Welcome to the fifth and final 2011 edition of the Speed51.com Short Track Power rankings. The season's big year-ending events have all seen their checkered flag. Some drivers went home with big paychecks. Others left the track with championship laurels. Everyone else just left the track hungrier for success in 2012.
But who has carried the most clout in the final weeks of 2011? Some drivers really turned the wick up when the big money was on the line late in the year. Others who won throughout the season went cold down the stretch. Others put together a final couple of months to stay in our list throughout the full year.
A panel of industry experts from all four corners of the country and Canada have voted on their choices for the first half Short Track Power poll. Drivers in all forms of short track racing, including Late Models, NASCAR Touring Series, ARCA, Dirt Late Models and Modifieds, NASCAR Whelen All-American Series or ASA Member Track program and everything in between were eligible. Drivers who have competed in at least half of a NASCAR National Series schedule this season were not eligible.
The rankings shown below were decided after polling our panel of experts in the industry. Rankings were based on overall number of votes, with more weight given to each vote the higher the vote. Example, a #1 vote would be more valuable than a #2, #3, etc.
Here are our power rankings for the final two months of the 2011 short track racing season:
1) CHASE ELLIOTT - Super/Pro Late Models
Winning the most prestigious Super Late Model event in the country is a feat that is not easily achieved. To do it in a relatively clean manner in a side-by-side thriller with an up-and-coming standout in the Super Late Model world is even tougher. To do it just a week or so after your 16th birthday is almost unbelievable. But then again, Chase Elliott has defined near-unbelievable over the past few seasons in a Late Model. The youngster from Dawsonville, Georgia continued his record-breaking ways on December 4th by winning the 44th Annual Snowball Derby at Five Flags Speedway. For that feat, our panelists selected him as the most Powerful racer of the final two months of the season. And why not? It’s hard to say that anything is more powerful than the winner of the Snowball Derby. But it wasn’t just the fact that he won. He overcame an early tangle where he suffered some cosmetic damage and rallied, with the aid of a few pit stops by a speedy crew, back to the front to wage an epic battle with DJ VanderLey down the stretch. One panelist who voted for Elliott at the top of the list said it simply: “A great Derby Weekend to end the year!”
2) BUBBA POLLARD - Super/Pro Late Models
If it wasn’t for Elliott winning at such a young age in the manner he did it, Bubba Pollard may have very well been this Power Poll’s #1. While the finishes may not have shown it, Pollard was the man in qualifying. He set fast time with a new track record in time trials for the Snowball Derby. The next night, he went out and won the pole for the Snowflake 100 Pro Late Model, as well. But, as one voter noted, “The fact that he got torn up in both races may not make people remember Pollard’s Derby weekend, but those who were there knew how dominant he was in qualifying.” But it wasn’t just the Derby qualifying feats that put him at #2 on this poll. According to one voter, “An emotional win in the Beau Slocumb (Memorial race during World Crown weekend at Gresham (GA)) helped put a sense of closure on his remarkable season.
3) ERIK JONES - Pro/Super Late Models
It’s always hard for an outsider to come into New Smyrna Speedway and have a shot to win against the local Super Late Model regulars. Guys like David Rogers, Tim Russell and Stephen Nasse, who each call Central Florida home and have spent many a night in Smyrna’s victory lane over the years, are always tough to beat. But, they didn’t intimidate 15-year-old Erik Jones one bit. The Michigan native continued his blistering pace through the Late Model scene in 2011 with a dominating upset win in the Governor’s Cup event in late November. Jones’ victory cemented a phenomenal year for Jones, who also clinched the inaugural JEGS/CRA All-Stars Tour Championship. As one panelist noted on his ballot, “In the time frame for this edition of the Power Poll, Jones won the Governor's Cup, had a great showing on World Crown weekend, and a great presence on Derby weekend in the Pro's (before an accident took him out).”
4) CHRIS WIMMER - ASA Midwest Tour/Super Late Models
One voter said it best…”We all pick on drivers for not traveling to races outside their comfort zones. Chris Wimmer not only invaded the World Crown 300 at Gresham Motorsports Park from the upper Midwest, he won it.” This year’s World Crown event featured several plot twists to keep the three-segment event thrilling. Well, maybe behind Wimmer they were thrilling, but the Wisconsin driver was the dominator. He won all three segments en route to the big payday. He may not have been a favorite going into the race, but Wimmer proved that he’s not only good in ASA Midwest. He’s a threat anywhere else he may take his racecar.
