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PREVIEW: Kyle Busch to start 15th in Sunday’s 50th Snowball Derby

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The golden anniversary of one of the most popular short track races in all levels of stock car racing takes place in Sunday’s Snowball Derby.

The 50th running of the Super Late Model classic takes the green flag at 3 p.m. ET at 5 Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Florida. The race will be televised on pay-per-view on

Only 37 of the 67 cars that submitted entries will take part in Sunday’s 300-lap main event around the high-banked paved half-mile.

Qualifying took place Friday, with the top 30 drivers locked into Sunday’s show (see full qualifying list below). Three other drivers will receive a provisional position start, while four additional drivers will have one final try to qualify for Sunday’s field in Saturday night’s 50-lap “last chance” race.

Among notables in Sunday’s race are 2015 NASCAR Cup champ Kyle Busch, along with a number of young NASCAR drivers including Noah Gragson, Mason Mingus, Ty Majeski, Brandon McReynolds, Harrison Burton and Corey LaJoie.

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series former champion Johnny Sauter was originally entered into the Snowball Derby before a hard wreck during practice Thursday forced the Wisconsin native to withdraw his entry.

Preston Peltier will start from the pole, while defending Derby winner Christian Eckes failed to qualify on a tiebreaker Friday, but will race Sunday because of a past champion’s provisional.

Kyle Busch was not happy with his 15th place qualifying effort, particularly since he and his team had a strong two-day practice at 5 Flags right after the NASCAR Cup season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

“Obviously 15th isn’t where we wanted to qualify, but Rudy (Fugle, crew chief) and all the guys made our Toyota, Phoenix Construction Camry a lot better for final practice,” said Busch, who was sixth-fastest in Saturday’s final practice session.

“We made some 20-lap runs and we feel like we have good long-run speed, but we’re probably still lacking a little bit of speed firing off compared to the guys that qualified up front.”

Busch has one Snowball Derby win to date, in 2009.

Several well-known former NASCAR drivers are past Derby winners, including the late Pete Hamilton (1974), Donnie Allison (1975) and Darrell Waltrip (1976), Ted Musgrave (1988) and Rick Crawford (1989).

NASCAR has really taken a hold of victory lane at the Derby in recent years. Starting with the younger Busch brother’s win in 2009 and Johanna Long’s triumph in 2010, NASCAR drivers have captured the Derby in virtually every year since, including two-time winners Chase Elliott (2011 and 2015) and Erik Jones (2012 and 2013), and John Hunter Nemechek (2014).

Snowball Derby winners

  • 1968 Wayne Niedecken
  • 1969 Friday Hassler
  • 1970 Wayne Niedecken, Sr.
  • 1971 Dickie Davis
  • 1972 Ed Howe
  • 1973 Dickie Davis
  • 1974 Pete Hamilton
  • 1975 Donnie Allison
  • 1976 Darrell Waltrip
  • 1977 Ronnie Sanders
  • 1978 Dave Mader III
  • 1979 Freddy Fryar
  • 1980 Gary Balough
  • 1981 Freddy Fryar
  • 1982 Gene Morgan
  • 1983 Mickey Gibbs
  • 1984 Butch Lindley
  • 1985 Jody Ridley
  • 1986 Gary Balough
  • 1987 Butch Miller
  • 1988 Ted Musgrave
  • 1989 Rick Crawford
  • 1990 Rich Bickle
  • 1991 Rich Bickle
  • 1992 Gary St. Amant
  • 1993 Bobby Gill
  • 1994 Tammy Jo Kirk (first female Snowball Derby winner)
  • 1995 Jeff Purvis
  • 1996 Rich Bickle
  • 1997 Bobby Gill
  • 1998 Rich Bickle
  • 1999 Rich Bickle
  • 2000 Gary St. Amant
  • 2001 Wayne Anderson
  • 2002 Ricky Turner
  • 2003 Charlie Bradberry
  • 2004 Steve Wallace
  • 2005 Eddie Mercer
  • 2006 Clay Rogers
  • 2007 Augie Grill
  • 2008 Augie Grill
  • 2009 Kyle Busch
  • 2010 Johanna Long
  • 2011 Chase Elliott (At 15, youngest winner in Snowball Derby history)
  • 2012 Erik Jones
  • 2013 Erik Jones
  • 2014 John Hunter Nemechek
  • 2015 Chase Elliott
  • 2016 Christian Eckes

Here’s how Friday’s qualifying played out. Just the first 30 drivers are locked in. Three others, including defending champ Christian Eckes, are locked in with provisional spots, leaving four remaining positions to be filled in Saturday night’s last chance event.

