While Choquette had speed late in the race and appeared to be on the way to his first Derby win, it wasn’t meant to be for the 30-year-old.
Choquette lamented coming so close and not being able to seal the deal after climbing from his car, having taken the lead for the first time by passing Busch on lap 122.
“We just didn’t have the speed we needed getting into the center (of the corners) late in the race,” said Choquette. “My car was so unstable there … I couldn’t set the rest of the turn up like I needed to on either end and it just takes all four corners being perfect to be able to put a lap together here.”
“We fought getting the car settled down all day long, just getting it pointed and being able to get (forward drive) off was our Achilles heel.”
Still, Choquette found perspective in the fact that he was racing against two tremendous racers for the win in the 50th annual Snowball Derby.
“They’re the two best in the country – the 51 (Busch) and the 26 (Pollard) – so to be right there in the middle of them say a lot about what we’re made of as a team and what we did this weekend. This was just a great effort by these Jett Concrete guys all weekend long. It’s not what we wanted, but we’re still holding our heads high leaving here.”
Pollard completed the podium in third after leading a race-high 155 laps.
While it was a career-best for him in Derby competition, Sunday appeared to be the day that Pollard was going to break his lengthy goose-egg in the win column after a career’s worth of bad luck in December.
However, a set of tires that didn’t agree with his car on the final run took just enough of Pollard’s speed away to keep him from battling Busch and Choquette for the victory.
“We just freed up too much on our last set of tires,” admitted a frustrated Pollard. “We needed a caution there to try and get things right and it never happened.”
Busch’s young protégé Harrison Burton scored a career-best fourth on Sunday, with Maine’s Cassius Clark surging late to give King Racing a fifth-place finish.
Casey Roderick, Chandler Smith, Chase Purdy, Raphael Lessard and Brandon McReynolds completed the top 10.
Ty Majeski ended up two laps down in 17th after pit strategy that went sour in the race’s first half, while defending Derby champion Christian Eckes was never a factor after starting on a provisional and finished 19th, three laps in arrears to Busch.
Polesitter Preston Peltier never led after being passed on the outside by Pollard at the initial start.
The East Coaster-turned Colorado native was then taken out along with a host of others during the race’s biggest accident, which started in the mid-pack on lap 93 after a restart and ended with Stephen Nasse, Logan Boyett, Mason Mingus, Derek Kraus and Peltier all eliminated with heavy damage.
But in the end, Sunday was all about Rowdy and a golden piece of history, at least for one day.
“This win is important today,” said Busch. “When everyone gets here next year, the shirts will say ‘2017 Snowball Derby winner, Kyle Busch, and no one will remember it was the 50th running. But I’ll always remember. This was a special and I’m glad I could celebrate it with these guys who worked so hard to get us to victory lane.”