5) RYAN BLANEY - PASS South/K&N Pro Series
The final few weeks of the 2011 racing season were pretty good to Ryan Blaney. A slow start to the 2011 season on the PASS South Super Late Model tour led to a crew chief swap and a huge turnaround for the second half of the year. Victories and podium finishes, capped off by a runner-up finish at the Concord (NC) finale, led Blaney to his first-ever PASS South title. Those who were around the short track ranks knew Blaney had a bright future, but he introduced himself to the rest of the world by winning the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West finale at Phoenix (AZ) in November in his first start on that tour. “The live SPEED broadcast told everyone what we already knew – Ryan Blaney’s a wheelman,” said one voter.
6) MATT HIRSCHMAN - Tour-Type Modifieds
Mr. November did it again. One voter noted, “He won another North-South Shootout. How many is this? We’ve lost count.” Well, it’s actually four. Four out of the nine North-South trophies have made their way home to Northampton, PA with Hirschman. “Hirschman wins all the time in Pennsylvania and New York, but it’s like he doesn’t really make the big headlines until the money’s up for grabs at the end of the year,” another voter said.
7) AUGIE GRILL - Pro/Super Late Models
Augie Grill started a special club that likely will be the only one in for quite some time. The two-time Snowball Derby winner became a two-time Snowflake 100 winner earlier this month in the Pro Late Model prelim event. “With two wins in both of those premier events, Grill is something special,” said a panelist. Plus, as one voter pointed out, “He won the Snowflake and cars that he built in his GARC shop won the Derby and Snowflake poles (Pollard) and both races (with Elliott in the Snowball).”
8) ROSS KENSETH - Super Late Models
In his three attempts at the Snowball Derby, Ross Kenseth has been a major factor each time. He qualified second in his rookie attempt. Last year, he was in prime position to battle for the win before a crash inside of 100 laps to go. This year, he finished third. He was second at the World Crown 300 just a few weeks before this year’s Derby, too. But Ross Kenseth is tired of being oh-so-close. He wants to win one of these big races. “It won’t be long before he cracks into victory lane in a big show like that,” said a voter. Another panelist mentioned, “Whenever his car is on the track, everyone’s got a stopwatch on him. That’s power.”
9) BRIAN NESTER - Modifieds
Brian Nester is the second non-full-fendered driver to crack into the top-10 in this edition of the Tower of Power. While our panel had him ninth, if it was up to the open-wheeled Modified fans around the Midwest, it’d be an easy #1 pick. Nester won all the big shows that there were to win late in the season. “He won Modified races at the Winchester 400, North-South Shootout and Snowball Derby. Dominant,” said a voter. Nester didn’t just back into those wins, either. He put on a show at the front of the field en route to the victory. “Nester doesn’t get much credit because he’s not young and flashy, but he is a king right now,” said another voter.
10) COLT JAMES - Super Late Models
Texan Colt James doesn’t race every week. He’s not a regular in any particular series or racetrack. That doesn’t matter. When he does show up, he’s mixing it up for the win and usually comes out on top. James broke out his #15 Super Late Model and went to victory lane in a star-studded Mason-Dixon Meltdown/Thanksgiving Classic at Concord. “James gets it done, especially at Concord, where he won this race and the North-South Shootout a few years ago,” said a voter.
11) Jimmy Blewett (Mods) - Turkey Derby sweep between Tour-Type & SK Mods.
12) DJ VanderLey (SLM/PLM) – Second in the Snowball Derby. Led laps 296 to 299.
13) Ben Rowe (PASS) – Won at Hickory to become PASS South win leader and took PASS National title.
14) Jeff Fultz (SLM) – Won North South Shootout Late Model portion.
15) Derek Thorn (SLM/KNPSW) – Won Las Vegas Open Show and trucked East to run Snowball Derby.
16) Corey LaJoie (UARA) – Dominated season ending show at Rockingham Speedway (NC).
17) George Brunnhoelzl III (Mods) – Won NASCAR Southern Modified title and was third at North-South.
18) Bryan Clauson (Midgets) – Won Battle at the Center. Clinched second-straight National Midget title.
19) Wayne Helliwell, Jr. (LM) – Swept Oktoberfest Late Model events he entered at Lee (NH).
20) Lee Pulliam (LMSC) - Won Martinsville and was in the mix at SoBo before tangle with Philip Morris.
ALSO RECEIVING VOTES