Erik Jones captured the 45th Annual Snowball Derby Super Late Model victory on Sunday at Five Flags Speedway. - Matt Weaver

Erik Jones holds off Kyle Busch in Snowball Derby instant classic

The Snowball Derby is considered the top short track Late Model race in the country. Kyle Busch and two other Sprint Cup Series drivers competed in Sunday's race.

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Ragan finishes eighth in best Derby appearance

Sunday's Snowball Derby closely resembled a demolition derby at times, leaving many drivers merely thankful that they finished the race.

NASCAR driver David Ragan was one such driver. Ragan sat on the pole and led the first 31 laps before dropping the lead to John Hunter Nemechek just before the first round of yellow flag pit stops. Ragan had a tire coming apart throughout the second green-flag run and eventually lost a lap to the leaders. He received a free pass on lap 175 and eventually got as high as second by lap 223. He just wasn’t fast enough at the end to contend for the victory.

He finished eighth but had mixed opinions about his weekend.

"I'm satisfied but not overly satisfied," Ragan said. "I sat on the pole and led some laps which was fun and rewarding... We've gotten better each time we've come here and that gives me a lot confidence for next year."

Ragan has become a Snowball Derby veteran over the last three years, with Sunday's finish his career-best. His previous attempts have resulted in 27th and 18th-place finishes, respectively.

In hindsight, Ragan's mid-race problems might have led to him finishing the race. Ragan believes he could have been involved in the lap 158 accident between Kyle Busch and TJ Reaid. The accident collected Bubba Pollard and Chase Elliott, two of the drivers Ragan had been racing against before his faulty tire – a fact not lost on Ragan.

Ultimately, the Georgia native was just happy to finish the race with an undamaged race car, something many of the other race favorites couldn't say for themselves.

“It was a long day but we made it to the end and we fought hard,” Ragan said. “Our team worked really hard and we had a lot of fun. We’ll be here next year if we can afford it.”

Kenseth waits on NASCAR and will run more Late Model races in 2013

Ross Kenseth does not expect to compete in any NASCAR national touring series races next year, instead choosing to complete his education at Clemson University and compete in select Super Late Model races across the country.

Kenseth was previously linked to Kyle Busch Motorsports' vacant Truck Series ride before the team signed Joey Coulter.

The Snowball Derby wrapped up Kenseth's most successful season yet, winning the prestigious All-American 400 and Winchester 400 while finishing ninth in the Pro All-Stars South Series. He finished 11th in Sunday’s race despite suffering damage in the accident between Busch and Reaid. He was satisfied with a top-15 considering all of the adversity he faced during the race.

“We had some decent speed on our first run but I don’t think we ever had a car or the strategy to win the race,” Kenseth said. “We got caught up in something early in the race and it just took a while to work our way through traffic.

“It’s not hard to pass here but it can be difficult if you’re working on older tires or if your car isn’t right. That’s where we found ourselves at different points today.”

DJ VanderLey looking forward to 2013

Other drivers in the top 15 were equally satisfied to have just finished the race without accident or controversy. That includes last year's runner-up DJ VanderLey, who spent the entire race in the front half of the field but never seemed to be fast enough to contend for the win. VanderLey called surviving the race and finishing 13th a "small victory."

"Not having to take home a wrecked race car is always a positive,” VanderLey said. "I feel like we made a lot of progress at the second-to-last run but the new tires just killed us. I really thought we had a good chance on new tires but something was just off.”

VanderLey will continue to race Super Late Models in 2012 while finishing his education at Auburn University -- completing an honors program in mechanical engineering.

The Mobile, Ala. native will focus his racing efforts on the new Southern Super Series which will include 12 races at five Southeast short track tracks. Events include the World Crown 300 at Gresham, the All-American 400 at Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville and the non-points Snowball Derby.

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Erik Jones wins Snowball Derby

Erik Jones delivered Five Flags Speedway yet another Snowball Derby moment on Sunday afternoon, defeating Kyle Busch in a Super Late Model instant classic. It was an epic conclusion to a fantastic weekend that featured a little bit of everything.

The 16-year-old Jones, who competes part-time in the ARCA Racing Series, raced side-by-side with one of NASCAR's best drivers for 10 laps off a lap 280 restart. He would pull away with eight laps to go and become the fourth first-time winner in as many races in the Snowball Derby.

Jones was stuck on the outside of Busch after the final round of pit stops but quickly found the bottom lane and powered under Busch with 17 laps to go. Busch stayed right behind Jones after losing the lead and moved to the inside two laps later. Busch made light contact with Jones' bumper on several occasions but not enough to move him out of the lead.

The contact was enough to move Jones out of the bottom groove and Busch was able to get to his fender by lap 287. The duo would stay side-by-side until lap 292 when Jones finally carried momentum off the high line and into the lead. He would never look back and Busch was eventually passed for second by Jeff Choquette.

"I can't believe it...I just can't even believe it," Jones said as soon as he climbed out for his victory celebration.

