OXFORD — That Bubba Pollard won a major American stock car race in 2018 surprised nobody. That he did it at Oxford Plains Speedway, having never seen the track prior, shocked Maine’s motorsports community.

“That was good,” said Mike Rowe, winner of 150 career races at Oxford, the most by any driver in the track’s history. “He races all over the place, and the guy is good. You can’t take anything away from him. He goes to a track for the first time and can run 10 laps on it and know exactly what he needs to do to make his car better. He’s really good at that.”

Pollard, of Senoia, Georgia, has made a career of taking his short-track racing to remarkable heights. He’s won more than 100 Late Model and Super Late Model races across the United States, at some of this country’s oldest and most prestigious ovals. He’s won in Hickory, North Carolina, the birthplace of NASCAR stardom, at the Fairgrounds Speedway in Nashville, at New Smyrna Beach in Florida and in Bakersfield, California. Last August, he became the 26th different driver to win the Oxford 250. In the 46th annual Oxford 250 this Sunday, Pollard will try and become just the sixth driver in history to win consecutive 250s.

The thing that first attracted Pollard, 32, to Oxford last season is the same thing that made him almost instantly decide to return and defend his crown.

“Even if we hadn’t won, I wanted to come back,” said Pollard, who expected to arrive in Maine on Thursday. “There’s so much history. Some great race car drivers have won that race. I would say the Oxford 250 and the Snowball Derby (in Florida each December) are the Daytona 500s of short-track racing.

“It’s different. It’s not a (time trial) qualifying race. You run heat races. You have the draw (for starting position in the heats). It’s old-school racing. It’s exciting for the fans and it’s exciting for us.”

It wasn’t as easy as just showing up in Maine for Pollard last summer. He struggled to get a handle on Oxford throughout the two days of practice leading into the race, uncomfortable with the type of racing the track produces. Circular and flat, it’s all about momentum at Oxford, where southern tracks are by and large long straightaways followed by tight, high-banked corners. Pollard and his team tried a number of different setups prior to race day, and it wasn’t until his qualifying heat race that he finally figured out what he’d been missing.

“It’s such a tricky race track, a tricky place,” said Pollard, who took the $38,000 first-place prize in the inaugural Canadian Short Track Nationals at Jukasa Motor Speedway in Ontario just seven days later. “I didn’t know where the car needed to be in terms of speed or what it should feel like. Finally, I just got it to where it drove good. It wasn’t the fastest car, but it drove good and that’s what I was happy with. I was nervous going into Sunday all the way up until we got in the heat race. Once we got done with that, I could tell we had something to work with.”

When it was over, a perfectly executed pit strategy put Pollard ahead of a slate of contenders and powered him to the $28,300 payday.

Bubba Pollard emerges from his car after winning the Oxford 250 at Oxford Plains Speedway in 2018. Kennebec Journal file photo by Andy Molloy

He came. He saw. He conquered.

So why was he not named by a single one of the half-dozen other Oxford 250 entrants polled during the annual Oxford 250 media day on Wednesday as the driver to beat on Sunday?

“I don’t think he won with a bad car, but I think he played the (pit) strategy perfect and won with not the best car,” said current Pro All Stars Series point leader D.J. Shaw of Center Conway, New Hampshire. “He came, he did it, he beat us and got the check and the history and the glory and all of that. You can’t take it away from him. He’s obviously the real deal, but we’ll see if he can repeat. If he beats us this time, I hope it’s straight up instead of in the pits.”

One driver who did stick up for Pollard this week was Ben Rowe, a two-time Oxford 250 champion and a quasi-teammate to Pollard last season. Rowe drives the same Senneker Performance car Pollard does, and the two tested at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway together prior to the Oxford 250 in 2018. Rowe told everybody who would listen — even as Pollard struggled to get acclimated — that Pollard was the man to beat.

Rowe doesn’t believe Pollard should be painted as an underdog this time around.

“He shouldn’t be,” Ben Rowe said. “Look how many people that tried for so many years — the Billy Clarks, Jeff Taylors, Tracy Gordons — guys who have won everything there is to win at Oxford except the 250. All everybody talked about last year was, ‘Sure Bubba wins everywhere, but can he win Oxford?’ Absolutely he can, and absolutely he can win it again.”

Pollard will have a new car for the Oxford 250 this time around, he said. He also has a better idea of what to expect from the race track itself.

“A lot of the odds are against us, probably even more than last year,” Pollard said. “Even though we’ve been there and done it, there’s a lot more pressure on ourselves. We’ve just got to carry the same mentality as last year and not overthink it. We’ve got to treat this race just like we did last year and keep it simple.”

 


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