1             48          Preston Peltier 16.319
2             26          Bubba Pollard   16.344
3             112        Augie Grill           16.419
4             5M        Mason Mingus 16.437
5             75          Jeremy Doss      16.441
6             81          Chase Purdy      16.460
7             14D       Chris Davidson 16.461
8             91          Ty Majeski         16.475
9             53B        Cole Butcher     16.480
10          55D       Spencer Davis   16.514
11          9C          Jeff Choquette 16.514
12          18          Casey Roderick 16.520
13          14C        Connor Okrzesik 16.521
14          36          Dan Fredrickson  16.521
15          51          Kyle Busch          16.530
16          4             Kyle Plott            16.530
17          26S        Chandler Smith 16.544
18          99L        Raphael Lessard  16.552
19          11B        Logan Boyett    16.553
20          18G       Noah Gragson  16.571
21          20          Brandon McReynolds  16.573
22          12          Harrison Burton 16.576
23          46          Cole Rouse        16.582
24          00          Anthony Cataldi 16.609
25          53J         Boris Jurkovic    16.621
26          07          Corey LaJoie      16.624
27          19          Kason Plott        16.649
28          01          Jake Crum          16.653
29          13          Cassius Clark      16.658
30          51N       Stephen Nasse 16.660
31          2W        Donnie Wilson  16.660
32          15          Christian Eckes 16.660
33          9K          Derek Kraus       16.664
34          55          Brandon Oakley 16.705
35          32D       Tyler Dippel       16.705
36          8F          Tate Fogleman 16.734
37          88          Garrett Jones    16.743
38          33          Dustin Smith     16.744
39          7             John DeAngelis Jr  16.749
40          11R        David Rogers     16.769
41          79          Kyle Bryant        16.778
42          89          Jeremy Pate      16.782
43          22          Donald Crocker 16.786
44          79A       Joe Aramendia 16.815
45          16          Steven Davis     16.843
46          45          Rich Bickle Jr     16.847
47          5             Jerry Artuso       16.855
48          58C        John Coffman   16.882
49          43          Dennis Schoenfield  16.897
50          4R          Ben Rowe           16.947
51          64          Garrett Evans    16.967
52          32          Stuart Dutton   17.137
53          58F        Jeff Firestine     18.159


NASCAR’s Saturday schedule for Martinsville Speedway

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A busy day is scheduled for NASCAR at Martinsville Speedway with the Camping World Truck Series race followed by qualifying for Sunday’s Cup race.

Here’s the full schedule for day with TV and radio info.

All times are Eastern

7 a.m. – 8 p.m. — Cup garage open

7:30 a.m. — Truck garage opens

10:05 – 10:55 a.m. — Cup practice (FS1, MRN)

11:05 a.m. — Truck qualifying; multi-truck/three rounds (FS1)

12:15 p.m. — Truck driver-crew chief meeting

12:30 – 1:20 p.m. — Final Cup practice (FS1, MRN)

1:30 p.m. — Truck driver introductions

2 p.m. — Alpha Energy Solutions 250; 250 laps/131.5 miles (FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

5:10 p.m. — Cup qualifying; multi-car/three rounds (FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Without NASCAR ride, Blake Koch devoting energy to helping younger drivers

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Blake Koch‘s son Carter is 5, but he’s already developed some understanding of how NASCAR works.

“All he’s ever known is me as a race car driver,” Koch tells NBC Sports. “He’s smart enough to know now that when Dale (Earnhardt) Jr. retired and Matt Kenseth retired and Danica (Patrick) retired, he now knows what retirement means.”

At some point since last November, Koch had to explain to Carter why he wasn’t competing in 2018.

