While the Snowball Derby is still over two months away, Friday was the last in-race opportunity for teams to find their appropriate December set-ups. In that regard, Jeff Choquette has to feel pretty confident heading into Derby season, winning the Buddy's 100-Snowball Derby preliminary event Friday night at Pensacola Five Flags Speedway.
We'll have more on that after the jump.
First, let's revisit one of the more controversial events of the 2012 Blizzard season that occurred between two of the Snowball Derby's leading contenders in part-time Camping World Truck Series driver Grant Enfinger and the defending Derby runner up, DJ VanderLey.
The accident occurred on Apr. 28, race number two of the Blizzard Series and began when VanderLey made contact with Enfinger in the middle of turns three and four, sending the latter spinning backwards off the groove. In response, Enfinger drove ever-so-lightly into VanderLey's door panel under caution to voice his displeasure but immediately dropped to the back of the field for the restart.
VanderLey fell back to sixth on the restart, held steady for 20 laps until Enfinger caught up with him on lap 73. Enfinger intentionally spun VanderLey into oncoming traffic on the frontstretch and brought out the caution.
It was here that things began to spiral with VanderLey hunting Enfinger under caution. They found each other in turn one with VanderLey mashing the gas pedal to drill into Enfinger's rear bumper, completely destroying both cars. VanderLey added an extra shot to the driver's side door for good measure, leading many to claim that VanderLey was out to intentionally hurt his rival.
Both Five Flags Speedway and Mobile International Speedway - member tracks of the Sunoco Gulf Coast Championship Series levied a suspension but reversed their penalty based on VanderLey's written apology and video evidence that DJ was not out to harm Enfinger.
Grant still believes that VanderLey could have physical hurt him and would prefer an apology to be sent to Enfinger's car owners at the time, George and Josh Bragg.
"Thankfully, he didn't hurt me but we could have hurt him," Enfinger recently said, referring to his decision to not pursue legal charges. "He stuck his head in the guillotine and we didn't drop it on him.
"They stuck us in a room together [the night of the incident] and we haven't spoken since. He doesn't have to give me an apology. But the right thing to do, the thing to do as a man, is to apologize to Josh and George Bragg for tearing up that race car. We've raced together for a long time and I think we'll continue to."
VanderLey's father and occasional crew chief Dan, says an apology was extended to the Braggs and that both parties have since moved on.
VanderLey is doing his part to do the same and is looking forward to many clean races to come.
"It was an unfortunate incident that both teams found themselves in," VanderLey said. "Both drivers acted upon impulses that, in hindsight, were not the best choices at the time. Racing is a heated sport, and it can get the best of even the most well-tempered people. Grant and I have raced each other many times throughout the years without any problems and I'm sure that will be the same in the future. We have made changes in our program and believe that we are better off today than we were, and we're going to do our best to represent ourselves in the fashion that we, as a family, hold ourselves to."
Enfinger has since parted ways with Bragg Racing Group but is confident he will have a car for the Snowball Derby. VanderLey has also parted ways with his car owner, Eddie Craig, and will now pilot his family-owned No. 2 in super late model competition.
December's Snowball Derby will most-likely be the next time the two drivers see each other, adding yet another layer of intrigue to the already fascinating "Super Bowl of Late Model Racing."
Stay tuned. A brief recap of Friday's race can be found after the jump.
DJ VanderLey vs. Grant Enfinger (via Judson Gibson)
Jeff Choquette held off Bubba Pollard through two restarts and eight laps to win the Buddy's 100 Blizzard Series season finale Friday night at 5 Flags Speedway.
The race was the final of five Snowball Derby preliminary races and the first such win of Choquette's season. Pollard, with two wins, entered with a massive points lead and locked up his first Blizzard Series title.
As such, Pollard is guaranteed a starting spot in December's Snowball Derby. The same can't be said of Choquette but after Friday's dominating performance, Choquette is a safe-bet to make the field by either qualifying or last-chance race.
A total of 62 cars attempted to make the field of last year's race.
With the Blizzard Super Late Model Series reaching its conclusion, the road to the Snowball Derby has begun. Chase Elliott is the defending race-winner and will have a previous winner's provisional should he require it.
Open Snowball Derby practice begins on Nov. 17 with the 45th running of the "Super Bowl of Late Model Racing" set to begin on Dec. 2 at 2:00 p.m. CST. Radio play-by-play will be provided by Speed52 while on-track coverage will be enhanced by NASCAR Ranting and Raving.
Buddy's Home Furnishing 100
Blizzard Series Race No. 5
1 29 Jeff Choquette 100
2 45 Dwayne Buggay 100
3 112 Augie Grill 100
4 98 Daniel Hemric 100
5 26 Bubba Pollard 100
6 41 Chris Davidson 100
7 51 Stephen Nasse 100
8 1 Mike Garvey 100
9 71 Kyle Benjamin 100
10 72 Scott Heckert 100
11 97 Jimmy Garmon 100
12 4 Jeremy Pate 100
13 2 Donnie Wilson 100
14 29 Allen Karnes 100
15 39 Garry Sullivan 99
16 83 Scotty Ellis 94
17 99 Junior Niedecken 93
18 29 Spencer Davis 93
19 11 Clint Folsom 81
20 18 Hunter Robbins 69
21 127 Brandon Booth 69
22 11 Logan Boyett 69
23 11 David Rogers 67
24 51 Becca Kasten 53
25 7 Michael Lance 53
26 43 Dennis Schoenfeld 41
27 84 Clay Alexander 38
28 41 Troy Gisaffi 38
29 95 Chris Muller 17
30 72 Stan Hutson 6
31 27 Bobby Good 0
Former Sprint Cup Series driver and current super late model superstar Mike Garvey (Matt Weaver/SB Nation)
2012 Blizzard Series champion Bubba Pollard (Matt Weaver/SB Nation)
Buddy's 100 Prerace grid (Matt Weaver/ SB Nation)
Dave Rogers carries his hood away from his damaged race car during the Buddy's 100 (Cassie Fambro / The Vanguard)