PENSACOLA, Fla. – Derek Thorn and Kaden Honeycutt were the talk of the town Thursday during the opening day of practice for the 53rd Snowball Derby at Five Flags Speedway.
Thorn and the Campbell Motorsports No. 43 led two of the three super late model sessions at the historic half-mile oval, with his lap of 16.414 seconds (109.662 mph) in the last of three rounds of practice Thursday serving as the best time overall on the day.
Honeycutt led the second session in the Wilson Motorsports No. 2 with a lap of 16.601 seconds (108.427 mph) and was second on the overall charts after a Happy Hour time of 16.461 seconds (109.349 mph).
Their Thursday prowess sets both Thorn and Honeycutt up as early favorites for the $1,000 Snowball Derby Pole Award during Country Pleasin’ Pole Night on Friday evening.
While Thorn is motivated to chase the Derby’s $25,000 top prize and take the Tom Dawson Trophy back to California, he stopped short of calling it a redemption journey, despite the fact that he’s still looking for a marquee victory in 2020 after being crashed out of the All American 400 in November.
“I don’t call this week about redemption; the way I look at it, we always come to the race track looking to put our best foot forward,” Thorn said. “Nashville is where I think we needed to be (on speed). We’ve always had really good cars and things lined up and were working pretty well, but it didn’t quite pan out at the end. We’re in a good place right now, though, and I like our chances this week.
“The Derby isn’t Nashville. Pensacola isn’t Nashville. I think it would be naïve of me to think it’s going to be the same race, but we’ll take things one day at a time and keep trying to make speed through Sunday.”
Meanwhile, Honeycutt is chasing Snowball Derby glory with a little extra help this week, honoring his late friend Jackson Bates by carrying Bates’ name above the passenger’s side door.
“This is how we wanted to start the week off,” Honeycutt relayed. “We’re really happy with our car right now and we think we can stay in the mix; we just have to keep adjusting with the race track as we progress through the week. But I’m really happy right now.”
Stephen Nasse, who crossed the finish line first in last year’s Derby but was disqualified in post-race technical inspection, was third-quick in Happy Hour and overall on Thursday for Jett Motorsports.
Ty Majeski, still seeking his first Derby triumph, and Hunter Robbins filled out the top five.
Matt Craig slotted in sixth on the speed charts at the end of day one, with the top six overall times all coming out of Thursday’s final practice session.
NASCAR Camping World Truck Series young gun Derek Kraus, third in opening practice, finished the afternoon seventh in the combined tally.
Chandler Smith, Casey Roderick and Preston Peltier were the balance of the top 10.
Reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion Chase Elliott spent most of his first day back at Five Flags since 2015 getting up to speed in the James Finch-owned, Phoenix Construction-backed No. 9.
With veteran crew chief Ricky Turner calling the shots, Elliott was ninth, 32nd and 12th across the three practice sessions held Thursday.
Kyle Busch, the 2015 and 2019 Cup champion, battled electrical issues for part of the day Thursday and was outside the top 10 in all three rounds of super late model practice.
Busch’s best run of the day was in the opening hour, when he ranked 14th, but he slid to 41st at the end of final practice.
Two major incidents slowed the pace during super late model action on Thursday, both in the opening hour of practice.
The first stoppage came after Bob Mays’ No. 44 slapped the wall on its installation lap, coasting around to the exit of turn two before grinding to a halt and catching fire on the backstretch.
A second slowdown occurred right at the end of opening practice, after Michael House’s No. 1 pounded the backstretch wall at the entrance to turn three, causing heavy right-side damage.
Both Mays and House were uninjured, but confirmed they are done for the weekend. Neither driver has a backup car available for the event to try and qualify for the Snowball Derby on Friday night.
Time trials for the 53rd Snowball Derby will roll off at 6 p.m. CT Friday night. The top 30 super late model drivers will lock into the race on speed.