"You know, I thought he got me there at the end," Jones said. "Once he got me on the outside I thought he would be able to carry that momentum but he didn't. I still can't believe we won."

Once Jones escaped with the lead, Busch was gobbled-up by a hard-charging Jeff Choquette. Choquette had won the last 100-lap Super Late Model race at Five Flags Speedway but didn't believe he had anything for the leaders.

"That was a heck of a race and we were even able to get by Kyle for second," Choquette said. "My car was fast enough to hold on to the lead if we could have taken it but that wasn't going to happen without the leaders making a mistake."

Busch was humble in defeat and even hopes he can come back to the Snowball Derby someday under better circumstances. He was able to compete this weekend as a result of missing the NASCAR Chase for the Championship. Busch was amongst the first to congratulate Jones in victory lane and was proud of the way they raced at the end.

"Tires are so important here with 25 to go, so we had to pit," Busch said. "We were able to get out front and I thought that would give us the advantage -- but Eric drove a great race and he raced us clean."

The battle with Jones capped an eventful afternoon for Busch who led three times for a handful of laps but was also sent to the back of the field for hooking T.J. Reaid for the lead on lap 158. The two had raced aggressively on the prior lap and Busch retaliated in turns three and four. The accident also collected Chase Elliott, Ross Kenseth and Bubba Pollard -- three of the early race favorites.

Pollard was done for the day while Elliott and Kenseth battled back to finish fifth and 11th-place.

With his victory, Jones became the first driver to win the Snowball Derby in his first attempt since Gary St. Amant in 1992. He had only competed in a handful of races at the Speedway, including last year's Snowflake 100. He led 124 of the 300 laps on Sunday, the most of anyone in the field.

Seven different drivers led, exchanging the lead 12 times while six drivers failed to finish the 300-lap race.

Here's the complete finishing order of the 2012 Snowball Derby:

  1. Erik Jones
  2. Jeff Choquette
  3. Kyle Busch
  4. Jeff Fultz
  5. Chase Elliott
  6. Grant Enfinger
  7. Kyle Benjamin
  8. David Ragan
  9. Chris Davidson
  10. John Hunter Nemechek
  11. Ross Kenseth
  12. Dwayne Buggay
  13. D.J. VanderLey
  14. Johanna Long
  15. Donnie Wilson
  16. Hunter Robbins
  17. Chuck Barnes, Jr.
  18. Clay Alexander
  19. Kyle Jones
  20. Austin Theriault
  21. Casey Smith
  22. Steve Wallace
  23. David Rogers
  24. Ben Kennedy
  25. Brad Rogers
  26. T.J. Reaid
  27. Bubba Pollard
  28. Nelson Piquet, Jr.
  29. Daniel Hemric
  30. Logan Boyett
  31. Mike Garvey
  32. Stephen Nasse
  33. Jeremy Pate
  34. Brian Campbell
  35. Paul Kelley
  36. Augie Grill
  37. Steve Dorer

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Snowball Derby green flag is set for 2 p.m. CST

It's Snowball Derby race day at Pensacola Five Flags Speedway, and we've got the actual race start time, the starting lineup and some other facts about the Super Bowl of Super Late Model racing.

What time does the race start today?

As is tradition, the Snowball Derby will start at 2 p.m. CST. The command to fire engines and the official start of the race will begin shortly after the top of the hour.

Race name/distance: Today's race is the Snowball Derby, which is 300 laps and 150 miles to close out the Super Late Model season.

Radio and live streaming: Today's race is not on television. There is however a live radio broadcast of today's race, which can be found at Speed51.com with supplemental coverage provided via the site's Trackside Now coverage. The radio broadcast begins at 12 p.m. CST.

*** NOTE: If you're out and about today and can't listen to the race, make sure to follow me (@MattWeaverSBN) on Twitter. I'll be tweeting live updates throughout the event. ***

National anthem: Nashville recording artist Stephanie Quayle will sing the national anthem on Sunday at Five Flags Speedway. Shailee Cole will serve as the trophy girl.

Tickets: Five Flags Speedway has not announced a complete sellout but grandstand tickets are sparse and limited to general admission seating. If you're in the area and have decided to come out, plan to park in the Fairgrounds parking lot to receive a free shuttle ride to the ticket booth.

Weather: The unofficial NASCAR weatherman, Brian Neudorff, says today's weather in the Gulf Coast will be somewhat cool and sunny with temperatures in the mid-70s.

Last year: One year ago, in what's being called the greatest finish in Snowball Derby history, Chase Elliott and DJ VanderLey battled side-by-side for the last five laps of the race with Elliott edging VanderLey by just 0.229 -- the closest finish in race history,

Here's the starting lineup for the 45th Annual Snowball Derby. The top-30 spots were decided during qualifying with Paul Kelley, Brian Campbell, Austin Theriault and Jeff Fultz earning the final four spots in Saturday’s last chance race.

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver David Ragan is on the pole.

