Friday evening’s practice for the 53rd Annual Governor’s Cup 200 at New Smyrna Speedway (FL) showcased a diverse field of Super Late Models drivers. From short track stars to home track heroes, the mélange of talent vying for a position at the top of the charts gave a taste of the action to come on Sunday afternoon in the historical race.
Teamwork Makes the Dream Work
Teammates Jeff Choquette and Stephen Nasse ended the final Super Late Model session of the day at the top of the charts; Choquette in first with the quickest overall time to boot and Nasse in second, rounding out the combined practice results of the day in third.
Interestingly enough, during the early sessions of practice both Choquette and Nasse complained of the same issue, being too tight in the center. But by the time the black and red flags waved to signal the end of last practice, it was clear the Jett Concrete crew was back on track.
“We made the car a lot better,” Nasse told Speed51.com. “Still trying to get a little tightness in the center out of it. But me and Jeff are pretty happy with our cars, being one and two in [final practice]. I think that’s pretty good for us, we needed that. Hopefully it will carry over into tomorrow.”
Huge momentum follows the duo into Sunday’s race— 700 laps, to be exact. Choquette’s Winchester 400 victory in October, along with Nasse’s Mobile 300 win just a couple of weeks later, are pretty good indications that the Florida-based team will be one to watch out for.
Something Old, Something New
Veteran racer Bubba Pollard and Canadian young gun Raphael Lessard were among a majority of drivers that ended practice the way they started it: searching for the right setup.
Lessard, who is driving the Anthony Campi No. 81 machine in place of Giovanni Bromante this weekend, ended the second round of practice at the top of the charts, despite being presented with the challenge of adapting to new surroundings on a short notice.
“I was on my way back from Nashville when they called me,” Lessard said. “I couldn’t say no. We didn’t get to race at Fairgrounds and I was sorry to miss racing. Now I’m super pumped and I can’t thank Anthony enough for thinking of me for this opportunity.”
The 17-year-old told Speed51.com that getting comfortable in the car and finding the right adjustments will be the biggest priorities before Sunday’s race.
Unlike Lessard, Pollard’s battle this weekend is with an old friend. New Smyrna has proven to be a difficult track for his Super Late Model program in the past, a program that, in spite of its national success, has yet to lead the Georgian to his first Governor’s Cup victory.
“I just really feel like the car needs to be a lot better,” Pollard said. “There’s certain characteristics of this race track and others like it that we struggle with. We haven’t found a good balance on the race car right now, but we’ll keep working with it.”
Super Late Model drivers will have one final practice session on Saturday to tinker with their machines.
Filling Majeski’s Midwestern Void
For the past three years in Governor’s Cup history, Ty Majeski has made the Midwest proud by dominating the 200-lap event over its locals.
Due to a scheduling conflict with his part-time NASCAR Xfinity ride, Majeski won’t be returning to New Smyrna Speedway this Sunday to try and clinch a record-breaking ‘four-peat’. But there is another Midwestern driver who, after winning in the ARCA Midwest Tour Series for the first time earlier this year, is capping off the racing season in warmer weather.
Before making the trip to the Snowball Derby, Austin Nason is taking on the Governor’s Cup and so far, things are looking good for the Illinois native. Fast time evaded Nason by only one spot in the second round of practice.
“I think we’ve got a good race car,” Nason said of his time. “That was with hot tires, too. We’re trying a couple of things here and there, just to try a get another half-tenth or so out of it, just so we know we’re the car to beat.”
Moment in the Sun
It’s called the Sunshine State for a reason.
Teams had to take into consideration how track conditions would vary by Sunday afternoon from Friday night’s relatively cool, foggy conditions while adjusting their machines during practice.
Fine tuning the setup too much was a concern voiced by drivers who participated, including Anthony Sergi.
“Don’t really want to work on the car too much right now because it’s going to be a day race,” Sergi said. “The track’s a lot cooler than it’s going to be when we go racing. We just try to get the car as close as possible, but Saturday’s going to be the biggest practice session. That’s going to show us where we really need to be.”
Don’t You (Forget About Me)
Not to be overshadowed by the “Super” variety, the Pro Late Models will be running their 100-lap portion of the Governor’s Cup weekend on Saturday night.
Cole Anderson, who has collected numerous trophies this year for his Pro Late Model victories, is hoping to close out his season as well as he opened it in February during the World Series at New Smyrna.
“I think we got a really good shot at the win in the 100-lap Pro race,” Anderson said. “Started off the day on some old tires from Five Flags and the car was pretty good. Made a few adjustments and I felt like we improved even a bit more than first practice which was exciting. Overall very happy with the balance of the car, tweak a few things tomorrow and I think we should be spot on.”
Race fans can follow along with Saturday’s action starting at 11:30 a.m. ET via our Trackside Now coverage on Speed51.com.
-Story by: Melissa Strahley, Speed51.com Gulf Coast Editor
-Photo credit: Speed51.com / Melissa Strahley