Ritch Rocks South Georgia in Pro Cup Action USAR Pro Cup Series PR
Veteran Eyes Another Title Run, Tempers Flare and Much More
Guys like Michael Ritch are a vanishing breed in racing. He knows his chances at grabbing a lucrative ride in the Big 3 are behind him, but that’s OK with him. He’s still proud to take his un-sponsored car and crew of volunteers into battle against higher-profile teams. Call him a “weekend warrior” if you like, but, for many, Ritch epitomizes what is right in racing, reminding everyone that money can buy speed, but it can’t buy wins.
Ritch took the lead from Trevor Bayne on Lap 146 and held off a slew of contenders to win the BFGoodrichTires.com 250 presented by K&N Performance Filters at South Georgia Motorsports Park on Saturday, March 29. The win was Ritch’s 14th in his Hooters Pro Cup career and first of the season.
“This is great, especially since we’re looking for a sponsor,” said Ritch, who took home $11,500 for his win. “Right now we’re outrunning some pretty hefty teams. We knew we had them outrun at [USA Int’l]. It’s just these guys on my team; they work extremely hard. I’ve finally got a car that matches my style, and the new BFGoodrich Tires match my driving style.”
Apparently, that style is flat out.
Ritch, driver of the No. 28s Support Our Troops Ford, turned his fastest lap of the race on lap 212, and it came on 206 laps after he made his mandatory tire stop. Ritch used the short-pit strategy to get to the front, but it might not have mattered when he pitted.
“We’ve always been pretty horrible here,” said Ritch, who started 12th. “But, man, when the green flag dropped that thing took off. We already had a game plan [to pit early]; we stuck to it, but we really didn’t need to pit early because the car was so good.”
The defending Greased Lightning Southern Division champion didn’t wait for everyone else to pit to start his charge back to the front. Ritch knifed his way back to the front and caught Bayne for the lead just after the halfway mark. The two waged a fierce battle for the lead before Ritch eventually inched past.
“I was kind of sitting back there taking it easy,” said Ritch. “But my spotter told me [Wade Day] was coming, so I had to go.”
Day wasn’t the only one closing as Bayne and Ritch battled. Mark McFarland and Drew Herring made it a five-car fight for the lead. After Ritch made it past Bayne, Day and McFarland followed him through.
A slew of late-race restarts made it interesting for Ritch, but lucky for him most of close calls were behind him. Herring, driver of the No. 22s Black’s Tire & Auto Service Ford, and Day bumped for second. The contact sent Day up the track and eventually into a spin. Day lost a lap trying to re-fire his machine, but he brought his No. 96s Lopez Wealth Management Ford back to eighth at the finish.
Michael Ritch takes a Polish victory lane at South Georgia. (Kathy Bond/USAR Photos)
Ritch (#28) makes his winning pass on Trevor Bayne (#29).
Hawkins shouldn’t be too disappointed. The sophomore driver now leads the Southern Division standings—and he has a good jump on some of the more prominent Southern stars in the title chase.
Michael Ritch, the defending Southern Division champion, arguably had the best car of the night. Ritch, driver of the No. 28s Racing For Veterans Ford, led the first 65 laps of the event and was charging back to the front after a pit stop when his car slowed after a restart on Lap 135. Ritch pulled behind the wall and finished 28th.
McFarland’s mechanical failure dropped him to 25th in the final rundown. Bobby Gill, driver of the No. 06s USG Sheetrock Ford, was involved in two accidents and finished 22nd. Trevor Bayne, driver of the No. 29 Chevy Racing Chevrolet, was running in the top five before his car fell off the pace with seven laps remaining, dropping him to 19th at the finish.
Herring and McFarland, driver of the No. 81s Sears Auto Center Chevrolet, would tangle for second laps later. The contact would cost both drivers a shot at the win as they both spun in Turn 2. McFarland slipped to 19th after the contact. It was a bitter pill for McFarland to swallow after starting from the pole and leading 70 laps.
“It’s pretty frustrating to everybody on the team,” said McFarland, driver of the No. 81s Sears Auto Center Chevrolet. “We had to rebuild a car after the first race at Lakeland and now we’ll have to rebuild this one too. The guys have been working extra hard and everyone is frustrated.”
After a frustrating day in the season opener, Bobby Gill was happy to get out of South Georgia with a podium finish. Taking advantage of the late-race carnage at the front, Gill, the defending Hooters Pro Cup champion, picked his way to second at the finish.