  1. David Ragan
  2. John Hunter Nemechek
  3. T.J. Reaid
  4. Kyle Busch
  5. Chase Elliott
  6. Jeremy Pate
  7. Bubba Pollard
  8. Daniel Hemric
  9. Erik Jones
  10. Stephen Nasse
  11. Brad Rogers
  12. Hunter Robbins
  13. Augie Grill
  14. Jeff Choquette
  15. Dwayne Buggay
  16. Chuck Barnes Jr
  17. Kyle Benjamin
  18. Ben Kennedy
  19. Clay Alexander
  20. Steve Dorer
  21. Johanna Long
  22. Casey Smith
  23. Nelson Piquet, Jr.
  24. Donnie Wilson
  25. Ross Kenseth
  26. D.J. Vanderley
  27. David Rogers
  28. Chris Davidson
  29. Kyle Jones
  30. Grant Enfinger
  31. Paul Kelley
  32. Brian Campbell
  33. Austin Theriault
  34. Jeff Fultz
  35. Mike Garvey
  36. Logan Boyett
  37. Steve Wallace
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2011 Snowball Derby was closest in race history

The finish of last year’s Snowball Derby is still lingering in the minds of everyone who saw it, especially runner-up DJ VanderLey. He lost a thrilling duel to Chase Elliott by just 0.229 of a second – the closest finish in the 44-year history of the Snowball Derby.

While VanderLey wants those final laps back, he’s also looking forward to the 2012 race as a second chance to seal the deal.

"I’m really looking forward to Sunday’s race," VanderLey said. "This place has been really special for us over the years with several Pro Late Model wins and then the Derby last year. We came within inches of winning the Snowball Derby and I haven’t stopped think about this race since."

Despite coming out on the losing end of last year’s Snowball Derby, VanderLey is proud of what he and Elliott were able to accomplish. Previous side-by-side duels have been tarnished by contact and the spin-to-win. VanderLey and Elliott created the event’s most memorable moment, without contact and animosity, a fact not lost on the defending champion either.

"It was a lot closer than I would have liked it," Elliott said. "It was pretty nerve-wracking to go wheel-to-wheel with DJ but it was also a lot of fun. We gave it everything we had and easily could have wrecked each other with the mindset that "you’ve got to do what you got to do" but we kept it clean.

"That race and finish is one of my proudest moments and I was glad to be a part of it."

VanderLey has already admitted that he’s second-guessed last year’s finish every day since last December. If provided a similar opportunity on Sunday, will he choose to dump the leader for the victory?

There is more than one way to move a guy here than just wrecking him," VanderLey said. "Inches from the finish line, you’ll be tempted to wreck your own mother but if there’s mutual respect me between me and that driver, you’ll race him clean.

With that said, I don’t think I could be that clean again if the same thing were to happen on Sunday. This track owes us one.

Here’s a video of last year’s instant classic between Elliott and VanderLey.

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Snowball Derby Starting Lineup is set on Saturday

Landon Cassill will not compete in the 45th Annual Snowball Derby.

Following a faulty tire during Friday qualifying, Cassill found himself having to compete in a last chance race to make the Snowball Derby and was unable to race his way into the field. That distinction belonged to Paul Kelley, Brian Campbell, Austin Theriault and Jeff Fultz.

Cassill was the most prominent driver outside of a transfer spot at the conclusion of the 50-lap dash. Despite starting fourth, Cassill lost his transfer spot on lap 33 when Jeff Fultz nudged him out of the groove and sent him to sixth. He would remain there for the rest of the race and watched as his dream of winning the Snowball Derby slowly vanished.

“This race pretty much summed up our entire weekend,” Cassill said. “It just didn’t go our way. It’s very disappointing to come all the way down here and not even make the race. I had no forward bite coming off the corners at the end of the race and by lap 25 I completely lost whatever I had.

“Honestly this race pointed out some flaws and showed me that we never really had it.”

Cassill had one of the fastest cars all weekend and was hoping to improve on his two-consecutive fourth-place finishes since returning to the Snowball Derby in 2010. Instead, he’s going home on Saturday night and looking forward to the opportunity to try again in 2013.

“This just makes me appreciate this race even more,” he said. “We’ll be back.”

Justifying the notion that the Snowball Derby is one of the hardest races in the country to make, Cassill joins several national champions who also failed to make the field of 37. That list also includes, Dennis Prunty (Slinger Speedway), Kyle Grisson (PASS Series South), Anderson Bowen (CRA JEGS Rookie of the Year), Spencer Davis (Gresham Speedway), and Brandon Watson (OSCAAR).

