Bubba Pollard takes the checkered flag at the 45th annual Oxford 250 on Sunday. (Brewster Burns photo)
OXFORD — It didn’t take long for Bubba Pollard to figure out Maine’s most historic race track. It only took three days, in fact.
The Senoia, Georgia, native drove under Travis Benjamin with 31 laps remaining Sunday night and drove off to win the 45th annual Clark’s Scrap Metals Oxford 250 at Oxford Plains Speedway. Pollard, who has won some of the most lucrative Super Late Model races in the country, added another crown jewel to his resume and unofficially collected $28,300 for the win.
Joey Polewarczyk of Hudson, New Hampshire, finished second and Reid Lanpher of Manchester was third. Scarborough’s Garrett Hall and Joey Doiron of Berwick rounded out the top five.
Pollard had never seen Oxford prior to hitting the track Friday afternoon for the first practice session of the weekend. The 31-year-old has won more than 60 Super Late Model races around the country, including the All-American 400 in Nashville and the Slinger Nationals in Tennesse, and he earned a guaranteed starting spot in the Oxford 250 after winning a Pro All Stars Series race at South Boston (Virginia) Speedway two weeks earlier.
Pollard’s victory snapped a six-year streak of Oxford 250 winners from either Maine or New Hampshire. Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver Kyle Busch of Las Vegas, Nevada, was the last winner — in 2011 — to come from outside of New England.
When a caution came out on lap 199, the race took its shape.
Virtually every lead lap car hit pit road, with Polewarczyk and Ben Rowe winning a mad dash back onto the track. But it was Travis Benjamin, with a lightning-quick four-lap run three-wide through traffic once the field went back to green, who took the lead for the first time on lap 205.
Benjamin stayed out front until Pollard nosed under him heading into turn one on lap 219.
It was the ability of Benjamin, Pollard and Rowe to get the early jump in lapped traffic — even as drivers with fresher tires under them were trapped further back in the field — that set them up to battle it out for the win amongst themselves.
A caution 24 laps from the finish put polesitter Hall within striking distance, but Pollard and Rowe simply pulled away.
The first half of the race was relatively tame, with only a couple of minor incidents resulting in caution flags.
Hall led all but one of the first 128 laps, despite constant pressure from Jeff Taylor, the nine-time Oxford Plains Speedway champion. Lanpher, Benjamin and Mike Rowe were among the drivers content to turn laps before serious pit strategy began to form the race.
That strategy started to play out when the caution flew for a Gabe Brown spin on Lap 129. A number of contenders in the middle of the field opted to pit then, including Pollard, who’d made an impressive run in his maiden Oxford voyage from 29th starting spot to the top five.
Curtis Gerry’s day got off to the worst imaginable start. It didn’t end much better. He crashed out with Cassius Clark on lap 206.
The 2017 Oxford 250 winner didn’t even complete a single lap in his heat race early in the afternoon, instead suffering a mechanical issue in the car’s rear end. His crew thrashed to make repairs in the pit area, and Gerry rallied back to win the last-chance qualifier and start 34th in the field.
Hall, Lanpher, T.J. Brackett, Johnny Clark and Mike Rowe won qualifying races to begin the day. Ryan Robbins and Ben Rowe won the consolation-round events.