In racing, the only lap a driver needs to lead is the last one. Just to be on the safe side, Matt Craig led all 200 of them in the 54th Annual Florida Governor’s Cup on Saturday night at New Smyrna Speedway (FL).
Craig’s run in the No. 54 machine was the most dominating performance the historical race had witnessed since NASCAR Monster Energy Cup driver Erik Jones won it in an identical fashion— leading all 200 laps on his first attempt— eight years ago.
And while Craig didn’t have to restart alongside the David Rogers for a three-lap shootout, the list of talent the North Carolinian had to hold off on foreign territory was lengthy.
With 30 laps to go, a controlled caution had freshly pitted drivers like Brad May, Jesse Dutilly, Jeff Choquette and Giovanni Bromante stacked around Craig, who had forgone pitting, for the restart.
The risky strategy payed off.
“I was kind of worried on that last stop, we didn’t really know which way to go,” the 20-year-old told Speed51. “I figured if I stayed on my hot tires, my air pressures up, I’d be able to fire off and dig really hard right at the green. All of those guys had about six or seven laps before their air pressures really came to. By the time their air pressures were up, I had a nice buffer. And I think by the time they ran me down their tires got hot, equaled out. So it worked out pretty good.”
Jeff Choquette was the first driver on the other end of that buffer, finishing the night in second place. Despite the podium finish, Choquette was notably frustrated.
Earlier in the race, Choquette spun a perfect 360 degrees off of turn two, avoiding a pile up with his impressive save but losing positions as the track stayed green. Choquette attributed the start of the spin to another driver.
“[Jesse Dutilly], I guess he doesn’t know how to turn a steering wheel, doesn’t know where anything is and just piled me in the left rear,” Choquette said. “He spun me, I did a 360. I can’t tell you how I didn’t hit anything or how someone didn’t run me over. Just a bad night altogether.”
When asked about the incident, Dutilly denied involvement.
“[Jeremy Pate] hit him in the rear and he spun out,” Dutilly said. “I’m pretty certain it wasn’t [me].”
Dutilly, who went from second alongside Craig on the final restart to seventh by the checkered flag, had a glass-half-full mentality when asked about his run at the half-mile.
“Something happened to the car,” Dutilly said. “I don’t know if we had an issue with jacking it up and setting it back down or a tire equalized or something like that. But it was absolutely garbage when we restarted. It’s really disappointing but compared to where we were last time, we’re leaps and bounds better here.”
Giovanni Bromante rounded out the podium finishers with Brad May and Jeremy Pate taking fourth and fifth, respectively.
A video recap including interviews will be available soon on the Speed51 Network.
-Story and photo by: Melissa Strahley, Speed51 Gulf Coast Editor
Florida Governor’s Cup Unofficial Results