The Deep South’s top Super Late Model racers converged on the Gulf Coast for the fourth Sunoco Gulf Coast Championship doubleheader weekend of 2011 as Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, FL and Alabama’s Mobile International Speedway played host to rounds seven and eight of the series. Chase Elliott, Augie Grill, Bubba Pollard, and Mike Garvey all led the strong fields of talent, battling nose to tail in two 100, all green flag lap races. Elliott scored his second Late Model win of the season and Pollard chalked up victory number 12 of the year, while Grill and Garvey both had their own sets of issues that kept them out of victory lane.
With only two caution flags, the race in Pensacola became a battle between Elliott and Grill. The two drivers, both running GARC chassis, broke out to a lead greater than the length of the front straightaway. Grill led the most laps in the race as Elliott chased close behind. Late in the event, lapped cars played a role in the outcome as Elliott used the traffic to take advantage of Grill, whose tires finally wore out after so many fast-paced laps. Elliott completed the pass on the front stretch as they took the white flag and then cruised to the checkers.
“This just happened to go our way,” said Elliott. “We’ve had them go our way and we’ve had them go the other way too, and tonight we just ended up on the fortunate side of it. I think Augie and I both had really close cars. We were both slipping and sliding like crazy and you can only ask so much out of 100 lap tires at Pensacola.”
“The last 15-20 laps the car gave up more than I thought it should’ve,” said Grill. “Chase was in the same boat; I know everything about that car because it’s just like mine. He just edged me a little bit there at the end.”
In Mobile, the story centered on the race after lap 51. Garvey took the lead early from Pollard, who started on pole, and then went on to dominate the first half of the race. A debris caution on lap 51 set into motion an interesting series of events.
On the restart, Augie Grill, in third, suffered from a carburetor issue and dropped like a rock through the field. In turns three and four, Grill made contact with Steven Davis, sending the two spinning and thus not completing the lap. The ensuing restart saw leader Garvey stumble in turn two, bunching up the field and collecting DJ VanderLey and Chase Elliott, killing their chances at a victory.
“We lost first and second gear,” said Garvey. “We came in and was able to get it into third gear, then ran the rest of the race in third and fourth.”
“DJ and I both had a good restart, but when Garvey slowed we all got bottled up and I got into DJ,” said Elliott. “Just couldn’t get slowed down quick enough. I drove up on top of his left rear and couldn’t get off of him. It’s my fault for not getting slowed down; I hate for that to happen and hate tearing stuff up but it’s going to happen sometimes. I thought we had a pretty good car. We had made a lot of ground up and the car seemed to be driving pretty good.”
Garvey would rocket through the field and back into second place, but his transmission woes put Pollard in the lead. The Senoia, Georgia driver gapped the field by nearly a straightaway and sped to his 49th career Late Model victory and 12th of the season.
“We had a good car when we unloaded the trailer,” said Pollard. “We didn’t make many laps in practice and felt like the car was good. You never know how the race is going to play out, but we were fortunate to get out front and we had a good race car.”
“We have a couple of weeks off, but I feel like we’re doing so well that we don’t need to get off of that momentum. We need to be at the race track and stay on top of everything. Maybe we’ll go up to South Boston and race with the PASS guys.”
GRABBING THE CHECKERS ONCE AGAIN IN PENSACOLA
2010 was a stellar year for Chase Elliott. In Late Models, he scored 13 wins and won the Blizzard Series Championship. This season has been a bit of a struggle as the Dawsonville, Georgia native has made the move up into the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East ranks. Elliott’s win in the Rubber and Specialties 100 is only his second Late Model victory of the season, and only his third overall (Elliott won the Baby Rattler at Opp and scored his first Pro Cup win earlier in the season at Rockingham).
“With being gone in the K&N Series, we came back and (the Late Model rust) showed. You could definitely tell we’d been away and that we were off. I feel like we are back on the right path, but there is still room to be better for sure. I’m thinking we are headed that way but we just have to try stuff. If you don’t try it then you don’t know. We made gains tonight and I hope we can make some more and be better.”
GARC CONTINUES BLIZZARD WIN STREAK
Augie Grill dominated the Blizzard Series race, coming up just short after being passed by Chase Elliott with one lap to go. While winning is always the goal, having your customers continue a winning streak like that of the GARC (Grand American Race Cars) chassis is a nice consolation prize.
“We came up a little short,” said Grill. “But having customer cars finish one, two, three is pretty good. I guess I’ve got to stop helping some of my customers as much.”
Grill was alluding to Chase Elliott, who won in a GARC chassis after getting some pointers from car builder Grill. With the win, GARC has now won 11 straight Blizzard Series races, spanning more than two full seasons.