The race results officially complete the starting lineup for Sunday’s Snowball Derby with David Ragan set to lead a field of 37 that also includes NASCAR drivers Kyle Busch (fourth), Chase Elliott (fifth), Jeff Choquette (14th), Johanna Long (21st) and Nelson Piquet Jr. (23rd)

Here’s the starting lineup for Sunday’s Snowball Derby:

  1. David Ragan
  2. John Hunter Nemechek
  3. T.J. Reaid
  4. Kyle Busch
  5. Chase Elliott
  6. Jeremy Pate
  7. Bubba Pollard
  8. Daniel Hemric
  9. Erik Jones
  10. Stephen Nasse
  11. Brad Rogers
  12. Hunter Robbins
  13. Augie Grill
  14. Jeff Choquette
  15. Dwayne Buggay
  16. Chuck Barnes Jr
  17. Kyle Benjamin
  18. Ben Kennedy
  19. Clay Alexander
  20. Steve Dorer
  21. Johanna Long
  22. Casey Smith
  23. Nelson Piquet, Jr.
  24. Donnie Wilson
  25. Ross Kenseth
  26. D.J. Vanderley
  27. David Rogers
  28. Chris Davidson
  29. Kyle Jones
  30. Grant Enfinger
  31. Paul Kelley
  32. Brian Campbell
  33. Austin Theriault
  34. Jeff Fultz
  35. Mike Garvey
  36. Logan Boyett
  37. Steve Wallace
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Starting lineup for Snowball Derby Qualifying Race

Some of the drivers expected to compete for the Snowball Derby pole were way down in the charts on Friday night, including Mike Garvey, Austin Theriault, Landon Cassill, Steve Wallace and Logan Boyett. Garvey, Wallace and Boyette used their provisional options to lock themselves into Sunday’s race with the last four spots up for grabs in a last chance taking place on Saturday afternoon.

The 31st place qualifier Brian Campbell will start that race from the pole with Paul Kelley to his inside. The field will contain 26 cars with the top-four transferring into Sunday’s Snowball Derby.

Cassill appeared to be a threat for the pole in early practice sessions but will have to race his way into the main event on Saturday afternoon after qualifying 35th. Cassill declined to talk to reporters after turning his two laps but later posted the following to his Twitter account:

"Tough night we haven't locked ourselves into the #SnowballDerby yet. One more shot at it tomorrow but I know we can do it. #cherrypop"

With just 50 laps on the board to get into a transfer spot, the racing promises to be chaotic with lots of contact in the middle of the pack.

Dennis Prunty brought a group of 22 people from Knowles, Wisconsin. Before qualifying, he told SB Nation that he wanted, "absolutely nothing to do with the last chance race. I've seen a lot of good cars get torn up in it and I don't want any part of it."

Unfortunately he qualified 38th and will also have to transfer on Saturday.

The race is expected to be so turbulent that one driver outside of the top-30, Scott Carlson, withdrew his entry and loaded up at the end of the night. When asked for a reason why, he cited his freshly-prepared car and said, "I have a complete race car and I’d like to keep that way."

Here is the starting lineup for Saturday’s last chance qualifier (4 p.m. CST/ Speed51.com radio):

  1. Brian Campbell
  2. Mike Garvey*
  3. Paul Kelley
  4. Austin Theriault
  5. Landon Cassill
  6. Allen Karnes
  7. Stephan McCurley
  8. Dennis Prunty
  9. A.J. Frank
  10. Anderson Bowen
  11. Danny Bagwell
  12. Logan Boyett*
  13. Dalton Grindle
  14. Steve Wallace*
  15. Jeff Fultz
  16. Kyle Grissom
  17. Cole Powell
  18. Dennis Schoenfeld
  19. Wayne Niedecken Jr.
  20. Spencer Davis
  21. Tim Martin
  22. Kenzie Ruston
  23. Roger Reuse
  24. Matt Smith
  25. Erik Darnell
  26. Brandon Watson
  27. Mason Mingus
  28. Chuck Tuck
  29. Ron McDonald

*eligible for provisional

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Complete Snowball Derby qualifying results

David Ragan appears to have figured out Five Flags Speedway.

In an interview on Thursday with SB Nation, Ragan admitted that he has struggled at times with the famous Pensacola half-mile, finishing 27th and 18th in his first two Snowball Derby attempts.

On Friday night, Ragan moved one step closer to achieving his Snowball Derby dream by qualifying on the pole for Sunday’s 45th running of the Snowball Derby. Ragan took the top spot by turning a 16.485 second lap to best 59 other drivers including John Hunter Nemechek who will start on the outside pole.

T.J. Reaid, Kyle Busch and Chase Elliott completed the top-five.

“It’s just gratifying to come down and run with the best of the best,” Ragan said. “This race has so much history and some of my Georgia racing heroes like Ronnie Sanders has been able to win and now we’re on the pole.

“It’s gets harder on Sunday.”

Friday's qualifying session only locked-in 33 of the 37 starting spots. The fastest 30 drivers qualified for the Snowball Derby and three others; Mike Garvey, Logan Boyett and Steve Wallace joined them based on their provisional status.

