PENSACOLA, Fla. — In one of the most thrilling finishes in the 49-year history of the Snowball Derby, Christian Eckes beat out 2014 winner John Hunter Nemechek to take home the Tom Dawson Trophy at 5 Flags Speedway on Tuesday night.
After the race was postponed two days due to rain, Eckes treated the fans who stayed in Pensacola, Florida to a show, swapping the lead multiple times in the final three laps with Nemechek before ultimately completing a crossover move to the inside in turns three and four on the final trip around the historic half-mile.
The 16-year old from Greenville, N.Y. — who won last month at Myrtle Beach Speedway for his first-career super late model victory — added his second in stunning fashion and captured the biggest win of his career.
Tuesday marked the first Derby victory for Fury Race Cars, which was formed after LFR Chassis ceased operations in the Southeast at the end of August.
The star for much of the race was DeWitt, Michigan’s Chad Finley, who took the lead for the first time under caution just before lap 100 and led the most laps of any driver during the event, only giving up the top spot once during his tenure out front after Corey LaJoie completed a brief pass for the lead following one of the race’s many restarts.
However, a caution with 54 laps remaining sent the entirety of the field down pit road, setting up a breath-taking run to the finish and a scramble for the victory.
When the green flag flew with 46 laps to go, carnage broke loose and multiple cars were collected as Kaz Grala got turned into traffic off a three-wide scramble entering turn one, seeing 15-year-old Derek Kraus and Snowflake 100 winner Augie Grill collected in the incident as well.
The crash drew a red flag for cleanup, with the race resuming shortly after and seeing Finley take off like a shot, while polesitter William Byron charged forward to fourth on the inside lane as he rose back into contention.
Byron would eventually be eliminated following a restart with 32 laps to go, when a battle for second with Stephen Nasse saw the pair make contact, with Nasse spinning to a stop in turn four before retaliating under caution to take Byron out of the event as well.
That incident set up the race’s final restart with 22 to go, seeing Ty Majeski escape to the lead as Finley faded with motor issues, with Nemechek and Eckes in pursuit.
Nemechek ultimately passed Majeski for the lead in turn one nine laps later, but Eckes followed him through and never gave up before the sizzling battle for the win took place over the closing stages, with the New York young gun coming out on top by .017 of a second at the checkered flag.
Nemechek, Majeski, Donnie Wilson and Chandler Smith completed the top five finishers.
The race started with a 60-lap green flag run before chaos ensued for the duration, with 13 caution flags over the final 240 laps pushing the race duration to just over three hours.
Pre-race favorite Christopher Bell was eliminated in a hard crash on lap 110, after he hit the wall in turns four and his car sustained heavy damage to the right side, drawing a red flag for cleanup.
Casey Roderick, Grant Enfinger, Zane Smith, Noah Gragson and Raphael Lessard were the balance of the top 10.
The 50th annual Snowball Derby is scheduled for Dec. 3, 2017 at Five Flags Speedway.