burned the right front off and had to pit there to have any shot. Once we did pit, we had to start at the tail because we were a lap late getting back on track.
“I just need to work on myself on what I need on some of these flatter places. I was way too tight, and I think I led us the wrong direction with a change I suggestion overnight. Something to work on because we haven’t won in a while and that’s on the back of my mind too.”
It’s been since the Slinger Nationals.
Meanwhile, the first major accident of the race occurred on lap six when Carson Hocevar ran into the back of Gio Ruggiero. The crash, which Hocevar attributed to a parts failure, eliminated him from the race while Ruggiero continued to an 11th place result.
The race, while a non-points exhibition, was the first under the new American Speed Association banner. It was also co-sanctioned by both the ASA CRA and ASA Southern Super Series in advance of the inaugural ASA STARS Series race at Five Flags Speedway in March.
January 28 2023
Watermelon Capital Speedway
- Bubba Pollard
- Corey Heim
- Jake Garcia
- Casey Roderick
- Timmy Watson
- William Sawalich
- Colin Allman
- William Byron
- Steve Dorer
- Matt Craig
- Gio Ruggiero
- Billy VanMeter
- Michael Goddard
- Hunter Wright
- Tony Elrod
- Michael Atwell
- Jett Noland
- Michael Hinde
- Chase Elliott
- Johnny Sauter
- Nicholas Naugle
- Stephen Nasse
- Carson Hocevar
- John Coffman
- Dusty Williams
- Jason Lester