The final four spots will be decided upon in a last chance race at 4 p.m. on Saturday afternoon (more on that in my next post)

Here's the complete Snowball Derby qualifying results (Not a starting lineup):

  1. David Ragan
  2. John Hunter Nemechek
  3. T.J. Reaid
  4. Kyle Busch
  5. Chase Elliott
  6. Jeremy Pate
  7. Bubba Pollard
  8. Daniel Hemric
  9. Erik Jones
  10. Stephen Nasse
  11. Brad Rogers
  12. Hunter Robbins
  13. Augie Grill
  14. Jeff Choquette
  15. Dwayne Buggay
  16. Chuck Barnes Jr
  17. Kyle Benjamin
  18. Ben Kennedy
  19. Clay Alexander
  20. Steve Dorer
  21. Johanna Long
  22. Casey Smith
  23. Nelson Piquet Jr
  24. Donnie Wilson
  25. Ross Kenseth
  26. D.J. Vanderley
  27. David Rogers
  28. Chris Davidson
  29. Kyle Jones
  30. Grant Enfinger
  31. Brian Campbell
  32. Mike Garvey
  33. Paul Kelley
  34. Austin Theriault
  35. Landon Cassill
  36. Allen Karnes
  37. Stephan McCurley
  38. Dennis Prunty
  39. A.J. Frank
  40. Anderson Bowen
  41. Danny Bagwell
  42. Logan Boyett
  43. Dalton Grindle
  44. Steven Wallace
  45. Jeff Fultz
  46. Kyle Grissom
  47. Cole Powell
  48. Dennis Schoenfeld
  49. Wayne Niedecken Jr.
  50. Spencer Davis
  51. Scott Carlson
  52. Tim Martin
  53. Kenzie Ruston
  54. Roger Reuse
  55. Matt Smith
  56. Erik Darnell
  57. Brandon Watson
  58. Mason Mingus
  59. Chuck Tuck
  60. Ron McDonald

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Landon Cassill is a Snowball Derby contender

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Landon Cassill compared Sunday’s Snowball Derby to the upcoming SEC Championship football game, calling it the biggest showdown between professional and amateur race car drivers in the country.

"This race has been won by Darrell Waltrip and Pete Hamilton," Cassill said. "Dale Earnhardt’s raced here and so has Mark Martin. Every big name that grew up in a stock car has come through this race so it’s important that we try to win it too."

For the driver of the BK Racing No. 83 in the Sprint Cup Series, the Snowball Derby represents an opportunity to showcase his talents against some of the best drivers in the world.

Cassill finally achieved his dream of competing full-time in the Sprint Cup Series this past season but hasn't found a lot of success driving for underfunded teams like Phoenix Racing and BK Racing. He enjoys competing in short track Late Models when away from the Cup Series because he believes it levels the playing field.

Unlike NASCAR, which is contested primarily on superspeedways over a mile in length, the Snowball Derby is at the half-mile Five Flags Speedway, a track that rewards finesse and wheelmanship over anything else.

"The Cup schedule is really tough and that level is all about sponsorship and what you’ve got as a race team," Cassill said. "So this is an opportunity to come out, knowing that I’ve got a shot to win, which is really important because it reminds us of why we do this for a living."

It helps that Cassill has been extremely competitive at this race in recent years. He finished fourth in both 2010 and 2011 and was just two laps away from winning two years ago before Johanna Long hooked him on the backstretch.

As a result, Cassill is hoping that this is the year he finally wins the Snowball Derby and gets one back over Five Flags Speedway.

"This race is definitely a matter of survival," Cassill said. "There are a lot of wrecks in this race. The corners are really tight and it doesn’t take a lot to get them congested when an accident happens. It’s easy to get caught up in something not on your own doing. You've got to keep your nose clean and you have to stay on the lead lap.

"We’ve been there the last couple of years and hopefully we can finally close it out this year."

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Snowball Derby weekend weather forecast

First weekend in December and you need that racing fix, then Pensacola, Florida is your place for the Super Bowl of short track racing the Snowball Derby.

Nascar_forecast_snowball_derby_nov_2012_medium

Can't find any problem with this weekend's weather forecast. Few clouds are possible both Friday and Saturday but plenty of sunshine is expected on Sunday. Temperatures over the next few days will be near 70 during the afternoon.

For your complete weather forecast, follow me on Twitter @NASCAR_WXMAN and like me on Facebook for the latest weather updates through the weekend.

