No Fluke This Time: Michael Ritch Wins at Myrtle Beach by Matt Kentfield
Fastest Car All Night Leads Ritch to First Wins Since 2005
Michael Ritch climbs out a happy winner - finally - at Myrtle Beach.  (51 Photo)
In October of 2005, Michael Ritch stood in USAR Hooters Pro Cup victory lane as the winner of a Championship Series event at Mansfield Motorsports Park (OH).  Ritch’s win may have gone into the record books as a tally in the victory column, but the veteran racer was not overly satisfied with the result.

Sure any win is a good win, but something about his win at Mansfield did not sit right with Ritch.  The veteran racer, who before the Mansfield win in ’05 had gone six years since his previous win in 1999, took the lead late in the race when Shane Huffman and Jody Lavender tangled at the front of the field, leaving Ritch in the right place for victory.

Ever since Mansfield, however, Ritch has been a determined driver to make it back to the winner’s circle fair and square.  So far in 2007, Ritch has driven like a driver committed not only to win races, but also the Pro Cup Championship.  He’s had strong racecars, but contact with lapped cars and mechanical woes have shielded his eyes from seeing the checkered flag first.

On Saturday night at Myrtle Beach Speedway (SC) in the Greased Lightning 200, nothing was going to stand in Ritch’s way.  There was no tangle at the front of the field.  There was no bad luck.  There would be no backing into a win at Myrtle Beach.  Michael Ritch had the best car all race long, and fittingly the fastest car won the race.

“Victory in Mansfield was kind of handed to us,” said Ritch.  “That’s why I’m happy to win this one.  At Mansfield, it was handed to us.  That’s the way it goes, I call it the way it is.  We didn’t win Mansfield. 

“But here lately, we’ve had several wins taken away from us, but I’m happy to win this one because I had such a good car.”

Ritch has had cars capable of winning in several races this year.  Starting on the outside pole at Myrtle Beach on Saturday, he wanted to avoid the situations he found himself in at places like South Georgia and Concord, where both times he had strong runs going, but the deal was never sealed.

“South Georgia, I got into the back of the #99 (Brett Butler).  I understand USAR’s rules and we have to abide by them, so I had to go to the back.  That’s the rules and I may not like them, but I have to abide by them.  Concord, I got into the back of a lapped car and wrecked him.  We definitely had the car to beat there.  That’s where you want to win at, because that’s where all the guys are from and it seems like everybody’s born there, but we couldn’t do it.”

But on lap 150, the race could have very easily followed a similar pattern.  Ritch made contact with the lapped car of JP Morgan, resulting in a Morgan spin.  This time, it was chalked up as a racing deal and there would be no penalties for the leader – just the turning point of the race in Ritch’s favor.

The caution came out at just the right time for Ritch, as it came at the end of a long green-flag run in which his tires had been all but used up.  All the leaders, including Ritch and second-place Mark McFarland, desperately needed that yellow for a change of tires.  As the teams prepared for their final stop of the day, everyone knew it was going to be the turning point of the race.

Ritch came off pit road perfectly.  McFarland, however, was once Ritch’s biggest threat for the win down the stretch, but now was forced to work through the field after falling off the jack on the pit stop.

Ritch's #28 was the best car throughout the 200-lap race. (51 Photo)
“That hurt us,” said McFarland.  “We shouldn’t have lost so many spots.  The clutch went out and there was nothing we could do.  It just took off.  We had to flip the jack over and go on from there.”

On the ensuing restart, Clay Jones and Brett Butler, both of whom did not pit on the lap 150-caution with the leaders, led the field to green, with the fresh-rubbered cars of Shelby Howard, Ritch and McFarland following closely.  Ritch brought McFarland to the front on lap 168, but from there, McFarland was unable to mount a charge strong enough to keep Ritch from riding the top groove of the track to his 12th-career Pro Cup win.

“I was really worried about here,” said Ritch.  “I knew the line was either going to be up high or on the bottom.  At first, there was no high line, so I started on the bottom and beat and banged there.  I was so slow on the bottom, but I wanted to get out front and lead that first lap to get those five bonus points.  The next thing I know, they’re halfway up the racetrack, so I thought if I go up there I’m going to get too loose because my car’s not set up for there. 

Mark McFarland (#81) had to deal with Mike Garvey (#17) before he could get up to battle Ritch.  (USAR/Kathy Bond Photo)
“They kept going by me and I just got mad in the car.  I got pissed off.  I decided just to go to the high side to run with them.  As soon as I went to the high side, it was Katie bar the door.  My car came in.  We just adjusted on the car from there and I knew how it was going to turn out because I had run up there before.  We made it to victory lane.”

McFarland had to settle for second, but it was a satisfying second knowing he got beat by a better car.

“I was just trying to get everything I could get out there,” said McFarland.  “With the groove up next to the wall, it’s so hard to pass.  I just had a good enough car to get under him, but I couldn’t complete the pass.  I just had to follow him.  Michael had the best car at the end.

“I was thinking I had enough because my car was pretty good in the first 15 or 20 laps of that last 50-lap run.  Then it just never came around the way it did the run before.  The run before, it started off tight, but then it came around for us and got freed up.  The last run here it just never came around.”

Ritch went six years in between wins before his 2005 victory at Mansfield.  He had been close to winning in races since the Mansfield triumph, but things never went his way.  On Saturday, all the frustration that built up in between wins melted away with a champagne bath in Myrtle Beach victory lane.

“I don’t really know what the right word is, but you just really get pissed off when you go so long without winning,” said Ritch.  “Cecil was uncalled for, it was my fault.  At Jefferson (Peachstate), the #29 took out a lapped car and destroyed the man’s racecar, but they didn’t do anything about it.  Those are the kinds of things that tick me off, but all it does is make me meaner.  I don’t get down or nothing.  The way I’ve always looked at it, I’m one of the best drivers out there and nothing’s going to get me down, regardless of it’s sponsorship, funds or whatever. 

“I didn’t make it in Busch in 2000, but I know why.  It wasn’t because of my lack of talent, it had to do with a lack of knowledge and a lack of funds behind the scenes.  Now here, I’ve got people on my side that actually want to come over to our team and help without charging me a million dollars to work on my car and it feels good to be winning again.”

Polesitter Caleb Holman finished an impressive third behind Ritch and McFarland, while Benny Gordon and Mike Garvey rounded out the top-five.

Ritch's champagne shower washed away all kinds of bad memories of races past.  (Bond Photo)