Brandon McReynolds

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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 Speed51.com.

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

 

Sweet 16: Todd Gilliland’s path to historic NASCAR championship

Photo by Blaine Ohigashi/Getty Images
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Do you remember what you were doing at 16?

Bill McAnally was “fighting to get $2 to put gas” in his pickup in Ukiah, California, where he hauled bales of hay.

David Gilliland helped his dad, Butch Gilliland, field his entry in his first full-time season in NASCAR’s Winton West Series, which became the K&N Pro Series West circuit.

Chris Lawson, the son of parents who work in the insurance industry, chipped away at his own racing dreams in Dayton, Ohio.

In the last 15 years, McAnally won five of his record seven K&N West titles as a team owner. David Gilliland competed in 398 races in NASCAR’s three national series, including 332 in Sprint Cup. Lawson embraced the life of a crew chief.

All three men would help Todd Gilliland become NASCAR’s youngest champion.

THE NEW KID

McAnally only made 56 starts as a driver in what used to be the Winston West Series.

One race weekend, at All-American Speedway in Roseville, California, stands out to the owner of Bill McAnally Racing thanks to the helping hand of Butch Gilliland.

Gilliland flew from Anaheim to help McAnally with his car after he ran behind him in a previous race and saw how bad it handled as he ran behind it.

After they were done, Gilliland refused to let McAnally pay for his plane ticket.

“’I’m just glad you’ll be in a better car so I’m not in harm’s way,” Gilliland said.

Two decades later, at the same .333-mile track in Northern California, McAnally doused Butch Gilliland’s grandson, Todd, in a Gatorade bath, yelling “Congratulations, Champ!”

Todd Gilliland finished eighth last month in the Toyota / NAPA Auto Parts 150 to clinch the K&N Pro Series West title.

At 16 years and 5 months, the Riverside, California, native became the youngest NASCAR champion in history, topping the mark set a month earlier by Cayden Lapcevich (16 years, 10 months, 16 days) in NASCAR’s Pinty’s Series. Before that, Joey Logano held the distinction after winning the 2007 K&N Pro Series East title at 17 years, 3 months, 28 days.

“We had a lot of family there, that’s where almost everyone is from.” Todd Gilliland said a week after winning the title. “They all came out to the track to support us. It’s super cool to be able to take a picture with everyone I’ve grown up around.”

The path to those championship portraits started at Roseville in August of last year. McAnally held a two-day driver expo at his team’s shop and All-American Speedway.

Todd Gilliland, who won his first ARCA Racing Series start in May, was among the drivers invited, including Brandon McReynolds and Chris Eggleston.

Also present: former NASCAR crew chief Larry McReynolds, multiple NASCAR officials and representatives from NAPA Auto Parts, Toyota and the WIX Corporation.

Waiting for the drivers at the track were six K&N cars prepared by McAnally’s team. On the first day, each driver made three, 15-lap runs. After tune-ups based on driver feedback, they made  mock qualifying runs.

It was before the initial practice session that McAnally had his first lengthy talk with Todd Gilliland. McAnally said he thought the young racer seemed “really nervous.”

“His driving showed it,” McAnally said. “He wasn’t consistent, he wasn’t smooth. David (Gilliland) was on the radio leaning on him. The coach we had with him was calming him down, and by the second session he had calmed down and he went out there and ran some smooth, consistent laps. By the next day, he was the fastest, smoothest driver out there by far.”

Todd Gilliland also was impressed.

“We saw the A+ operation he had going on there, the people he had in place,” the driver said of McAnally in May. “We just felt it was the best fit for us this year.”

McAnally and his sponsors agreed.

Gilliland ran the No. 54 Toyota for McAnally at Phoenix at the end of the year. In his first K&N West start, he led six laps and won.

TALLADEGA, AL - OCTOBER 21: David Gilliland, driver of the #35 Dockside Logistics Ford, stands in the garage area during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Hellmann's 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on October 21, 2016 in Talladega, Alabama. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
David Gilliland (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

FATHER-SON TIME

While David Gilliland had a hand in building his son’s cars, he didn’t get to see much of Todd’s career.

That’s what happens when your Sprint Cup Series career takes priority for 10 years.

But David was there when his son did donuts in a quarter-midget in a dirt lot across the street from the family’s Riverside home. He also saw Todd’s first quarter-midget race on his son’s fifth birthday, his ARCA win and the 2015 Phoenix race.

Without a Sprint Cup ride for the first time since 2006, David Gilliland finally experienced a full season of his son’s career.

And he did do so in his least favorite racing role – as a spotter.

“’I just didn’t want to be part of a problem or making a mistake or something like that,” David Gilliland said. “It was something (Todd) really wanted me to do.”

Instead of having a driver coach, spotter and crew chief taking to his son, David Gilliland would be the coach and spotter.

“I think that’s something that’s helped me a lot this year to have him tell me when I’m doing something wrong or right,” Todd Gilliland said. “He kind of makes myself better throughout the entire race. He also knows a lot about those cars and different situations that he’s been in before.”

The other voice talking to Todd Gilliland was Lawson, the crew chief who has worked with the Gillilands since 2014.

With that arrangement, Todd Gilliland won his first four K&N starts, tying the 60-year-old record set by Dan Gurney. His eight wins in 2016 surpassed the mark set Joey Logano (2007) and Dylan Kwasniewski (2014).

