In what could be described as a true clash of the titans, this year’s Alabama 200 was jam packed with excitement from start to finish. Three of the Deep South’s best, and the pheonom points leader from Montgomery, took to the half mile and put on a show for the ages. When the dust settled, two familiar faces, Augie Grill and Hunter Robbins, stood in victory lane to reap the rewards of two different, yet very hard battles.
GRILL HAS CLOSE CALLS IN ROUTE TO VICTORY LANE
After competing in the CRA Super Series race on Saturday at Gresham Motorsports Park in Georgia, Augie Grill made the journey to Montgomery the next day, knowing he would have zero practice and be forced to start at the tail end of the field. The challenge barely phased Grill as he diced through the field, and eventually to the lead. Grill would face a few close calls on the way to victory lane.
“Ten laps prior to the break, the car just got bad tight,” said Grill. “I’d run fairly hard at times in the race and it didn’t get tight so I knew something was up. I told the crew on the radio, ‘I think I got a right rear tire going down.’ Low and behold, by the break we and fallen to fourth and found out it had only 10 lbs. in it. We put four tires on it and went back out and went from fourth to the lead in three laps.”
Grill once again faced near catastrophe, spinning in turn four on lap 176.
“It was really good, but I got a couple car lengths out front and my car started slowing down, we fell back to fourth again. I told them on the radio, ‘I don’t know what it is but it’s tight again. I don’t think that the right rear tire because it doesn’t have that same feel.’ Then I screwed so much rear brake into the car that it got loose in the corner and I spun it out. Luckily, I came down pit road for that and we found out that the right rear only had 23 lbs. in it and was supposed to be around 32 lbs. We put one of the original right side tires on it and it came back to life.”
Grill led Chase Elliott and Bubba Pollard up to the front, two drivers who also raced at Gresham. Add to the mix Show Me the Money Series points leader Hunter Robbins and the result was over 100 laps of nose to tail and side by side racing between the four drivers, with Grill coming out on top to claim his third Alabama 200 victory.
“It feels good to be able to outrun Bubba and Chase,” said Grill. “Chase has been really good and I think he won the last couple times he was here so they had a good idea of what to come with. “Ronnie Sanders called me earlier in the week and asked me what to come with, and he [Bubba Pollard] was pretty good. It feels really good to finish ahead of them at the end of the race. I’ve been getting the short end of the stick the last few times out. Feels good to win, to out run that blue and white car behind me. It was a good day for the company, I think we had the top five and the top six in qualifying.”
“We maybe weren’t as good at the end as we needed to be, Chase had better tires. All and all a good day to start dead last, lead the most laps and go home with a pretty good check.
“I wish we had more cars out there, but I feel like the best out there were here today. It makes the race feel bigger. When the stands are packed and there is 30-40 cars it just makes us feel better when we win. It might be the same cars we’re racing, but it still feels better to say man I won that race the other day and there was 40 cars there. At the end of the day it would still be the same cars at the front so its more of an ego thing I guess.”
Chase Elliott was another one of the three drivers traveling from Gresham who found redemption at Montgomery after a less than stellar performance the night before. He too, had zero practice and started in the rear of the field. Elliott would rely on notes from the past, and felt like he really had something for Grill, but ran out of time after batting almost 20 laps at the end of the race.
“The race that we won here last year was that last race we ran here,” said Elliott. “Ricky [Turner] and I got to talking about it and I really liked the car that night, it was one of the best cars I had had anywhere. I think for us to come back and fall back on that setup, I knew that we had plenty of time to come in and work on the car. We could make whatever adjustments we needed to make with the four springs and shocks on the car. I had enough confidence that we didn’t need to make any drastic changes, maybe just a couple minor things. I thought we probably had the best car out here today.”
HUNTER SURVIVES BATTLE WITH BUBBA, WINS CHAMPIONSHIP
Hunter Robbins came into the Alabama 200 42 markers ahead of second place Jason Young. Robbins won the previous Show Me the Money Series race held in August, and knew that it would take a severe problem to keep from winning the championship, a fact not lost on Young.
It’s probably going to take Hunter crashing out early for us to have a shot,” said Young. “42 points is a lot to make up in one race. We are here to win the race; the points will take care of themselves.”
With about 20 laps left in the race, Robbins’ chances at the title almost vanished as a hard battle with Bubba Pollard went south. The two drivers raced side by side for several laps, with Robbins making his move as they dove into turns three and four. Exiting turn four would see Grill and Elliott in first and second with Robbins third and Pollard fourth.
“Today was all about survival,” said Robbins. “We had to finish ten spots ahead of the 27 [Jason Young] to clinch the championship. That was our first goal today, to finish up the championship, which was for $5,000.00. We kinda played the race safe, running in the top five all day. We got up to second, behind Bubba [Pollard] and felt like we had the best car in the second half of the race for sure. With about 20 laps to go, I was racing really hard with Bubba, slipping and sliding. He drove in deep and I drove in deep, my brakes locked up and we went up the track a little bit. Augie and Chase both got around us, then after that we had both used our tires up racing hard in first and second.”
Bubba Pollard hasn’t had the success at Montgomery Motor Speedway that would warrant mentioning on his otherwise remarkable racing resume. After winning the night before at Gresham, Pollard came to Montgomery ready to check the Alabama track off of his bucket list. While Pollard didn’t win the Alabama 200, he did lead 23 laps and was in contention for the win until the contact with Robbins. Pollard took the experience in stride, and was happy with his overall performance on the day.
“For the way we have struggled here this past year; We wasn’t even close at contending for the win the last couple of times we’ve been here,” said Pollard. “We’ve went to work and done things to make our program better here.”
“It was some good racing between the four of us, all four of us could’ve one the race. It depended on who got the best restarts and had the best track position, and who didn’t get run across when they were passed. That’s part of racing. It’s hard to pass here and the racetrack was so greasy and sandy it was hard to get going on the restarts. From where we’ve been to where we’ve come to it’s been pretty good.”
Pollard has had more than his share of contact this season at other tracks in the south. Near the end of our interview, Hunter Robbins approached us to speak with Pollard about the contact. Pollard was gracious and candid with Robbins, whose first words to the Georgia driver were, “I apologize.”
Bubba Pollard: “It’s just part of racing. Augie hit me at the start and passed me at the begging of the race. It’s just a part of racing when you get to place like this where it’s hard to pass.”
Hunter Robbins: “I apologize.”
BP: “It’s fine. I knew you was going to drive it down in there.”
HR: “That’s what I’m saying, I knew you were going to do it too. My problem was that my car was tight and I had to crank so much rear break in it that I locked them up and it chased up into you.”
BP: “That’s fine. It’s all in the past here.”
HR: “I’m just mad because I felt like we had a better car than you, and you had a second place car and shouldn’t have finished fourth. At least I didn’t drive straight through your quarter panel.”
BP: “It’s different what he did that what others have done.”
We then asked Pollard, “What’s different?”
BP: “It’s just hard racing. What others have done is not hard racing, and there’s no sense in that mess. It’s fine.”