“He’s like, ‘Dad, are you retired?'” Koch says. “I was like, ‘No, buddy, I just lost my sponsor.'”

Koch is four months removed from his last start in Kaulig Racing’s No. 11 Chevrolet in the Xfinity Series.

After two years racing full-time for the team, he was replaced by Ryan Truex, who brought sponsorship with him. Koch was left without a ride after making 213 starts in the Xfinity Series since 2009.

Koch has heard many of the same questions since November.

Are you done racing? Are you still trying to get sponsors? What are you doing?

“My answer is no, I’m not done racing,” Koch answers. “I can’t be done racing.”

At 32 and with 229 national NASCAR starts on his resume, Koch was left with two options when the 2017 season ended.

“Sit around and feel sorry for myself and read all the support and the tweets and let it (allow me) to think that an opportunity should come to me or go out and make something happen and have fun and utilize my resources and knowledge,” Koch says.

He decided he wasn’t going to pursue any ride this season. But Koch is not going anywhere.

In addition to a weekly appearance on Fox Sports 1’s “NASCAR Race Hub,” Koch wanted to try his hand as a driver mentor, helping young NASCAR drivers develop with the knowledge he’s accrued the last decade.

Koch jokes that his love of helping people may have been one of his “downfalls as a driver.”

“I helped other drivers,” Koch says. “If someone asked me what I was doing or about the race, I told them my honest opinion because I actually liked helping.”

Koch also observed a lack of people in similar roles in NASCAR.

“Every other sport has a coach or someone to lean on or someone on your side. Golfers, quarterbacks, everybody does. Except for NASCAR drivers,” Koch says. “Even Supercross racers have trainers and coaches and people making them better and better. But in our sport, it was just nonexistent, because there were no drivers that would retire and still want to be at the racetrack helping other drivers.”

Before committing to the idea, he went to former NASCAR driver Josh Wise for advice. Wise works with Chip Ganassi Racing helping their drivers.

“I did pick Josh’s brain a little bit on if he was happy doing it, if he missed being in a car and all that kind of stuff,” Koch says. “He still had the adrenaline rush, he loved what he was doing. … He saw results from the work he’s putting in. … You don’t want to do something and feel like there’s no results behind it and you don’t want to do something if you don’t think it’s going to be fun or rewarding.”

Through Chris Biby, a driver manager, Koch was connected with Matt Tifft, who joined Richard Childress Racing this season after a year with Joe Gibbs Racing. He’s also begun working with Truck Series driver Myatt Snider.

Koch and Tifft did not interact much last year, aside from greetings at driver introductions.

Their first real conversation came over a meal at Hickory Tavern in Huntersville, North Carolina.  Now they talk almost every day.

Koch didn’t officially begin his role helping out Tifft until after the season opener at Daytona.

“What I try to be for Matt Tifft is everything I’ve always wanted,” Koch says. “Confidence is key. It’s a big part of going fast, being confident in yourself. I believe that comes from hard work.

“I knew I had that feeling, and that’s something I implemented into Matt’s weekly routine, that when he shows up to the racetrack he knows he’s been working harder than every single person out there, and he’s more prepared than anyone out there. Then you have a little extra pep in your step when you’re walking in the garage.”

Koch says a “very small portion” of the work he does with his drivers is at the track. Most of his “two cents” comes between Monday and Friday.

On Sunday nights, he sets a schedule for Tifft and Snider, what to do with their workout program, race prep and what to work on in the simulator in addition to general notes for the race weekend.

Tifft says Koch is “very particular about every single thing” he’s doing.

“I set up specific workouts for him to do throughout the week and I tweaked his nutrition a little bit,” Koch says. “But he was already pretty disciplined with his nutrition. I set a checklist of things he needs to know every single week before he gets to the racetrack. Small details, even little things like garage flow. … When you get to the race track, the only thing you should have to think about is hitting your marks and running in a perfect line and focusing on your task at hand, not the other small details that are just cluttering your mind.”

Through roughly four weeks of working with Tifft and Snider, Koch has found the same satisfaction that Wise has in his role with Ganassi.