FRIDAY:
10 a.m ET
Snowball & Snowflake Practice – Partly sunny – temp: 64
11 a.m ET
Super Stock Practice – Partly sunny – temp: 66
11:45 a.m ET
Modified Practice – Partly sunny – temp: 66
1 p.m ET
Snowball Practice – Partly sunny – temp: 68
2 p.m ET
Snowflake Practice – Partly sunny – temp: 70
3 p.m ET
Super Stocks & Modifieds qualifying – Partly sunny – temp: 70
6 p.m ET
Snowball Pole qualifying – Partly cloudy – temp: 63
8:00 p.m ET
Super Stock & Modified 50's – Partly cloudy – temp: 61

SATURDAY:
10 a.m ET
Snowflake practice – Partly sunny – temp: 65
11:30 a.m ET
Snowball practice – Partly sunny – temp: 66
2 p.m ET
Snowflake qualifying – Partly sunny – temp: 71
4 p.m ET
Snowball qualifier – Partly sunny – temp: 70
5 p.m ET
Snowflake qualifier – Partly cloudy – temp: 67
7:00 p.m ET
Snowflake 100 – Partly cloudy – temp: 63

SUNDAY:
12 p.m ET
Snowball pre-race – Mostly sunny – temp: 70
1 p.m ET
Snowball pre-race – Mostly sunny – temp: 72
2 p.m ET
Snowball race – Mostly sunny – temp: 72
3 p.m ET
Snowball race – Mostly sunny – temp: 71
4 p.m ET
Snowball race – Mostly sunny – temp: 72

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Snowball Derby qualifying set for Friday night

The qualifying procedure for the Snowball Derby is both unique and elaborate. Like NASCAR’s Daytona 500, some teams will even have to race their way into Sunday’s starting lineup. A total of 66 cars will attempt to make the field on Friday night but only 37 cars will start Sunday's Super Bowl of Short Track Late Model racing.

Each driver will be given two timed laps with the 30 quickest times automatically qualifying for the race. Qualifying order was determined by a blind draw on Wednesday night and any team missing their turn can qualify no higher than 11th.

Those outside of the top-30 will be entered into Saturday night’s 50-lap last chance race with the top-four finishers transferring into the field of 37. The final three spots are reserved for a past winner of the Snowball Derby and the two highest non-qualifying drivers from Five Flag Speedway’s regular season championship.

This ensures that everyone in the field is a proven winner and is capable of capturing the Tom Dawson trophy on Sunday afternoon.

Chase Elliott, Bubba Pollard and Augie Grill are the only three drivers guaranteed a starting spot based on their provisional status. They are locked-in to the Derby regardless of what happens on Friday night. Should they qualify on time, those spots will be offered to the next most recent Derby champion and third place in the Blizzard standings and so forth.

The pole-sitter for the Snowball Derby will also be crowned on Friday night, a prestigious honor on its own merit. But in addition to setting fast time and the chance to lead the field to green on Sunday, the fastest qualifier will also receive a $1,000 bonus – a sizeable check for two laps worth of work in a Super Late Model.

“Snowball Derby Pole Night is one of the most intense few hours in short track racing,” Five Flags Speedway Track Promoter Tim Bryant said. “We received over 60 entries for the Snowball Derby and only 37 of them will make the feature -- everyone else will have to go home. So qualifying for this event is awfully dramatic and will keep everyone on the edge of their seat.

It is a complex procedure but it is a part of what makes the Snowball Derby stand out on the motorsports schedule. Pole qualifying begins at approximately 6:00 p.m. when Elliott Massey is expected to be the first driver to turn laps.

Friday Track Schedule (All times Central Standard Time):

10 a.m.: Snowball and Snowflake practice

11 a.m.: Super stock practice

11:45 a.m.: Modified practice

1 p.m.: Snowball practice

2 p.m.: Snowflake practice

3 p.m.: Super stock and modified qualifying

6 p.m.: Snowball Derby qualifying

8 p.m.: Super stock and modified races

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David Ragan prepares for his third Snowball Derby

After a frustrating year in the Sprint Cup Series for new team Front Row Motorsports, David Ragan is just hoping to have a little fun this weekend in the Snowball Derby Super Late Model race in Pensacola, Fla.

Ragan is driving his family-owned Super Late Model this weekend with sponsorship provided by Palm Beach Grading. His No. 77 is a throwback to his father Ken, who competed in Late Model races using the same number.

This is the third consecutive season in which Ragan has competed at Five Flags Speedway and he’s hoping that his third time is the charm. He’s struggled in his two previous attempts with finishes of 27th and 18th, respectively. Ragan believes he’s brought his fastest Late Model to the show and expects to compete for the pole on Friday night.

“I think we have a great shot at it – or at least a top 10,” Ragan said. “But if you miss the set-up or have a parts malfunction, you very well could be on the outside looking in and having to rely on the last chance race. So while it’s always in the back of our minds, I think the pressure of qualifying in the Sprint Cup Series has prepared me for anything.

“But it’s always a little nerve-racking, that’s for sure.”

A total of 67 drivers will try to qualify for the 37-car field during time trials on Friday night. The track will take the fastest 30 times and will lock those drivers into the field. The remaining cars will run in a 50-lap qualifying race on Saturday night, with the top four finishers advancing to Sunday’s main event.

The final two spots, if necessary, will go to the previous winner and current track champion. Those two drivers are Chase Elliott and Bubba Pollard. If they qualify for the race on time, the two provisionals will be offered to second and third place in the Track’s championship standings and so forth until the field has been set.

