Murto: Elliott cheats fans

Fans leaving last week’s 46th running of the Snowball Derby at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Fla., believed that Chase Elliott was the winner.

Elliott dominated the race. The 18-year-old Hendrick Motorsports development driver started on the pole in his Bill Elliott Racing Super Late Model, led most of the laps, and appeared to be able to charge to front at will even when his pit crew lost him positions on pit road.

But in the “Room of Doom” tech shed — run by head tech man Ricky Brooks, with a reputation for not allowing any transgression – Elliott was disqualified and the win handed to second-place finisher Erik Jones, giving Jones his second Snowball Derby win in a row.

Elliott was disqualified because tungsten weight was used, rather than lead weight. Tungsten is illegal. It is also 1.86-times the weight of lead, so weight can more easily be placed exactly where it is wanted and needed to make a chassis handle at its best. It can be a great advantage to someone who knows how to use it. As one racer noted, proper use of tungsten can be good for a foot each time you enter a corner, and help corner handling as well.

It is also very, very expensive. Rather than “force” low-budget teams to purchase tungsten weights to try to be competitive, it’s simply made illegal. One of the results of such cost-cutting measures is that there were more than 100 cars in the pits to try to make the 37-car field for the biggest pavement Late Model race of the year.

Elliott dominated the race so much that some were predicting he’d be found illegal before tech even began. Often, if you dominate a field of class cars the way Elliott did, you end up taking your car home in a bucket because officials go through it with a fine-tooth comb. But quite a few on social media believed that tech would overlook things on Elliott’s car. It didn’t quiet those people when it was reported that a competing race team alerted tech officials to the illegal tungsten. Would it have been found otherwise?

Snowball Derby tech is known to be tough, and to be the same for everybody. If it ever got out that tech favored any team over another, the race would lose entries and its status as the biggest Late Model race of the year. As with any race or speedway, competitors want to know that they were beaten fairly. Poor tech drives racers away.

But was Elliott legal the night before, when he won the Snowflake 100 for the crate engine Pro Late Model cars? Questions abound, especially among conspiracy theorists who believe that the son of a former NASCAR champion might be allowed to slide.

In 2010, Chase Elliott won a Pro All Stars Series (PASS) Super Late Model race at North Wilkesboro. Bill Elliott refused to allow the car to be torn down in post-race tech. In fact — according to witnesses — he raised such a fuss over it that PASS officials basically said, “You can keep your win, but don’t come back.”

It is interesting that Bubba Pollard bought the car from Elliott’s race team and raced it at North Wilkesboro with PASS the following year. He finished second to Chris Eggleston in a $100,000-to-win race (the last race run at the track) after dominating the final segment before his tires wore. The car — which supposedly was raced the way it was purchased — was found to be illegal.

Did Bill Elliott know his car was illegal when he refused to allow PASS tech officials to tear it down the year before?

Elliott’s team claimed the tungsten was a mistake. But as one crew member stated on social media, “That car was brought to the scales at least 20 times over the course of the week; they knew what they had in it.”

But let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and agree that it was simply a mistake and they didn’t mean to cheat to win. Does it really help Chase Elliott develop as a driver if he wins with cheated equipment?

The real losers were the fans. Fans like to know who won the race when they leave. The race was sold out, and some of those people are not happy. The fans were cheated, and — purposefully or not — Chase Elliott cheated them. That is what will be remembered about the 46th running of the Snowball Derby.