“When this opportunity came across to work with Matt, I could still race,” Koch says. “You have that competition, the adrenaline because you feel like you’re invested in part of it and I could help them out. It kind of helped fulfill the desire I had for helping people and helping someone make the best of their opportunity. I know how difficult it is to get an opportunity in this sport. When someone has that opportunity, I love nothing more than to see them maximize it. That’s what keeps me excited.”

Working with the two young drivers also keeps Koch on his toes in the case an offer materializes from a team.

“It absolutely helps,” Koch says. “I have to stay in shape and constantly watch, read and study data and work as hard as I was, probably working harder now than I was when I was driving. Because I have the accountability of Matt Tifft and Myatt Snider. Those guys are starting to push me harder in the gym, too. I have to get stronger. You can’t have your athletes stronger than the coach. I got to step up my game.”

Koch isn’t done adding things to his work life.

He plans to launch a new business in May, which he works on in the afternoons following his morning workout.

Koch isn’t giving away any details on that business will entail.

“The reason I started it is back when I was racing, if I poured as much effort and passion and hard work into my own business and product that I did into everybody else’s I’d be in a much better position right now,” Koch says. “I’ve learned a lot, about business and marketing and how to create a successful company, especially being friends with Matt Kaulig and seeing Leaf Filter grow over the years, I came up with an idea that I know people need and use and want, and I’m going to supply that to people here very soon.”

In the meantime, with the Xfinity Series off the next two weekends and Koch not making the trip to Texas Motor Speedway, he will spend his weekends nurturing his son’s dirt bike career. Carter competed in his first race last weekend.

“He was begging for it,” Koch says of the dirt bike. “I wanted to get him in a go kart or something a little safer but he’s just about as hardheaded and stubborn as I am.”

A Driver’s Drive: Darrell Wallace Jr. aggressive and confident

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Returning to the site of his first Camping World Truck Series win provided a great opportunity for Darrell Wallace Jr. to reflect on his meteoric rise through the NASCAR ranks in the week’s edition of “A Driver’s Drive”.

Finishing second in the Daytona 500 put his name in the record book as the highest finishing African-American driver and raised expectations about Wallace’s potential at the Cup level.

Martinsville is going to raise another challenge to see if he can live up to that potential without stepping over the line. Wallace earned his first victory in one of NASCAR’s top three divisions on this track in the 2013 Kroger 200. He backed that up with another win in the same race the following year. Those victories add to his confidence and possibly his aggression on the bullring.

“Looking back on stats and what not, you’ll see that I’m one of the most aggressive guys coming up through the ranks,” Wallace said.

On Sunday, Wallace will need to temper that aggression if he wants to score another top-10 in Cup competition.

For more on what Wallace says, watch the video above.

Axalta, Hendrick Motorsports extend relationship though 2022

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Axalta and Hendrick Motorsports announced a four-year extension of their relationship through 2022, continuing a 26-year partnership.

Axalta, a supplier of liquid and powder coatings, will serve as a 25-race primary sponsor of Hendrick over the next two years. Axalta will sponsor Alex Bowman (15 races in 2018 and 12 races in 2019) and William Byron (10 races in 2018 and 13 races in 2019).

Schedules for the 2020-2022 seasons will be announced at a later date.

Hendrick’s deal with NAPA was recently extended through 2020.

Axalta, formerly known as DuPont, has been with Hendrick since November 1992 when it sponsored Jeff Gordon in his first Cup start at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Gordon went on to win four Cup titles with Axalta as his primary sponsor.

Last May, Axalta opened a 36,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art Customer Experience Center on the HMS campus outside Charlotte, North Carolina, to enable customers to train and be part of a full racing experience.

“We are so proud of our partnership with Axalta,” said Rick Hendrick in a press release. “Their long-term commitment to our organization and our sport as a whole has been unbelievable. They are constantly innovating and investing to keep the program fresh, enhance the experience for their customers and ultimately drive value for their business. Projects like the Customer Experience Center on our campus are unprecedented and reinforce the strength of our relationship. We’ve worked together for more than a quarter of a century, and I believe it’s just the beginning.”