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Bubba Pollard makes the most of his NASCAR Xfinity debut

The legendary short tracker showed out at Richmond

Bubba Pollard finished sixth in his NASCAR Xfinity Series debut on Saturday at Richmond Raceway but it was a win for his entire family, support group and the short track industry that he represented to the masses.

It was a rollercoaster experience of a day for the 37-year-old Super Late Model ace.

He was fastest in practice but last in qualifying for overshooting entry into Turn 1 before methodically working his way through the field while learning to race a car he had never driven before that morning. There were hard battles with the likes of Parker Kligerman, AJ Allmendinger and Shave Van Gisbergen.

That’s a motorsports Mad Libs combination if there ever was one.

The end of the race came down to 60 laps on quickly fading tires on a super abrasive surface, a scenario that no one on the property knows better than Pollard, and where he made most of his passes through and into the top-10.

“It’s your kind of place,” Kligerman astutely told Pollard after the race.

He called it an ‘epic battle’ during his media scrum.

“That guy, I’ve never met him but watched a lot of his races, and it was cool to get to race him at his style of racing,” Kligerman said. “I thought he did a great job and raced me super clean and we shook hands afterwards. I love that.”

He climbed out of the car, and after media obligations, was swamped by a tremendous support group. Super fan TJ Jackson was high stepping, family members were crying and everyone was just proud of Pollard and the path he had taken to be celebrate on such a stage.

Even father Sonny Pollard, who isn’t the most eloquent of the bunch, was willing to share how much pride he had in what happened on Saturday.

“It’s very special,” said the second of three generation of construction working racing Pollards. “I think of how far Bubba has come along since we started and how much a day like this has been a dream of his.”

JR Motorsports gave Pollard one of the five best cars on the track on Saturday, and he could have been a factor for the win if it wasn’t for what happened in qualifying and his struggles on learning the live pit stop game for the first time in his career, but this was a good day.

Pollard was bailed out a little bit by crew chief Andrew Overstreet, who pit him for tires before the final green flag run with the expectation that the race would stay green. It did. But really, Pollard had started to figure the car out by halfway and just needed track position.

He would clear the likes of SVG, Allmendinger and Josh Williams and climb inside the top-15, just to lose the positions on pit road. He needed a long green flag run just to race and that’s what he got at the end.

“They kept telling me in practice to back up the corner, and I’m like, I can’t go no slower,” said Pollard. “But once we got out there racing, slow is fast, and the way it slides around, you really have to drive the race car.

“You have to be smart about the positions you put yourself in to save the race car. It was a lot of fun.”

Pollard’s cousin, Phillip Bell, is the crew chief for Brandon Jones at JR Motorsports and was able to watch most of the No. 88’s race after they fell out and came away really impressed.

“I think Bubba did a really good job of transitioning to the feel you need from a lighter Super Late Model to these heavier cars,” Bell said. “From the start of the race to the end, he became a completely different driver.

“To me, that shows the talent and his ability to adapt. If he redoes the race, he easily run top-5 even if he starts from the back. If he could re-qualify too, it becomes a completely different race.”

Bell says he’s really enjoyed having Pollard at their shop and it reminds him of all the days they’ve raced the Super Late Model together over the years. He also hopes his cousin gets another shot to race one of these cars again and apply the lessons learned on Saturday.

“You would think with all the attention and positive press, they can make something happen,” Bell said.

Pollard is going to be on the Dale Jr Download this coming week and that will only help too.

So does Pollard want to come back for a second helping with the No. 88 team?

“I’d love to do it one more time,” Pollard said. “I was looking at some things and I know Iowa is open, I think. I’d love to get some sponsorship and put it together again. The odds were against me this weekend. It’s tough.

“It’s hard to jump in these cars, no matter what you do, and expect to win but I would love one more shot.”

Matt Weaver is a Motorsports Insider for Sportsnaut. Follow him on Twitter.

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