Bubba Pollard Enjoys the Challenge of Xfinity Racecars

By: Zach Catanzareti, Staff Writer

Bubba Pollard has lived his life on the edge for decades racking up wins on America’s short tracks. But on Saturday at Richmond Raceway, he was learning where that edge was all over again.

Making his debut in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, the short-track icon had quite the task after rolling off dead last in the 38-car field. Though scoring the fastest time in practice, he nearly spun on his qualifying lap, dragging his No. 88 JR Motorsports Chevrolet to the back.

From there, the 37-year-old patiently picked off cars and stayed in the conversation while tire conservation took center stage on multiple occasions.

By the end of the 250-lapper, the Georgian sat sixth on the leaderboard, good enough to make his tribe of loyal fans to give him a round of applause at the checkered flag.

“I hope [I made them proud], I disappointed them in qualifying,” Pollard said. “I know some people were laughing at me. Hell, I was laughing at my myself. If I hadn’t gotten us in that hole in qualifying, I think we could have had that track position to make a difference.

“They kept telling me in practice, ‘Hey man, you have to back up the corner.’ I said, ‘Man, I can’t go no slower.’ But once we got out there racing, slow is fast. The way it slides around, you really have to drive the racecar and smart with the decisions you make.”

The Xfinity car joined a long list of cars that Pollard has driven in his career, including a stock-car start last week at Five Flags Speedway in his first ARCA East Series start where he finished third.

But the second-tier stock car and the competition on Saturday were entirely different beasts.

“Man, they just kept digging,” he said of his competitors. “Wrapped the yellow line, be patient. I tried as hard as I could to be patient. It’s tough because when you want to go, you want to go.

“Early on in the race, I didn’t take the opportunity of being aggressive on the restarts. I just wasn’t sure how far I could push the car. The tires fired back off on restarts pretty good. It’s just me getting comfortable and learning how much you can push the racecar and how far you can go on that edge. I found that out quickly in qualifying.”

Starting in the back, in Pollard’s hindsight, was actually a benefit, as he learned how to pass cars and position his racecar around the slick Richmond corners.

“You really have to — I don’t know the right word to describe how you have to drive these cars. But you have to be easy,” he said. “What I’m accustomed to, you really can be aggressive and you can be throughout the race. It took me until 10 laps into the race.

“I think it was good for me to start in the rear today. It gave me that sense of where I needed to be on the racetrack, braking points. I think it was a good deal.”

Passing nearly every racecar in the field at least once, Pollard enjoyed racing his competitors — and along the way, only once had a run-in.

“I got into AJ [Allmendinger], just overdrove it one time,” he admitted. “These things are easy to overdrive and slide up the racetrack. I got into him one time, I know I ticked him off. Me and Parker [Kligerman] raced all day. They were aggressive on the restarts, and I expected that, but for the most part I enjoyed racing with him a lot.”

Pollard was heartfelt in his appreciation to drive for Dale Earnhardt Jr. on a larger stage in front of his usual short-track crowd.

“It does mean a lot because there are a lot of good racecar drivers out there,” he said. “I forgot who said it, but there are a lot of great racecar drivers out there that people never see.

“I’m thankful for the opportunity that Rheem gave me, that Dale Jr. gave me. It’s special to me, my family, just everyone.”

READ: Bubba Pollard Outduels Corey Heim in Speedfest Classic

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