Source: Bill McAnally
Source: Bill McAnally

FILLING UP THE BOARD

McAnally was concerned.

Todd Gilliland hit his first real bump by finishing ninth in his second K&N East start at Bristol in April.

“All of sudden we’re off on our setup,” McAnally says. “We missed it. We had a top-10 car. So he finishes the race. I’m shaking my head, ‘How’s he going to be getting out of the car?’ All he’s ever done is win in a K&N car and now he’s fighting to be in the top 10.”

When he arrived at the No. 16 car, McAnally found his driver sitting on its door in good spirits.

“Lead a lap, top-10 finish,” Todd Gilliland announced. “I get two more splats on the board!”

On the wall of McAnally’s shop is a 10-by-20-foot board labelled “2016 Team Checklist.”

The board has 11 items that can be checked off by McNally’s four drivers for any given race. They include finish race lead lap, top-three finish, win race, and at the bottom, win championship.

Todd Gilliland was the only teammate to put a “splat” in every box.

While Todd Gilliland enjoyed a rookie season no one else has, including being named to the NASCAR Next class, he’s enthusiastic about learning what he hasn’t from his owner, father and crew chief.

Lawson saw that enthusiasm during the K&N East race in July at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Todd Gilliland was in second on a restart with two laps to go. Corey LaJoie, a veteran of 37 K&N races, led.

“(LaJoie) just smoked us on the restart,” Lawson said. “He just wore us out bad, and right after the restart was over, literally going down the backstretch, Todd is about four car lengths back off of him and goes ‘Man, that is awesome. I need to learn how to do that.’

“To me that’s cool, not only that he realizes it, he understood what happened, he wants to step his game up to be that good. He wasn’t mad, saying we got beat. He said ‘man, I want to do that. I want to be able to do that.’”

He’ll get that chance next year, whether it’s in the K&N Series, ARCA or venturing into the Camping World Truck Series.

Before that, Todd Gilliland will celebrate his title Dec. 11 at the NASCAR Touring Night of Champions Awards.

Then he can start preparing for next season and giving people reasons to consider what they were doing at 17.

Erik Jones takes third Xfinity win of year at Iowa Speedway

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Ty Dillon did his best to keep the outcome in question by leading late, but Erik Jones made Iowa Speedway his own by leading 154 laps, including the last 16, to win the U.S. Cellular 250 at Iowa Speedway.

The 20-year-old driver grabbed the lead at the outset of the race after starting second and finished the night with his third Xfinity Series win of the year.

It’s the sixth Xfinity win by Joe Gibbs Racing in the last seven races.

Ty Dillon led his chunk of the race after beating Jones off pit road during a caution that began on Lap 150. Before that, Jones failed to lead just 13 laps to go.

The 83 laps were the most Dillon has led this season.

“The high line wasn’t there,” Dillon told NBCSN. “Every lap I was having to do everything I could to get him behind me. Trying to watch him and get in his line … it just wore my stuff out more than I needed to.”

With 16 laps to go, after staying within a half second of Dillon, Jones retook the lead and streaked away.

“I wasn’t saving much. I was working as hard as I could to get around Ty,” Jones told NBCSN. “It was tough. The aero game is pretty tough. Needed to get clean air for a long time. Burned a lot of tire off the DeWalt Camry there at the start. It’s a great day, had a great car. One that definitely deserved to win tonight.”

It’s Jones’ first win since he was victorious at Dover International Speedway on May 14.

Jones called the win “redemption” for his last visit to Iowa, which ended in 27th place due to a mechanical failure.

Jones was followed by Dillon, Elliott Sadler, Brennan Poole and Dakoda Armstrong.

HOW ERIK JONES WON: The rookie didn’t get bogged down in traffic after losing the lead in the pits during a caution. Jones stayed close to Ty Dillon and took the lead for the final time with 16 laps left.

WHO HAD A GOOD NIGHT: A month after his Iowa win for Joe Gibbs Racing, Sam Hornish Jr. failed to lead a lap, but still finished sixth in only his second NASCAR race of the season … Brennan Poole started the night in 25th and fought his way to finish fourth, his second top five of the season … Dakoda Armstrong, driving the No. 18 for JGR in place of Matt Tifft, started a career-best third and finished fifth. He had never finished in the top 10 in his previous 91 starts.

WHO HAD A BAD NIGHT: Darrell Wallace Jr. was in 11th on Lap 28 when he made contact with another car and hit the outside wall before spinning low down the backstretch. Wallace spun again on Lap 121 and finished 27th, 11 laps down … On Lap 150, Brandon McReynolds broke loose entering Turn 1 and spun before smacking the outside wall. The No. 24 car finished 32nd … On the resulting restart, Daniel Suarez ran into the back of Josh Berry, damaging his hood. The No. 19 eventually finished the night in the garage in 30th.

NOTABLE: Brad Keselowski finished eighth, continuing the 23-race winless streak for the No. 22 team and Team Penske in the Xfinity Series.

QUOTE OF THE NIGHT: “My heart’s been broken every race since Indy, I want to get in victory lane again,” Ty Dillon after leading 83 laps and finishing second. Dillon hasn’t won since the 2014 Xfinity race at Indianapolis.

NEXT: Zippo 200 at Watkins Glen International on Aug. 6 at 2 p.m. ET on CNBC