Ragan spent all of Thursday morning's practice session outside of the top 10, but admitted that he wasn’t too concerned about practice times this early in the weekend. For Ragan, Thursday was about getting back into the rhythm of driving a Super Late Model. He hasn’t competed in this style of racing since June’s World Crown 300 in Jefferson, Ga., a race he finished third behind Elliott and Pollard.

“We’re not too concerned about practice times on Thursday,” Ragan said. “Today has been more about going through some of the motions and getting familiar with the track and car.”

He went on to top the second afternoon practice session with a 17.024.

Despite having competed in the Sprint Cup Series since 2006, Ragan still views the Snowball Derby as one of the more important races of his season. While he considers Super Late Model racing a hobby, Ragan is taking the challenge of winning Sunday’s race very seriously.

“The Snowball Derby is definitely a challenge,” he said. “We enjoy coming down here. Our Late Model team runs four-to-five races a year and it’s kind of our weekend hobby. We do it for fun but we take it very seriously.

“We’re trying to get better and better each time out and this is one of the tracks we’ve struggled at in our first two times coming down. We’ve had some success, won races and even sat on the pole but we just haven’t had that kind of success at the Snowball Derby. That just gives us motivation to keep trying and working harder to get a good run. We feel like we have as good of a shot as anyone here."

Ragan believes a win in the Snowball Derby would rival the biggest victory of his career, which came at Daytona in the 2011 Coke Zero 400. He compared the Derby to some of the most historic races in the country including the Southern 500, Coca-Cola 600 and Daytona 500. He’s hoping to add his name to a Tom Dawson Memorial Trophy that also includes Pete Hamilton, Darrell Waltrip, Donnie Allison and Kyle Busch.

“It’s a classic race that has a lot of history that dates back 50 years or more,” Ragan said. “They’ve had a lot of champions and great drivers win at this track and it’s very similar to the history of all these other great races. We want to be a part of that history.”

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Prediction: Kyle Benjamin will win Snowball Derby

The following post is a complete guess and just for fun.

Popular stock car prospect Kyle Benjamin will drive to the biggest win of his career on Sunday afternoon, winning the 45th Annual Snowball Derby at Five Flags Speedway.

The Snowball Derby is perhaps the hardest race to predict in motorsports. For one, there are 63 entries for 37 starting spots. Beyond Chase Elliott and Bubba Pollard, who are already locked in based on provisional starting spots, I don’t even know who is going to make Sunday’s main event.

But recent history dictates that two names will be around at the end of the race – Benjamin and Ross Kenseth.

The two have dominated races across the country this season, winning at Winchester, Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville, Indianapolis Raceway Park and Watermelon Capital Speedway. They even battled each other for the win in the Winchester 400 with Benjamin beating Kenseth to the line by .073 seconds.

That win would later be taken away when Benjamin was disqualified for an improper rev limiter, giving Kenseth the biggest victory of his career thus far.

I’m going to predict that this year’s Snowball Derby also comes down to these two successful prospects after other contenders, including Kyle Busch and Chase Elliott, get caught up in a major accident while trying to navigate through lap traffic. This accident will also collect Jeff Choquette and Mike Garvey. Yes – the big one is a real and present danger when 37 cars are crammed into Pensacola’s Five Flags Speedway.

The finish of the Snowball Derby is going to come down to a replay of the Winchester 400 with Ross Kenseth again leading off the final restart with a hard-charging Kyle Benjamin in hot pursuit. Similar to last year’s Snowball Derby with Chase Elliott and DJ VanderLey, Benjamin is going to find himself on the outside of Kenseth with a few laps to go but will pinch Kenseth off the surface with two laps remaining and pull away to win the 45th Annual Snowball Derby.

Just don’t tell him I wrote this – drivers are superstitious.

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Snowball Derby teams hire professional pit crews

The 2012 Snowball Derby will feature the return of one of the more popular rules from previous seasons -- live four-tire pit stops.

Last year’s race featured a new format that allowed teams to change only two tires per stop. The idea at the time was to eliminate teams from hiring costly professional pit crews and instill an element of strategy into the Snowball Derby race.

As it turned out, teams hired professional over-the-wall crews anyway, assuming that they could still change two tires quicker than everyone else. Other teams responded by making two consecutive pit stops in order to take four tires regardless.

The end result was a congested pit road with track officials burning up too many caution laps in order to determine the proper running order.

So in short, Sunday's race is a return to normalcy. Teams can again change four tires and are welcome to hire professional pit crews to assist in changing them quicker. According to race promoter Tim Bryant, that's just a part of the Snowball Derby experience.

"Fans want to see action on the track and on pit road," Bryant said. "We tried to make pit stops a little fairer last season and ended up with more chaos than what we expected. It eliminated some of the more exciting elements of our race and we just decided to give that back to the fans with our original format."

DJ VanderLey is one of the many drivers who can't afford to hire a professional pit crew. Instead, the Mobile, Ala. native will rely on family and friends to service his car throughout the weekend -- something they've done in previous Snowball Derby attempts.

