JEFFERSON, Ga. – official release — Speed51 photo — Growing up in Lawrenceville, Ga., Casey Roderick knew of the rich racing history of the World Crown 300 at Gresham Motorsports Park.
It was a race he anticipated since he first started late model racing. He made his first World Crown start in 2010 and was taken out in an early crash. Even as he graduated into the NASCAR Nationwide Series, the World Crown was still a marquee race on his late model schedule and remained so as he transitioned back to late model racing in 2014.
Saturday night, after losing a lap, getting a free pass, being in the right position when other potential winners fell by the wayside, withstanding a three-wide battle at the front of the field and pulling a bump-and-run on the last lap, the 22-year-old Roderick added his name to the illustrious World Crown winners list.
Roderick bumped Kyle Grissom out of the lead in turn three on the final lap and drove his Graham Trucking No. 7 to the checkered flag first, earning the Southern Super Series victory in the 31st Annual World Crown 300 presented by Victory Junction.
“It’s awesome,” said Roderick of his World Crown victory, his second SSS victory of 2014. “I live 30 minutes down the road. I’ve always wanted to win here. I won a Legends (car) race here on the quarter mile, but that’s it. This was my time. I can’t believe it.”
To do it, Roderick overcame an early incident that caused some damage to his No. 7 super late model. As the race wore on, he lost a lap, but gained it back via the series’ free pass rule. He then made a late charge to get to leader Kyle Grissom’s back bumper. On the final lap, a bump that moved Grissom up the track opened up just enough room for Roderick to drive to the win.
“I knew I had to do something. I mean it’s the World Crown 300,” added Roderick of his last-lap battle with Grissom. “You don’t get chances to win this race very often. I had a chance to win it and I took it. To me I barely got into (Grissom) and got him a little free. That’s all it took. It’s not like I went in there to wreck him. I am sure he’s not happy. I wouldn’t be. But that’s just racing man. You got to get out here and give it all your heart.”
Grissom took the lead from defending Southern Super Series champion Daniel Hemric on lap 292 and showed the way until the last-lap bump-and-run from Roderick.
“If that’s the way (Roderick) wants it, he can have it. That’s pretty embarrassing,” Grissom said after finishing second. “He had to send it there pretty good to get me. He all but turned me. That’s racing. We’ll come back and get them next time.”
Augie Grill and Bubba Pollard entered the World Crown 300 as snake-bitten drivers who had been close to victory in the event before, but had never been able to make the trip to victory lane. That stat remained in effect after Saturday’s race.
Grill led a race-high 200 laps, only to fall out on lap 247 while leading after contact with the wall caused by engine woes in his No. 112 car.
“We started spitting water on the first pit stop,” said Grill. “It spit more and more every caution. I think it had spit enough that at the end the gauge was just reading gas, not water. The motor started losing power. I got into the wall, but we were about to park it anyway. I noticed it going down the back straightaway and looked down in the corner and got into the wall. That’s just been our year.”
Southern Super Series point leader Bubba Pollard led 45 laps and looked to be in the catbird’s seat when Grill had his issues, but a flat tire cost him a shot at his first World Crown victory.
“I just hate it,” said Pollard, who has now led the World Crown in seven of his 11 starts in the race. “It’s frustrating. It was bottoming out the whole race. It just couldn’t take it. Tire (stagger) an inch and half difference totally changes the car. We don’t buy practice tires so we didn’t know. It seemed like everything happened to the leaders tonight.”
For all the craziness with the leaders, 13-year-old Harrison Burton showed the perseverance of a veteran. He earned a free pass late in the race and battled with the leaders to the finish before tying a career-best Southern Super Series finish of third.
“We came and we worked hard on the car and on the track and I changed my line a little bit,” said Burton. “My guys on the pit crew did really good tonight. I just can’t thank my team enough. We started off not where we need to be and we ended up pretty good. You always try to get as much as you can in the final laps. We were just running as hard as you can and it worked out in my favor tonight.”
Daniel Hemric hung on following some late-race contact from Kyle Grissom to finish fourth. Jeff Choquette finished fifth.