Pollard Uses Strategy & Holds off Heim for Thrilling SpeedFest 150 Win
Pollard Joins Busch & Elliott on All-Time SpeedFest Wins List
Cordelle, GA (Saturday, January 28, 2023) - A packed house at Crisp Motorsports Park’s Watermelon Capital Speedway witnessed an impressive day of racing during the 2023 SpeedFest. The annual January kickoff to the 2023 season saw nearly 100 race cars take on the tricky oval in the Peach State through five divisions of cars. The highlight of the day, the ASA/CRA Super Series and ASA Southern Super Series SpeedFest 150, a race that saw multiple lead changes, several cautions, and 150 laps of non-stop action.
Rookie Super Late Model driver Giovani Ruggiero led the field to the green flag alongside Georgia young gun Jake Garcia. Ruggiero led the first five rotations before two-time SpeedFest winner, Bubba Pollard took the top spot. It wasn’t long until the race was slowed as NASCAR Craftsmen Truck Series regular, Carson Hocevar tangled with Ruggiero as the pair battled for the second spot. The incident would draw an eventual end to Hocevar’s day; meanwhile, Ruggiero was able to race on.
Once the race went back green, Garcia moved his Jake Racing no. 35 to the front of the field on lap 20. His tenure at the front was interrupted 12 laps later when Pollard moved back around Garcia, using the outside of the race track. Pollard showed the way until lap 57 when Garcia found his way back around the fellow Georgia native. The pair would swap spots again on lap 72, just four laps before a competition caution on lap 76, the 6th caution of the day to that point after several single-car spins as a result of close side-by-side action.
Pollard took the opportunity with the caution just after the halfway point of the race to come down pit road and get two of his available four tires on the wall. The decision would put Pollard outside of the top 15 on the restart with about half the leaders electing to come down pit road, and half electing to keep track position. Pollard’s decision also handed the lead over to Wilson Motorsports driver, Corey Heim for the first time in the race.
Heim looked as though he may have won the chess match, setting sail out in front of the field being virtually untouchable even after pit stops. One caution would break up the competition yellows when Nicholas Naugle became the first driver of the day to leave the race track and head for the watermelon field off of turns three and four. The trip through the notorious Watermelon Capital Speedway creek spelled the end of the night for the Canadian.
Heim took the restart and continued to lead, but Pollard was on the way through the field, carving his way quickly back into the top five. Pollard got the best of Heim at the exit of turn two and down the backstretch. The trouble for Pollard is, he made the move one lap too late, coming back around to take the caution flag for the final competition caution of the day came with just 25 laps to go, resetting the field back to the last completed lap, putting Pollard in second behind Heim.
The adjustment in the lineup was eventually a moot point, as Heim hit pit road for his new right-side tires. Pollard was officially scored the leader once again on lap 127. Just a few laps after the restart, with 20 laps to go, trouble struck in turns three and four when 2020 NASCAR Cup Series Champion, Chase Elliott, and 2022 Pro Late Model SpeedFest winner Micheal Hinde came together. The accident brought Elliott's night to an end prematurely; Hinde was able to continue.
Pollard took off again as the leader, but another caution flew when Ruggiero spun off turns three and four and into the watermelon field - he was able to continue. A strong restart again for Pollard as he worked to hold off Heim who had worked his way back into contention for the win with fresh tires. But the race was again slowed when cars scattered in turns three and four once again. This time a result of contact between a spinning Micheal Goddard who collected Jett Noland, Micheal Hinde, and Casey Atwell took to the grass to avoid.
Another restart for Pollard, who again could not shake the pressure of the no. 20 Heim machine. But again, the race was interrupted, this time by Atwell who got crossed up on the outside of Billy VanMeter. Atwell got crossed up on the front stretch and slammed head-first into the inside wall. Atwell was ok, but his night was over.
What would be the final restart of the race was dramatic as Pollard still couldn’t shake Heim. Heading into turns three and four for the final time, Heim could only get close enough to lean on Pollard coming out of four, but the contact wasn’t enough to move the veteran out of the way, and Pollard went on to collect the win.
Pollard, in victory lane, said he knew he would have his work cut out for him having Heim behind him with fresher tires. With the win, Pollard joins Kyle Busch and Chase Elliott as drivers with three SpeedFest wins in the race’s 17-event history. Pollard also becomes the first driver to win the race in back-to-back years since Elliott did it in 2014 and 2015.
The JEGS/CRA All-Stars Tour SpeedFest 100 was won by longtime Late Model competitor, Augie Grill. The Hayden, Alabama native took the lead on lap 41 and went on to collect the win. Chad Chaffin won the 30-lap Outlaw Late Model feature leading from green to checkers. Cody Hall made a last-lap pass and survived a shot in the bumper by Donavan Strauss to win the INEX Legends Car 25-lap feature. The Junior Bandolero division brought the closest finish of the day when Emma Britt survived a green-white-checkered finish and beat Lane Christianson back to the finish line by 0.033 seconds. Gerald White III lead every lap of the Rookie Bandolero race to win the fist feature of the day.
The next event for the ASA/CRA Super Series will be the points opener from Anderson Speedway in Anderson, Indiana on Saturday, April 29th. Eddie VanMeter is the defending winner of that event and went on to become the 2022 ASA/CRA Super Series Champion. For the ASA/Southern Super Series, they’ll race Tuesday, February 14th at New Smyrna Speedway for the Clyde Hart Memorial.
All Super Late Model teams are now looking ahead to Saturday, March 11th at 5 Flags Speedway for the Inaugural ASA STARS Tour event. The race will be the first of a 10-race schedule for the first-ever STARS Tour schedule. Discounted advance tickets are now available at www.TrackEnterprises.com.
For more information on Champion Racing Association, log on to www.CRA-Racing.com. Find and follow CRA: Champion Racing Association on Facebook, and on Twitter @CRARacing.
Story - Zach Hiser
Photo - Tyler Sontag