VanderLey nearly won this race last year and did it without a professional pit crew, a fact not lost on his crew chief and father Dan VanderLey.

"This race is going to be won on the race track and not pit road," VanderLey said. "We don't have the $5,000 needed to bring in hired guns but I think that with the effort we've brought towards preparing for this race that we can beat them on pit road and on the race track."

VanderLey said that his team has been practicing stops for the last two months and are at a point where they can compete with anyone else in the Derby.

“We take a lot of pride in being able to compete with these guys,” VanderLey said. “We have the best equipment and we feel like we have the best team possible. All that’s left is to go out there and try to win this thing.”

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Race promoter picks Kenseth to win Snowball Derby

Snowball Derby festivities began last night with the annual kick-off party at the Beef 'O' Brady's restaurant in Pensacola, Fla. The drivers in attendance included Johanna Long, Jeff Choquette and Mike Garvey amongst others.

The guest list also included Five Flags Speedway track promoter Tim Bryant, who took time to answer some questions as well as offer a prediction for Sunday’s 45th Annual Snowball Derby. It took a little bit of pressure but Bryant ultimately settled on predicting that Ross Kenseth would be the next of winner of his track’s biggest race.

In the same vein that former Charlotte Motor Speedway track president Humpy Wheeler used to predict the outcome of NASCAR's All-Star Race, Tim Bryant was methodical in his reasoning for selecting Kenseth -- the son of 2003 Sprint Cup Series champion, Matt.

"With no disrespect to the NASCAR guys, I think a short track regular is going to win this race," Bryant said. "The NASCAR guys are the best at what they do but this race is just so hard to win, even harder than NASCAR races. So I think this race is going to benefit someone who spends a lot of time on these tracks and in these cars.

"I also think we'll see a first time winner. So if I had to put those two factors together, I'd come up with Ross, especially after the season he's put together."

Bryant was referencing his two premier Super Late Model victories in the All-American 400 and Winchester 400 -- two of the Grand Slam Events of Super Late Model Racing, which also includes the World Crown 300 and Snowball Derby.

Kenseth has a strong track record at Five Flags Speedway, as he finished third to Chase Elliott and DJ VanderLey in last year’s event.

Kenseth also looked strong in his last Super Late Model start, finishing second to Jay Fogleman at Caraway Speedway in North Carolina. The Wisconsin-native is looking to bookend his 2012 Super Late Model season with a milestone victory and possible transition to NASCAR where he's been linked to several Truck Series teams, including one at Kyle Busch Motorsports.

"Ross is one of the elite drivers in Super Late Model racing and I think he’s going to prove it with a big win on Sunday afternoon," Bryant said.

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Kyle Busch eager at opportunity to win Derby

Kyle Busch won't be in Las Vegas for the Sprint Cup Series Awards Ceremony this weekend, but there's a silver lining: It frees him up to run the Snowball Derby on Sunday.

Busch will make his return to a race some consider to be short track Late Model racing's Super Bowl, an event he won in 2009 – his most recent attempt. Busch has competed in the Pensacola, Fla. event regularly since making his debut there in 2003.

“This is a huge race that a lot of people want to win,” Busch said. “It doesn’t matter if you're from the Late Model ranks or someone from any number of different backgrounds. You always hear about the race and want to go run it.

“To win it back in 2009 was phenomenal. We had a really good car that day and worked really hard all weekend -- it certainly didn't come easy. We had three cars in the field that day. Johnny Sauter was crew chiefing for Brian Scott and we had Brian Ickler in a third car that weekend and it was pretty fun. You can take a lot from that experience and put it towards the next time you go there and so hopefully we can get to Victory Lane again.”

For Busch, races like the Snowball Derby represent a chance to give back to the grassroots racing community and experience his favorite style of racing.

“This is something fun to do for myself and it’s my favorite type of race car,” Busch said. “They look good, they drive good and there are a lot of open rules so you can try to do some different things. It has all that going for it which just gives you that much more enjoyment to go do it.

“We’re just happy to give back to the short tracks and bring fans out to the stands. We've seen some years where it’s been down, but Late Model racing has really come on strong this year. And being able to run a 300-lap Late Model event with live pit stops included is my favorite style of racing."

The Snowball Derby will be his fifth Super Late Model start of the season, an impressive feat given his NASCAR commitments. His season has closely mirrored that of his Sprint Cup campaign in that he's won twice and crashed out of the other two. In short, it's been feast or famine. But none of that will have mattered should Busch manage to capture a second victory in Pensacola.

“The Derby has been around for a long time and a lot of Sprint Cup drivers have done it and like going to this race and seeing where they stack up against the best Late Model competition,” Busch said. “I enjoy doing that and short track racing is where I come from and I like to give back to that community as much as I can.”

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NASCAR drivers file entries for Snowball Derby

The Snowball Derby is considered the top short track late model race in the country. Kyle Busch and three other Sprint Cup Series drivers have filed entries to compete in the December All-Star race.

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