WRECKS & RAIN CAN’T STOP FRITTS IN FLORIDA by Jeremy Troiano
Florida Speedster Beats Anderson… Barely
There was no doubt at the end of the night that Mike Fritts had the fastest car at New Smyrna Speedway for Saturday night’s running of the 40th Annual Governor’s Cup.
But there were plenty of outside factors that tried to keep Fritts out of Victory Lane.
Rain tried, but failed. Jeff Choquette’s front bumper tried, but failed. Wayne Anderson tried, but failed.
It also put Fritts in prime spot for a big payday. In addition to the $5,000 winner’s paycheck, the 2005 version of the 200-lap race offered up the leader a $100 bonus each lap. Theoretically, the race’s winner could have walked away $25,000 richer.
Fritts jumped out to a big lead early in the race at positions behind him swapped. Lap after lap though, Fritts continued to slowly pull away from second-place Jeff Choquette.
However, things went up in smoke on lap 77, when Choquette laid a bumper to Fritts, spinning the leader in front of the whole field. Amazingly enough, Fritts was not hit by any of the oncoming traffic.
Despite a bunch of outside forces, Mike Fritts was still able to get the Governor's Cup trophy for the second time in his career. (51 Photos)
“It was a terribly frustrating night, but it is racing, what are you going to do?” said Choquette. “We had a couple of incidents out there tonight. Early we had one with Mike Fritts. That was 100-percent my fault. I was in the gas and I never saw him check up. As soon as he slowed down, I got right into the back of him. That was my fault.”
That led for an early pit stop for the #27 team, something Fritts wasn’t planning on at all.
“When you have a good car, it usually takes it a couple of laps to get going,” said Fritts of his early race issues. “You guard the bottom and make sure you don’t slip and
Fritts (#27) got the bumper from Jeff Choquette (#70) just past lap 75.
In the end, Fritts added his name to the prestigious Governor’s Cup trophy for the second time in the race’s 40th running.
“It means a lot to win it twice,” said Fritts, one of Florida’s most gentleman racers. “We should have won it last year when we dropped out while leading. We weren’t robbed, we just had mechanical failure. That was hard. I knew it would be nice to win it twice and I knew we could do it. Tonight was just our night.”
Saturday night was Mike Fritts’ night.
Coming into Saturday, all eyes were on Fritts, the 2002 Governor’s Cup winner, after putting up some big numbers in practice on Friday. On Saturday afternoon, he backed it up by winning the pole for Saturday night’s race.
if someone wants to take that from you, if they are that kind of driver that is what they do and that is what happened. I try and give people some respect if they start pulling away and I try not to take the chance of getting into them. It happens. It worked out in our favor I guess.
“I didn’t want to pit that early. It showed on the track. When you have old tires and here comes Wayne (Anderson) with some fresh tires. He drove his butt off trying to catch us; he just came up a little bit short thankfully.
“I like to stop as late as possible. I’m not scared to push it until we are almost out of gas, probably like Wayne did. You just try and stay out there so you can have fresh tires at the end. When we went to the back, there was a whole field of pretty good cars we had to come up through there with and try and pass. When Wayne did, there was maybe about 10 cars he had to pass to get back up to the front, and that is easier on your tires.
Just as the field was getting ready to go back to green, the rains came. It started at first as a light mist, then turned into a steady downpour. The cars were halted on the front stretch and the track was dried.
An hour-plus later, the drivers were called back to their cars to finish the remaining 46 laps.
After an accident eliminated Choquette, it was a two-horse race between Fritts and a hard-charging Anderson, who had nearly 70-lap fresher tires than Fritts.
As the laps wound down, Anderson kept coming.
Finally, with five laps to go, Anderson was there. With three laps to go, he was closer. On the white flag lap, Anderson pulled to his bumper.
But that is as far as he would get.
“Everything just worked out well, we could have had a torn up race car real easy.”
Wayne Anderson is what Fritts worried about. As he worked to come back through the field, Anderson was working on Choquette. Once Choquette pitted, Anderson took over the top spot and showed his strength.
Anderson proceeded to lead the next 50-plus laps, all while Fritts and Choquette battled from the back of the pack. A caution on lap 144 brought the field to a slow and Anderson to pit road for his stop. That handed the lead back to Fritts, who had made his way back up to second just before the caution.
Rain brought the race to a halt with just 50 laps to go.
Fritts took the checkers, earning his second Governor’s Cup win, with Anderson glued to his rear bumper.
“I was glad we finished it after that rain delay,” said Fritts. “I wanted to finish it. Everyone was saying we should do a rain dance, but I like to win races the right way.
“My spotter was telling me to get going there at the end. I was saying that we were going to save the tires as long as we could. I was watching Wayne catch me and he did, but thankfully, he did when the checkers came out.
“It would have been a good race there at the end. I was trying to save some stuff, but I don’t know if we had anything else left.”
Choquette (#70) was chased by Wayne Anderson (#84) while Fritts made his way back through the field.
“I had an awesome car. I really did,” said Anderson. “I knew it after qualifying. We had the car in race trim. It was just really good. I wanted to lead laps. I wanted to lead as many as I could. I told the guys that if we could lead 50, we’d pull out because we made some good money. So we led 50 and decided to come in and pit. I was still not sure what to do. We just went ahead and went for it.
“I was fast. A lot of guys just gave me enough. They didn’t give me a lot, but just enough. That is the kind of racing I like racing.
“I think it would have taken me three more laps to get him. I just got to his bumper as the checkers came out. He had an awesome car all night though.
“Probably the best guy won. I just know I had an awful good car, I just never really got to show it until the end.”
On this night, most will agree, the best guy did win.