In what began as two racers just racing hard around each other, the battles between Bubba Pollard and DJ VanderLey at Pensacola (FL) and Mobile (AL) have become the feud of the season, leaving both drivers pointing fingers and wondering why. Now, each time the two are near each other on the track, fans rise from their seats to watch them rub fenders, waiting to see who will come out on top.
The latest installment of what has become an epic saga saw both drivers once again fighting in turn four at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola Friday. Through the chaos, a young driver, Kyle Benjamin, rose to the forefront, and at the Azera 100, found his way through the carnage to snare his second win of the season and first at Five Flags.
Benjamin, an eighth grade student from Easley, South Carolina, climbed from his car after the race with his fists high above his head, and smile so large you could see it peeking out of his helmet. In victory lane he was ecstatic about winning in Pensacola.
“I’ve always wanted to win here,” said Benjamin. “This is the coolest win ever. It’s so hard to win here and I’m so happy to have won.”
Benjamin was fast all night, showing his might early by powering past Keith Thorpe to take the lead on lap 21. He then took off, gapping the field and settling into tire conservation mode.
“We did have really good drive off of the corner. We kind of backed it up to have that. The car was really hooked up and when we led, we really never got bellow an 18.010 second lap. We were very fortunate that the car was hooked up that well all night.”
“At the begging of the race, it was mostly riding going on. I knew when Bubba got second we were both going to ride and towards the end, 25 to go, the race got pretty crazy. I thought it was going to be a smooth race when we had that really long run, but once it got crazy it was time to stop saving the tires. Everybody was going all out sideways. That wreck happened and I got passed them. We were one of the top three fastest cars and once they got to the back I could concentrate on just getting really good restarts, which we got. I’m just proud to bring it home in first place.”
“That wreck” was the lap 93 contact between Bubba Pollard and DJ VanderLey. Coming off of turn four, the two drivers collided with the result seeing Pollard spinning and collecting Mike Garvey and Greg Poole. Pollard made his way to pit road, then upon returning to the track, slowed on the frontstretch. As VanderLey approached, it was clear that Pollard was seeking payback.
VanderLey, knowing what was coming, stopped behind Pollard, hoping that he would just drive away. Instead, Pollard shifted into reverse, and rammed his rear bumper into and onto the hood of VanderLey’s racer. At that point, Pollard was parked for the remainder of the event and would be scored 11th. VanderLey’s crew repaired the damage, which turned out to be minor, and sent him back out to rejoin the field. With only a handful of cars on the lead lap, VanderLey was able to bounce back with a third place finish.
After the race, VanderLey accepted his trophy to the displeasure of the crowd that was not happy with way the events late transpired. With the crowd booing behind him, he recounted the night.
“We had an awful qualifying run,” said VanderLey. I was confident in our car and we were working our way through the field. I was trying to pass Kyle Bryant, and I was probably a bit too aggressive on that. I’ll take blame for that, he didn’t do anything wrong, but it put us to the back again and we just worked all the way back up.
“I was trying to get past Bubba (on lap 93), I had maybe just and inch or two on him, and he came down on me trying to block me and that was it. I’m sure he’ll have a totally different story which is totally fine. I understand his side of it, but all in all it was a good night for us as far as points.”
Bubba Pollard found it hard come up with the words to describe what happened. Even though he tried to hold back the frustration, it was clearly there. Pollard insists that he won’t let the feud with VanderLey undermine the success that he and his team has had this year.
“You know I really don’t know,” Pollard said shaking his head about the incident. “He’s friends during the week, everything’s okay... buddy buddy. It’s part of racing, we’ve had too good of a year to let this bother us. This is just minor compared to what it could be and there is a lot more racing left. We’re not worried about this little deal.”
Pollard then eluded that perhaps the pressure to perform is part of what adds to the tension.
“Well he had gotten into a wreck earlier in the race, and from what I hear from everyone coming over here to congratulate my for what I did, which what I did wasn’t right, they said they wish they had done it. To me it looked like he came back up through the field and made a couple of enemies tonight so it looks like I wasn’t the only one.
“He’s young, he’s hungry for a win... I don’t know what the deal is. I think his daddy is putting a lot of pressure on him to perform trying to make it to the level, but there isn’t anybody making it to the next level unless you got money.”
Both drivers left Pensacola with more questions than answers. It is doubtful that anything as really been settled after the Azera 100. The suspense will once again build up to the next time these two drivers meet each other on the race track. Mostly likely, neither will give an inch to the other.
Meanwhile, winner Kyle Benjamin doesn’t seem to have a care in the world about the battling feud taking place around him. When was asked how he would celebrate his second victory he said, with a grin from ear to ear, “We’re going back to the beach!” Benjamin spent the next day parasailing at Pensacola Beach.