“We didn’t have a second-place car, but we’ll take it,” said Gill. “We’re still a little off with this new car. We haven’t tested like these other guys, but we’re going to test at Concord.”
Caleb Holman turned heads with a fourth-place run.
Bayne, who led 75 laps, used the opposite pit strategy of Ritch, waiting until Lap 168 to take on his BFGoodrich Tires g-Force radials. But with 15 cars on the lead lap, Bayne was only able to make it back to third at the finish.
“We had some long runs at the beginning of the race and we figured it would keep going that way,” said Bayne, who restarted 13th with 75 laps to go. “But that weekend-warrior racing at the end caused a lot of cautions. It was fun driving back up there, but it was also getting on my nerves when I got under people and they’d chop me off.”
Dusty Williams, driver of the No. 40s Dustcom LTD Ford, wasn’t one of the drivers that were frustrated at the end of the night. The Georgia native posted his career-best finish by coming home fourth.
Woody Howard, driver of the No. 55s Dean Motorsports Chevrolet, rebounded from an early-race spin to round out the top five.
Travis Kittleson, Matt Hawkins, Wade Day, James Buescher and Billy Bigley Jr. completed the top 10.
After the incident with McFarland, Herring rallied to finish 12th and take home Miller Lite Rookie of the Race honors.
The BFGoodrichTires.com 250 featured three lead changes among three drivers and was slowed 14 times for 86 laps of caution.
BFGoodrichTires.com 250 Notebook
Most fans like short-track racing for the up-close, non-stop action. While it may be fun for the fans, drivers sometimes have a hard time keeping their cool.
On three separate occasions during the BFGoodrichTires.com 250, several of the frontrunners sparred feverishly.
The first was between James Buescher and Tom Hessert. The two sophomore campaigners locked horns twice, resulting in two spins and a warning of a five-lap penalty if the two touched again.
Mark McFarland and Drew Herring got together running for second. After the contact, McFarland showed his displeasure with Herring by squeezing the rookie towards the wall on the following restart.
Trevor Bayne and Woody Howard played bumper tag for several laps before Bayne took the position late in the race.
“Yeah, that was some weekend-warrior racing,” said Bayne. “It was short-track racing at its finest, if you wanna see some rubbing going on. I was digging at the end. I didn’t care what happened. They’re probably going to have to replace every body panel on every car from 15th to second.”
Fourth Just Fine
Towards the end of the BFGoodrichTires.com 250, Dusty Williams was fighting for his
first podium finish in the Hooters Pro Cup Series. Though Williams, one of the nicest
guys in the series, slipped to fourth, he was anything but disappointed and offered
some insight to his progress over the last year.
“I wanted to finish third, but I’m very honored and happy to finish fourth,” said Williams,
driver of the No. 40s Dustcom LTD Ford. “I try to mimic Bobby Gill. He might not qualify
that great, but he always puts that car in a position to win or contend for a win by
keeping his nose clean I’ve been watching him a lot in practice; he doesn’t know it. I
figured he’s the King of Pro Cup, so he must know what he’s doing.”
Matt Hawkins has been hot since the end of last season, but he was hot under the collar after the BFGoodrichTires.com 250. Despite leaving South Georgia Motorsports Park with the points lead, Hawkins wasn’t too enthused with his seventh-place finish.
“There wasn’t much positive about tonight,” said Hawkins, driver of the No. 2s JaniKing Ford. “We should’ve run second and maybe had a chance at catching Ritch. I had Bobby about passed a couple of times. We shouldn’t have been that far back. I ran the [stop light] at the end of pit road and had to start at the back, then I drilled the wall and knocked the left rear over big time. I got back to fourth, but Kittleson just chopped me off. He better hope I don’t get behind him anytime soon.”
Woody Howard’s luck has been terrible since the third race of last season. So when he spun while running second early in the BFGoodrichTires.com 250 and lost a lap, it seemed the downward spiral would continue. But Howard got the Lucky Dog on the next caution and rallied to finish fifth, giving him his second top-five finish in the last 16 races.
“I felt like I cost us the race by spinning out,” said Howard, driver of the No. 55s Dean Motorsports Chevrolet. “I’ve been kind of sick, and I was just off. I’m glad to get out of here without a torn up race car.”
Mark McFarland had a good run going, but that all ended when his #81 got caught in a wreck.