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Everyone is excited for short track ace Bubba Pollard’s NASCAR debut

The 37-year-old never thought he would get this opportunity

Syndication: Pensacola
Credit: Bill Vilona / [email protected] via Imagn Content Services, LLC

The respect for Bubba Pollard transcends pavement Late Model racing and extends all the way to the NASCAR Cup Series and those who have raced him.

Pollard is one of the most decorated racers from his discipline, if not the most decorated based on the era he competes in, and JR Motorsports and Rheem is giving him at least one shot at the big leagues with an Xfinity Series start this weekend at Richmond Raceway.

Daniel Vining | Short Track Scene

The one victory missing from his resume is the prestigious Snowball Derby. The biggest race of the year is his White Whale and Pollard is Ahab. Pollard suffered his most frustrating defeat in the event yet in December when a late crash with Stephen Nasse while racing for the win eliminated them both.

He was still, quite frankly, stewing from the incident the week afterwards when Rheem founder JR Jones called with one of the most special conversations he’s had in his professional career. Jones basically said we want you to make a NASCAR start and you don’t have to bring anything other than your talent.

“I thought he was joking, really,” Pollard said over the weekend at the ASA STARS race at Pensacola. “Really unexpected but really fortunate to have a relationship with those guys over the years and hadn’t seen them a lot the last couple of years but they’ve always given a lot back to short track racing.

“I’m really fortunate to have this opportunity with Rheem and JR Motorsports.”

There is a lot of connective tissue between the Pollard and Jones family. JR Motorsports Xfinity full-timer Brandon Jones is the son of JR and the Pollards were a major help to them in their Late Model days. Meanwhile, Pollard’s cousin Phillip Bell is the crew chief for Jones in the Xfinity Series this season. Bell was previously the car chief for Noah Gragson at JRM and the two drivers share a close friendship too.

Pollard has also previously driven a JR Motorsports Late Model Stock in the prestigious ValleyStar Credit Union 300 and Dale Earnhardt Jr. is a tremendous supporter. It all makes sense when broken into individual atoms.

“Brandon Jones and his family, they have always been big supporters of Late Model racing and saw to it to provide Bubba with the opportunity that everyone wants to see him get,” Earnhardt said. “We’ve worked with Bubba too on our Late Model program at Martinsville and he was awesome. That guy has accomplished so much in the Late Model field and drove our car. He was just a pleasure.

“I’m looking forward to taking this journey with him.”

It’s a journey that racers across every level is excited to take with him in some shape or fashion. Super Late Model veteran driver and team owner, Donnie Wilson, says that ‘everyone should be a Bubba Pollard fan this weekend.’

Kyle Busch, who has frequently raced with Pollard over the years, once said that the now 37-year-old has Rowdy’s dream racing schedule. There is also a lot of tremendous respect between the two. Busch defeated Pollard for his second Snowball Derby in 2017 but Pollard conceded that if there is anyone to lose to, it’s Busch.

Busch reciprocates the respect.

“I love it,” Busch said of what Pollard gets to do this weekend. “A guy that works as hard as he does and does as much on his own as he does, I mean he’s a really smooth guy. I’ve raced against him a lot and we’ve had some really good battles. We’ve always been cordial with one another.”

Busch shared a funny anecdote about a conversation they had after Pollard moved Raphael Lessard in a KBM car out of the way at South Alabama Speedway.

“He said, ‘well that’s what Kyle would do,’ so I called him and I was like, ‘bro, when have I ever done that to you,’ like come on man.”

But it was all in good fun.

“We’ve always had a good relationship, so I respect the hell out of him for what he does. He’s honestly one of the best. Definitely one of the best from the south in the Super Late Model ranks.”

Syndication: Milwaukee
Credit: Dave Kallmann / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Josh Berry was Pollard’s teammate at Martinsville that year in the big Late Model Stock race and believes the potential is there for a big showing on Saturday based on his own experience at Richmond in 2015.

“It was probably my second or third start and I was racing Cup guys that night and raced up into the top five and had a really good race,” Berry said. “I remember coming in the media center afterwards and nobody knew who I was.

Everybody was like, ‘Who’s this guy,’ so I think the opportunity is there for Bubba.

“I watched your interview with Dale and he said, ‘If we give him a good car, he’ll race it to the front,’ and honestly, I believe that. I think that platform at Richmond, I think, is a lot like the short track racing that he does and that I did for years, so I’m excited to watch how he does for sure.”

And that’s exactly what Dale said.

“Of course, he can have a competitive day because Richmond is a lot like Pensacola,” Earnhardt said. “It’s not a super technical track. The things, like tire wear, that he needs to pay attention to, he’s well aware of.

“It’s just going to come down to whether we can give him the car he needs. He has tremendous race craft and if we give him the car, he is going to drive it to the front.”

Pollard is getting the full NASCAR treatment to prepare him too. That meant a trip to North Carolina for a seat fitting, photo shoot and a full morning at the Chevrolet simulator to work with the team to prepare him for a full race weekend.

It was a valuable experience but the simulator, a completely new experience, challenged him that day.

“I get motion sickness easy,” Pollard said. “That didn’t go so well but we can take a little bit from it and at the end of the day, it set us up to have a good day and do the best we can.”

And really, even though Pollard wants to have a good showing, the results are secondary to the experience this weekend.

“I just want to have fun,” Pollard said. “Yeah, I want to win, run good, have a good day for sure. The biggest thing is to enjoy the moment because this is probably going to be my one and only shot. I just want to have fun and make the most of it.”

By now, if it isn’t obvious, everyone in NASCAR knows who Pollard is based on reputation and resume. As far as the fans who don’t follow short track racing, Pollard just wants them to know that he’s just a regular ole guy.

His family operates sanitation and construction disposal companies in Georgia. He has legitimately spent as much time in ditches and landfills as he does behind a race car.  

“I enjoy racing like they do,” Pollard said. “I want them to know that I work hard and that my family has worked hard over the years. I am who I am and hopefully we can have fun.”

Daniel Hemric, now a Cup driver, knows Pollard well and actually defeated him head-to-head over a full ASA regional season championship back in 2013.

He might be the most excited of everyone in Richmond this weekend to see it.

“Oh my gosh, that’s a massive win for all of racing and not just short trackers,” Hemric said. “I love his family. I love Bubba to death.

“I have borrowed more parts and pieces off their hauler and they used to feed me every week. They would see me running around wrenching our car, saw that I hadn’t really ate in two days, and I just can’t say enough good things about him.

“But gosh, to see him get a shot like that, it’s so cool because he works extremely hard. It’s cool to see the relationship he has with JRM and pumped to see Rheem support that deal. Man, I’m just super stoked. I’m putting my race fan hat on Saturday and going to the stands to cheer for him.”

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

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