It was a battle for the ages in the closing laps of the 2012 Snowball Derby. It was an all out shootout with just 22 laps to go between NASCAR Sprint Cup Series star Kyle Busch and a little known 16-year old Michigan native Erik Jones. Jones led when the field came to make their final pit stops on lap 278 after Hunter Robbins spun out causing the races' eighth caution. Busch pulled out to a lead in his #51 car but Jones closed. Busch and Jones would run side by side, beating and banging for the next eight laps until lap 292 of the 300 lap event, when Jones finally cleared Busch and sailed to his first career Snowball Derby victory in his first start. An excited and thrilled Jones stood in victory lane.
"I can believe it, we just beat Kyle Busch," Jones screamed! "I can't put it into words, can't thank my mom and dad enough. I was nervous, I didn't think I could hold him off at the end but we did."
Busch was passed by Jeff Choquette with five laps to go, pushing him to the runner-up spot. Kyle Busch finished in the third spot as his car went away towards the end. Busch brought a lot of notoriety to the Snowball Derby, after he won the race in the 2009 running. Although he brought a lot of notoriety to the race Busch also brought a lot of controversy to the race, to no one's surprise. The controversy erupted on lap 154 when TJ Reaid was leading the event in his Bill Elliott owned #41 car. Reaid was leading and trying to hold off Busch when he went up to squeeze Kyle Busch, which he did. Busch went into turn four and spun out Reaid. Reaid's car spun and collected a lot of innocent victims in the accident. Some of those victims were Ross Kenseth, Chase Elliott, Clay Alexander and Bubba Pollard. The accident also caused John Hunter Nemechek's car to overheat. Elliott's damage was severe and the team had to make several pit stops throughout the event to work on his #9 car. Reaid's car was out of the event and as the race ended Reaid went up to Kyle Busch to "discuss" what had happened between the two cars. Chase Elliott who finished fifth, had this to say about Kyle Busch in his post race interview.
"It's unfortunate, but I guess it wasn't meant to be," Elliott said. "It's just Kyle Busch and the lack of respect he brings when he races here. I have a lot of respect for Kyle Busch as a racecar driver but I lost a lot of that today."
Finishing fourth in the event was veteran Jeff Fultz. Fultz started the race in the 34th position and is a fan favorite around Pensacola. He was running in his final Snowball Derby as he will continue to come down to the race as an owner. It was a stout performance for the veteran. Grant Enfinger finished sixth, finishing seventh was Kyle Benjamin, pole sitter David Ragan finished eighth with Chris Davidson coming home ninth and John Hunter Nemechek rounded out the top ten.
Nemechek sat on the outside of the front row, with David Ragan on the inside as the field took the green flag for the 45th running of the Snowball Derby at Five Flags Speedway. Ragan pulled out to a lead early in the event. Lap six saw the first retiree of the afternoon when Steven Dorer broke a rocker-arm on his car. He would finish dead last in the 37th position. On lap 30, Ragan would surrender the lead to John Hunter Nemechek. Nemechek would lead until lap 49 when Paul Kelly caused the races' first caution of the afternoon when his car stopped on the racetrack.
When the race restarted on lap 54 Nemechek was still in front, but he would spin his tires allowing Busch to get around him initially. On lap 70 Nemechek lost the lead to Erik Jones. Jones would lead until lap 105 when John Hunter Nemechek battled back to take the spot from him. On lap 114 the second caution of the day would fly when DJ Vanderley and Brian Campbell would crash. Campbell was driving a car that had the Grinch from How the Grinch Stole Christmas on the car and he won an additional 300 dollars due to the paint scheme. Vanderley would continue but Campbell wouldn't and he would finish in the 34th position.
The leaders would pit on lap 115 and Erik Jones' team would have trouble with the lug nuts on the right side of the racecar. David Rogers' car found trouble too, when it was discovered there was a problem with the breaks on his machine. His crew fixed the problem and he would continue. Jeremy Pate's car would lose his transmission ending his day in the 33rd position.
When the race restarted on lap 123 Hunter Robbins led the field after staying out on the track during the pit stops. Robbins lead was short lived, when just a lap later Daniel Hemric's car would blow a right front tire and slam hard into the outside wall, collecting others as well. Involved in the wreck were Nelson Piquet Jr, Mike Garvey, Johanna Long, and Logan Boyett. All drivers drivers except for Long would be out of the race, including Hemric who received a punishing blow to the outside wall. Hemric tried to continue in the race but would stop his car during the lap 151 caution. Hemric was complaining of head and neck problems and was transported to a local hospital where he received a CT scan and was held overnight for further evaluation.
On the lap 128 restart Hunter Robbins still led, but not for long as the tires started to wear on the abrasive surface of Five Flags Speedway. TJ Reaid would pass Robbins two laps later and Kyle Busch would follow close by in second. On lap 151 the caution flag would fly when Donnie Wilson spun his #2w car out. On the lap 154 restart, that's when Busch spun out Reaid causing chaos at the speedway. Busch was sent to the back due to the incident and would have to drive his way through the field with just 147 laps remaining. When the dust settled, Casey Smith found himself in the lead. He got a good jump on second place driver Jeff Choquette but just two laps later, DJ Vanderley and David Rogers would crash causing the races' fifth caution. In a separate incident TJ Reaid spun out ending his day. Reaid finished 26th and Rogers finished 23rd.
After a restart with Smith still in the lead, Brad Rogers would spin his #0 car out and hit the wall causing the races' sixth caution of the afternoon. Rogers finished 25th. The race restarted on lap 175 with Smith still out in front and looking strong. Smith would lead to the 200 lap mark of the event and was in the lead when the races' seventh caution would fly on lap 205. That was caused by Donnie Wilson, Johanna Long and David Rogers getting together. Wilson would continue to finish 15th. The leaders would pit, except for a few drivers. Erik Jones and David Ragan stayed out and they led the field to green on the lap 211 restart.
Two laps after the restart Ben Kennedy, grandson of Bill France Jr, would experience some issues on his #96 car. The issues were terminal and he finished in 24th spot. On lap 216 Jones was showing how strong his car was pulling away from David Ragan by five car lengths. Meanwhile in the back of the field, Kyle Busch was working his way up through the field. He was in the seventh position by lap 222. Five laps later the caution would fly when David Rogers, Steve Wallace, Ben Kennedy and Casey Smith got involved in a crash. Wallace finished 22nd and Smith finished 21st. Erik Jones was still in the lead over David Ragan when the race restart on lap 226. By lap 245, Ragan would fall back to fifth due to his car having older tires. Jones though was cruising. He had a huge lead and it seemed like nothing could happen. However, Jones' crew came on the radio and told him he had to pit one more time to make it the rest of the way. It was not the words Jones wanted to hear.
By lap 255 Jones was still leading and by 260 he was still in front, with Kyle Busch coming in fourth spot. On lap 275 Jones was getting low on fuel, but he would catch a break. Hunter Robbins spun his #22 car out causing the races' eighth caution of the afternoon. The leaders pitted and Busch was in front of Jones for the final restart. The last 22 laps will go down in Snowball Derby history as Jones and Busch battled for the lead, with Jones prevailing for his first Snowball Derby victory. He became the first driver to win in their first start in the event since Gary St. Amant did so in 1992.
Busch was pleased with his teams efforts after the race and did not comment about the incident between he and Reaid.
The 45th Annual Snowball Derby is complete and Erik Jones adds his name to the list of winners at the most premier short track race in the country.
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