First, the thrill of victory. Anyone who saw the last three laps between Christian Eckes and John Hunter Nemechek saw how, in my opinion, bump and run racing should work if allowed at a short track. Both gave each other a little nudge, but not enough to take them out from challenging for the win, but just enough for one to get a slight advantage. It was a chess game where the margin of victory for Eckes was 0.017 seconds. In that minute, the last three laps were contested, it became an instant classic.
As far as the race is concerned, yes many will say that the “controlled cautions” changed the outlook of the race along with not making it a fast moving race. We all need to understand why the change was last minute and this was something that track officials pretty much had to learn as they go kind of thing. Could live pit stops changed the outcome of the race? Well, we can Monday morning quarterback this all day. But the finish is the end product and what we got was a memorable finish.
There are a couple of stories that could make the "Agony of Defeat."
First was Chad Finley who was having the race of his life, leading over 200 laps and was the car to beat and was awesome on restarts. But with 20 laps to go, the alternator ended his dream of holding up the Tom Dawson trophy. His victory would have been one of the more sentimental stories in the history of the event as another driver doing what he can to be successful and a win in this event, may have been the catapault needed for him to get to his next goal. Hopefully, his strong run was enough to gain that needed attention.
The major talk on social media was the incident between Stephen Nasse and William Byron near the end of the race where the two made contact while battling for second and causing Nasse to go in the wall. Nasse made sure that Byron would not have his chance to win by taking him out during the caution.
After the race, Nasse tweeted the following: “Hey @WilliamByron I learned that move watching your boss on the weekends. Right @KyleBusch? #KBismyhero #welcometotheSNShow.”
Within seconds after the incident, many went on Twitter and noted that with that move, Nasse will never get an opportunity on the upper level of the sport with moves like that. This may be a surprise to those who tweeted that, but Nasse wasn’t looking at the Snowball Derby as an audition, he was looking at it for a race to win. He confirmed that in a text message to me after the race.
“I haven’t tried to move up in racing since I was 15, when I realized it wasn’t worth it,” Nasse said via text message.
Yes, the emotions were high and his incident he did to Byron during the caution was, in my opinion not a smart move, at the same time understand his emotion that caused that immediate reaction.
“Me and my crew chief David Pletcher put this car together just for this race. The only thing we didn’t do ourselves was the sheet metal work. LFR did that for us,” Nasse explained in a text message. “If anybody doubt me working on my stuff, tell them to come by my shop and see for themselves! I’ll be taking it apart on Thursday.”
To me, this is something that some who don’t follow short track racing as close as many of us do, don’t see week in, week out when we visit short tracks and series. There is a great mix of teams that are either a professional development team all the way down to a few guys putting a car together to come out and enjoy the sport with no aspirations of being the next star in any of NASCAR’s top three series. They want to race.
The Snowball Derby has this mix every year and sometimes these teams clash around the emotion of their individual goals. Some young drivers come in and will literally drive through veterans to get noticed or not respect the hard work and effort their team and other teams put in preparing their cars to compete in an event. When that happens, we see caution filled races versus good, hard short track racing.
The Byron/Nasse incident is more of a racing incident than one person doing it on purpose to another, but the emotion got the best of Nasse, who said later on told Speed51.com that he doesn’t regret it, noting that he will be fixing his own car and doesn’t feel that Byron will fix his car himself. (You can see the interview with both on Speed51.com.)
The feeling that Nasse expressed to Speed51.com was expanded in his text to me.
“Trust me, that’s why I don’t want to move up because most people in NASCAR are not real racers and if I went to NASCAR I wouldn’t be able to be myself and I’m just not okay with that,” Nasse said. “I like to speak my mind, it makes me feel better lol, and almost no drivers in NASCAR work on their stuff anymore, so it’s nothing to them when they get wrecked.”
You can respect his emotion when he had a mechanical issue in qualifying, had to win the last chance race to make the field and start 30th in the race. He was one spot away from challenging for the lead and one tap changed it all.
That was the agony of defeat.
As the sun rose over Pensacola the next morning, many are already looking ahead to the 50th running of the Snowball Derby, we are all talking about short track racing and another young star may have taken a big step in his career.