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Snowball Derby: Chase Elliott rolls to Snowflake victory

Someone dust off the trophy case at the Elliott household. Add another shelf. Knock down a wall.

Chase Elliott’s collection of hardware, a vast majority boasting Pensacola roots, got heavier with another Allen Turner Snowflake 100 win Saturday night at Five Flags Speedway.

“This means a lot to me,” said the Dawsonville, Ga., native and son of NASCAR legend Bill Elliott. “My guys work hard year after year.”

The 17-year-old phenom and his team are a machine built for winning, seemingly stronger than their No. 9 Pro Late Model that revs under Elliott.

Elliott captured his second Snowflake in three years, easily beating runner-up Mike Garvey and third-place Kyle Benjamin to the checkered flag. Johanna Long finished seventh while her father Donald Long’s troubles placed him 31st in the 36-car field.

It marks Elliott’s third trip to Victory Lane in three years at Pensacola’s high banks after his historic win at last year’s Snowball Derby, when he became the youngest winner at 16.

Elliott hopes to add another page in his bursting record book at 2 p.m. today when 37 Super Late Models line up for the 45th running of the Snowball Derby.

No driver has swept the Snowflake and short-track racing’s most prestigious race in the same year.

“I know we’ve got a team capable of winning (today),” Elliott said.

Elliott led twice Saturday for a total of 52 laps, including the final 47. Justin South, who sat on the pole (16.905 seconds) after qualifying ahead of Elliott and Benjamin’s dual 16.978, was the only other leader.

Elliott is so proficient in all phases of his game, but his restarts proved to be once again a major advantage Saturday.

It was a vital part of his repertoire down the stretch, as the race saw eight total cautions, five coming in the last 10 laps.

“It’s pretty much a fact, anytime we’re out front, the cautions are gonna come out,” Elliott said. “We were fortunate to stay out front.”

Time after time, he owned the unsuspecting victim on the outside groove, most notably Benjamin. Class was in session for the 15-year-old, who is homeschooled back in South Carolina.

“I learned a lot,” Benjamin admitted. “(Elliott) kind of caught me off guard. It’s good to race against somebody like Chase and learn a few things.”

Elliott steered the bus Saturday on the entire field. He deftly maneuvered through lapped traffic, avoiding looming pitfalls with an effortless turn of the wheel.

Elliott’s experience belies his youth. He navigates the famed half-mile asphalt oval as if he has been driving on it since his first Big Wheel.

“I don’t know about being a veteran,” Elliott said. “I’ve still got a lot to learn.”

Tell that to his counterparts. They’ll need some convincing to swallow that bit of honey.

“Chase was fast,” Garvey said. “We were biding our time and all of a sudden the car was tight. But that’s no excuse. Chase was better.”

What else is new? It has become one of life’s certainties.

Death, taxes and Chase Elliott leaving Pensacola with hardware on Snowball Derby weekend.

And the weekend isn’t over.

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