Bubba Pollard emerges from his car after winning the Oxford 25 on Sunday at Oxford Plains Speedway. Staff photo by Andy Molloy

OXFORD — When the dust had settled on the 45th annual Oxford 250 Sunday night, when Georgia’s Bubba Pollard had finished celebrating in victory lane at Oxford Plains Speedway, it was hard not to notice a sense of frustration from the rest of the field.

Aside from the years when Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers Kevin Harvick (2008) and Kyle Busch (2011) each ventured into Maine and won the Oxford 250 — in cars which, nearly a decade later, still raise questions about how level a playing field they were on — you have to go back to 1995 to find the last time a driver from outside New England won the region’s most prestigious one-day stock car race. Even then, Dave Whitlock’s win capped a three-year run of wins produced by Ontario drivers from north of the border.

In 1983, when the Oxford 250 was a NASCAR race, in what is now the Xfinity Series, Virginia’s Tommy Ellis went to victory lane. Before Pollard, Ellis’ win was the last by a driver from the southeastern part of the United States in Maine’s marquee event.

“To be quite honest, I one hundred percent was, ‘No way Bubba’s going to pull it off,'” said Reid Lanpher of Manchester, who finished third Sunday. “I was one of those guys. I was just, there’s no way he’s going to do it. And after watching practice Friday and Saturday, too, I was reassured that I didn’t think he was going to be the guy to worry about.

“And then he pulled it off. Props to him.”

Oxford is an animal unto itself. Flat, unpredictable and ever-changing in its handling characteristics, the track has left as many locals frustrated as it has outsiders. Race teams have come from all over the country trying to win the Oxford 250, and nearly every time those teams headed home vowing never to return.

That’s part of what made Pollard’s victory so impressive.

“It goes to show how talented that driver and crew are, to come and adapt to a place like this,” Lanpher said. “It’s just historically seeing how other people have done coming up from the south… It’s not really been proven for those guys to come up and (win). Looking back at other people’s performances, making assumptions and being reassured that he wasn’t outstanding in any of the practices.”

You don’t have to go back to the late 1980s and early 1990s to find southern drivers — traditionally far more comfortable on short tracks with lots of banking and tons of grip in the asphalt — who have struggled at Oxford. Full-time NASCAR Xfinity Series drivers Christopher Bell (who has four wins this season) and Daniel Hemric have been to Oxford, with Hemric finishing a best of ninth in 2013 before finishing outside the top 20 the next summer.

The 31-year-old Pollard, though, is on top of his game these days and checked an item off his bucket list Sunday night. Even still, the All-American 400 and Slinger Nationals winner was so frustrated by Oxford on Saturday, he was ready to head home early.

“We worked Friday three hours after everybody left, and then Saturday we worked another three hours,” Pollard said of the effort that went into his winning No. 26 over the weekend. “It was seven or eight o’clock before we loaded up. We were the last team to load up both days. I feel bad for my guys. They wanted to come up here and have fun, but they want to win, too.

“When I come to these places for the first time, there’s no pressure. There’s no expectations. I feel like some of fans put pressure on me for this race, even (the media). It is a big race. I didn’t realize how big it was until I stepped in here (Sunday) morning and saw what it was all about.”

He not only regrouped to win the race, he did so by beating some of the best in Oxford 250 history — Ben Rowe, Travis Benjamin and Joey Polewarczyk, each an Oxford 250 champion — head-to-head over the final 50 laps.

One of the nation’s best short track racers came to Oxford and beat the best New England has to offer at their own game.

“It’s frustrating,” said second-place finisher Polewarczyk, the 2012 Oxford 250 winner. “I knew he’d be good. There’s no way that he wouldn’t have been, but this place makes me pull my own hair out and I’ve been coming here quite a bit. You don’t ever wish someone struggles, but he did and he overcame it.

“You’ve got to give him credit.”

Pollard returned the show of respect for a field of drivers he rarely, if ever, gets to compete against.

“I’ve got a lot of respect for this place and these racers after running 250 laps,” Pollard said. “That’s what gets me excited, that’s what gets me wanting to go to these places and race against these guys. These guys right here are no joke. They win races up here every week and are good race car drivers. I want to run against the best.”

Travis Barrett — 621-5621

[email protected]

Twitter: @TBarrettGWC

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