PENSACOLA, Fla. — Michigan driver Erik Jones held off NASCAR veteran Kyle Busch over the final 16 laps to win the 45th running of the Snowball Derby at Five Flags Speedway on Sunday.
Jones becomes the first driver from Michigan to score a Snowball Derby win since Butch Miller accomplished the feat in 1987.
Busch took over the lead when his pit crew got him out ahead of Jones following the final round of four-tire change . That came following the t0th and final caution when Hunter Robbins spun in turn two.
On the final restart with 19 laps remaining, Busch was on the point chased by Jones, who made the pass on the back straight with 16 laps remaining. For the next ten laps the two raced side by side.
Jones used the momentum on the outside to hold off Busch with Jeff Fultz, Jeff Choquette and Grant Enfinger in the mix.
With six laps remaining Coquette slipped inside of Fultz on the back straight to move into the third spot and on lap 299 got inside of Busch entering turn one.
Jones won by .75-seconds over Coquette followed by Busch, Fultz and Elliott. Fultz started 34th in the 37-car field.
Entfinger, who started 30th, came home in sixth, followed by Kyle Benjamin, David Ragan, Chris Davidson and John Hunter Nemechek rounding out the top 10.
There were 12 lead changes among seven different leaders in what became a race of attrition with only 19 cars running at the finish, 15 on the lead lap. There were two red flags and 10 caution periods for a total of 62 laps.
Busch’s run was all the more impressive after being sent to the tail of the field on lap 158 for making contact with leader TJ Reaid. The contact caused Reaid to spin in front of the entire field ending the day for Bubba Pollard and heavily damaging Elliott's car.
Casey Smith led from lap 164 to 207 when the leaders all stopped for tires and he emerged outside the top with Jones taking over the point. Smith’s effort ended on lap 227 when he tangled with Steve Wallace in turn two. Wallace threw a hammer at Busch’s car during the caution period.
Pole sitter David Ragan led the first 31 laps, faded and lost a lap. He got back on the lead lap near the halfway point, briefly ran second before finishing eighth.
The hardest impact of the day on lap 125 when Nelson Piquet Jr. made contact with Daniel Hemric coming off the second corner. Hemric’s car made heavy contact with the outside wall.
Ken de la Bastide is a reporter for The Kokomo (Ind.) Tribune.