For the third time in the last 10 years, the Snowball Derby had two Victory Lanes.
The first was for Stephen Nasse, after the 24-year-old from Pinellas Park, Florida, crossed the start/finish line first to culminate a wild finish Monday night in the rain-delayed 52nd annual Snowball Derby at Five Flags Speedway.
The second was two hours later, after Nasse was disqualified following post-race technical inspection, and the winner’s trophy was handed to Travis Braden as the 25-year-old from Wheeling, West Virginia, inherited the race win.
Braden was making his Snowball Derby debut. The 2011 NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Late Model champion at the now-closed Columbus Motor Speedway in Ohio, Braden also is a two-time CRA Super Series champion (2013-14) and won an ARCA Menards Series race at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis in 2015.
Braden originally crossed the start/finish line second Monday night in a green-white-checkered finish in the high-profile, season-ending Super Late Model race. However, the brakes on Nasse’s car did not pass post-race tech.
Fourteen-year-old Jake Garcia moved up to second, followed by Cole Butcher, Jesse Dutilly and Preston Peltier.
The post-race technical inspection area has been dubbed the “Room of Doom,” and rose to national prominence with the disqualification of future NASCAR Cup Series drivers. Chase Elliott was DQ’d in 2013, which handed the win to Erik Jones, and then subsequently in 2015 Elliott was the beneficiary of a Christopher Bell DQ.
Nasse had won his share of short-track milestones in a career whose length is belied by his still young age, including the Red Eye 100 at New Smyrna Speedway twice and the Winchester 400 in 2019.
“Come on man, that ain’t a question,” said Nasse, whose best finish in eight previous Derby starts was sixth. “This is the top daddy right here. This is it.”
The euphoria lasted only two hours.
Braden now adds his name to recent Derby winners that include Kyle Busch (2009 and ’17), Erik Jones (2012-13), John Hunter Nemechek (2014), Chase Elliott (2011 and ’15), Christian Eckes (2016) and Noah Gragson (2018).
Nasse wasn’t the only one to leave Pensacola frustrated.
Wisconsin’s Ty Majeski was poised to take the win, twice.
Following a red-flag with 17 to go, Majeski built a nearly two-second lead. That was erased by a yellow flag with five laps remaining. He got another great restart and when Braden and Nasse each took turns making a three-wide battle for second, and Majeski again skipped away to a nearly 2-second lead.
However, a spin by Braden set up the first green-white-checkered finish of the night.
On the ensuing restart, Majeski got tangled battling to hold onto the lead and went around in front of the field, collecting top contenders Jeff Choquette and Casey Roderick among others. Nasse, who was on the outside of Majeski, was able to slip by and avoid the carnage to become the improbable leader.
Chandler Smith finished sixth, followed by Roderick, Hunter Robbins, Dan Fredrickson and Boris Jurkovic.
Majeski wound up 13th, one spot ahead of Choquette. Derek Thorn, who won the Pro Late Model Snowflake 100 Saturday night and the pole for the Snowball Derby, initially made it through the wreck and was going to start third on the final restart. However, after a review, he was ruled to have been involved in the caution and sent to the back. The two-time NASCAR West champion finished 17th.
Among other notables, 2019 NASCAR West champion Derek Kraus finished 18th, 2019 Martinsville 300 winner Josh Berry was 29th and NASCAR Cup Series driver Corey LaJoie finished 31st after mechanical failure.