The last time Jeff Choquette attempted to win the Winchester 400, he only made it 365 laps around the “World’s Fastest Half-Mile”. It was Choquette’s debut in Winchester Speedway’s long-running crown jewel, with an Adrian Carriers’ Super Late Model that still toted two digits on the side.
Fast-forwarding six years, Choquette is ready to take another shot at the Winchester rifle, but this time around it’ll be with a new team and a new number. The Florida native is making the more than 1,000-mile trip from his home state to Winchester, Indiana to compete in the Jett Concrete No. 9 machine.
“It’s a race that’s been on Pat Jett’s [owner of Jett Concrete] radar for a while,” Choquette told Speed51.com. “It’s a race that’s on everybody’s radar really, but I think in years past it’s been work that’s got in the way and stopped us from going. This year is the year we both have open schedules.”
Aside from a new team, Choquette will have to adapt his driving style to track conditions that have evolved since he first ran the event back in 2012. However, there is one memory of Choquette’s about the Winchester 400 that has remained consistent over the years.
“I’ve heard a lot of things that have changed, like the way you drive the track now,” Choquette said. “I’ve only been there once, back when I drove the Adrian Carriers’ No. 29. But the biggest thing I remember from that race is staying out of trouble. We got caught up in a late-race accident and that’s kind of how that place goes, I guess you could say. It’s survival of the fittest.”
Four hundred laps around Winchester, equivalent to 200 miles, is a grueling test of endurance— and patience— for even the best short track racers from around the country. And if anybody knows how trying this race can be, it’s Choquette’s Jett Concrete teammate, Stephen Nasse.
“Stephen runs pretty good at every race track he goes to and especially Winchester,” Choquette said of his teammate. “I want to say last year or the year before he was leading the Winchester 400 and got into an altercation with [Dalton Sargeant]. But he seems to be fast there, knows the quick way around. I’m definitely going to lean on him to help me out as much as I can.”
Besides Nasse, there will be plenty of other drivers showing up with several years of Winchester 400 experience on Choquette, including Raphael Lessard and 2016’s winner Travis Braden.
For Choquette, practice sessions will focus on relearning the ropes, in hopes of not being blindsided when the green flag drops.
“Some of the challenges are going to be trying to get up to speed, getting the line figured out, getting the car adjusted the proper way, because there’s a lot of drivers who have raced there every year, definitely a lot more than I have,” Choquette said. “The worst thing that we could do is go in there and I’m out running the wrong line and we adjust the car for the wrong conditions. Come race time, that would make for a long 400 laps.”
It’s anyone’s guess who will be able to hold on until the end of the 47th Annual Winchester 400, but Choquette is hopeful that with the Jett Concrete crew, he’ll be able to survive 35 more laps than he did in the 41st edition.
“The Jett Concrete guys have been really good to race with,” Choquette said. “They’re there to win. They put their best foot forward. They put the best equipment out there on the racetrack. I’ve know the Jetts for a long time, so to finally be able to go to Winchester with them is going to be pretty cool. Now we just have to hope for a good run and to stay out of trouble. I think we’ll end up there in the fight somewhere.”
Race fans unable to make it to Winchester, Indiana for the Winchester 400 will be able to watch the race via a pay-per-view broadcast on Speed51.com. Click here to order you live video tickets today.
-Story by: Melissa Strahley, Gulf Coast Editor
-Photo Credit: Speed51.com/Melissa Strahley