Hunter Robbins Celebrates Blizzard Win After Grill DQ'd by Steven Neeley
Disagreements and Disqualifications Spell Drama in Pensacola
After tech, Hunter Robbins found himself in Five Flags Victory lane. (51 Photos)
A simple check of the dictionary can find the word that best described Friday night's Blizzard Series kickoff event: drama.
Its definition explains the theme of the end of the event - any situation or series of events having vivid, emotional, conflicting or striking interest or results. In the closing stages of the race, Augie Grill and Hunter Robbins battled for the victory, dodging and weaving through traffic with a group of hard-charging drivers closing in behind them with fresher tires.
Grill would manage to hold on to finish first, but the drama did not stop there, as he was disqualified in post-race technical inspection, handing Robbins his first victory in the Blizzard Series.
However, in Five Flags Speedway's notoriously stringent technical inspection process, it was determined by track officials that Grill's #112 car was in violation of a rule on the minimum valve angle in the engine.
“The rule is 18 degrees, but Augie's was 15 degrees,” said Chief Technical Inspector Ricky Brooks. “The rules are the rules, and we have tolerances, and once you go beyond those tolerances you just don't have a choice. Augie admitted to me that if it was 15 degrees, it's wrong. I checked it with two different gauges, and that's why I went to the other three cars to double-check before coming back to his. The others were correct and his was wrong.”
Grill declined to comment after the ruling.
Meanwhile, the bittersweet decision gave the win to Robbins, the 15-year-old phenom who coincidentally had a heartbreaking loss of his own to Grill as he was passed in the final corner in last month's Rattler at South Alabama Speedway.
“We didn't want to win the race like that,” said Robbins. “I'd rather pass him on the track. From what I heard, what was wrong with it was just by a little bit. If it helped the motor, well, you don't want it to help the motor here, it just hurts you. I don't know exactly what he got thrown out on, but I don't think it would have helped him one bit.
“We're still happy with the win. Even with finishing second, the momentum's still there, and we're still riding on that train… that string of good runs.”
Five Flag's Technical Inspector Ricky Brooks discusses the issue with Augie Grill.
Robbins and his team used a fast qualifying run and a pit strategy gamble to put him in position to win, opting to forego fresh tires to stay ahead of the beating and banging that usually happens in the middle of the pack, while giving up time under green with older tires on Five Flags Speedway's abrasive surface.
“We qualified third and stayed up there the whole night,” said Robbins. “It allowed us to stay out of that mess, because all of the wrecks happened behind us. If we continue to qualify well, we'll put ourselves in position to do well.
“Initially we had planned to pit, but we were going to follow whatever Augie did, and when he stayed out, we stayed out. Our car was good and I felt like I did a good job of saving the tires, but I didn't quite have enough to get to him at the end. I think we were very equal there at the end.”
Grill and Robbins made their move to the front early in the race, getting past polesitter Steven Davis on lap 20. They also fended off challenges early from Ken McFarland before Davis and McFarland were involved in the night's biggest wreck while passing the lapped car of Bill Little.
“He got in the back of McFarland there and then got on the brakes,” said Davis. “I guess he had better brakes than I did and he slowed down faster than me and ended up hitting me in the left front. I slammed the wall and tore the car up pretty good.”
More drama ensued when Little was being held a lap for aggressive driving. Davis ran up to the area where Little was being held and hopped over the pit road wall to show his displeasure, finally being restrained by a track official.
“I was going to tell him that I didn't appreciate him wrecking us like that,” said Davis. “It's one thing if you're out there racing for the win, but if you're several laps down, you just need to stay out of the way. We just can't seem to put together a finish because of stuff like this.”
Grill also had problems of his own with lapped cars near the end of the race. After a couple late-race cautions, he opted not to race with the lapped car of Scott Carlson, who had been pressuring Grill to get his laps back.
“I ran hard for a few laps to get some distance on the lapped car and Hunter,” said Grill. “I decided to let him go. I really hate racing lapped cars. In a 100-lap race, they ought to have to park, but I might be that lapped car one day so I better watch what I say. You just have to be smart with the lapped cars, so I let him go.
“Toward the end, there were a couple others who were giving me trouble, but they were giving Hunter trouble too. It really didn't play into anybody's favor.”
Robbins also weaved through the lapped traffic at the end, but the more-experienced Grill was able to maneuver around them better. When they were finally free of traffic, Robbins mounted one final charge.
“We never really got to the lapped cars until about 25 laps to go, and then we had one about every corner,” said Robbins. “I was hoping one would mess Augie up or something, but it didn't work out that way.”
The lapped traffic also allowed last year's Blizzard Series Champion, Dave Mader III, to close up on the top two. Mader III was the first of the drivers who pitted to take tires to finish.
“We really had the perfect pit call, I thought,” said Mader III. “We pitted early and I didn't kill myself working back up through the traffic because I knew they were going to have to pit, but as it turns out Hunter and Augie didn't. It almost worked. With about five laps to go, they started falling off and I caught them, but it was too late.”
Grill, Robbins, and Mader III finished a car length apart from each other at the finish. Robbins leads the Blizzard Series standings, which is surprising to him as it marks the first time he has attempted to run for a points title. It's also important to him because the top two in Blizzard Series points are guaranteed spots in the Snowball Derby.
“It's good to start out well in the Blizzard Series also because of the provisionals for the Derby,” said Robbins. “It's kind of neat to run for points somewhere since we've never really ran for points anywhere. We'd like to get the locked-in provisional for December, but hopefully we won't have to use one in December and we'll have a good qualifying run like we did tonight.”
BLIZZARD SERIES RACE ONE
Five Flags Speedway
1. Hunter Robbins
2. Dave Mader, III
3. Ryan Crane
4. Ken McFarland
5. Heath Hindman
6. Wayne Niedecken, Jr.
7. David Hole
8. Donald Long
9. Josh Hamner
10. Jason Young
11. Justin Drawdy
12. Donnie Wilson
13. Grant Enfinger
14. Dale Little
15. Roger Reuse
16. Shaun McWhirter
17. Scott Carlson
18. Chris Serio
19. Matt Merell
20. Stanley Smith
21. T. Wade Welch
22. Tim Martin
23. Bill Tutchtone
24. Adam Crawford
25. Doug Thorpe, Jr.
26. Bubba Pollard
27. Bill Little
28. Eddie Craig, Sr.
29. Joey Senter
30. Casey Smith
31. Jessie Reid
32. Andy Pugh
33. Steven Davis
34. Rocky Boyd, Sr.
35. Tom Grothues
36. Nathan Davis
DQ - Augie Grill