Choquette Captures Blizzard Series Finale; Pollard Pounces on 1st Season Title at Five Flags
Jeff Choquette was going to make sure this one didn’t slip through his grasp.
The West Palm Beach driver came to Five Flags Speedway in March for the Buddy’s Home Furnishings Blizzard Series season opener.
Choquette led for much of the second half of the race before Chase Elliott ran him down and past him with three laps left.
Choquette made sure the past would not repeat itself Friday in the Super Late Models’ season finale.
He led the last 58 laps despite a multitude of late cautions.
“We’ve struggled all year,” Choquette said. “Chase ran us down last time we were here, but we were on it tonight. I was a little worried, but (his crew) told me I had a 5-second lead and I was pulling away.
“That helped ease the nerves.”
Bubba Pollard’s nerves were eased early into Friday. He clinched his first career Blizzard Series track championship by qualifying on the pole in a time of 16.651 seconds.
Thanks to one of the late yellows, Pollard had a chance to overtake Choquette. Running second with 94 laps completed, the Senoia, Ga., driver made his move on the outside.
Pollard’s plan backfired and instead sent him to a fifth-place finish. It did nothing, though, to rain on his triumphant parade.
“We’ve had better seasons than this,” Pollard admitted, “but the big thing that helped us this year was all the qualifying points we earned. That’s what put us over the edge.
“We tried to make something to happen on that last restart. Finishing second is like finishing fourth or fifth to me anyway.”
Which is where Dwayne Buggay found himself for much of the night.
Taking his first laps in a new Grand American Race Cars late model, Buggay nipped GARC proprietor Augie Grill at the start-finish line for runner-up honors.
“The first thing I did was thank him,” Buggay said of Grill. “We kept saving out stuff just to be at the end. We stayed outta trouble and we were able to conquer that.”
Choquette, who started seventh, finally conquered the famed half-mile, asphalt oval after his near miss in March.
He climbed to the top on Lap 42 when then-leader Grill attempted to block Mike Garvey from getting out front.
The pair left a gap wide enough for Choquette to drive his No. 29’s hauler through. He pounced on the opening and never looked back.
“I wanted to ride there in third, but when they got together, I knew it was go time,” Choquette said.
He wasn’t waiting around this time.
What a difference a year makes for Randy Thompson.
Less than a year ago, the Cantonment driver was debilitated with rheumatoid arthritis, a disease that attacks the joints and tissues.
Thompson struggled to move in those gloomy months last winter.
On Friday night at Five Flags Speedway, he was dancing around after a second-place finish in the 35-lap feature allowed him capture his second career Super Stocks track championship.
He also won the Sportsmen 25-lap feature moments later.
After coming into the feature trailing 2011 track title winner Bubba Winslow by 22 points, Thompson’s runner-up to checkered flag winner Charlie Skipper allowed Thompson to edge Winslow by two points.
“I know we were a long shot coming into the race,” Thompson said. “I wanted to try and do my best and win. I hate that Bubba blew up, but it’s happened to me. It’s part of racing.
“I have to thank my fans and my crew. I couldn’t have done it without them.”
It was a huge turn of events for Thompson. Winslow was competing for the lead early on before the car he was driving, not his typical No. 44, blew up with six laps completed. Winslow was forced to drive a Mike Moore backup car after splitting with his longtime car owners a few weeks back.
Winslow never did return and with Thompson running second at the time, that was where he needed to remain until the checkered flag waved to lock up the crown.
He followed doctor orders by following Skipper around the famed half-mile, asphalt oval in the waning laps.
Thompson pressed Skipper a few times, taking several peeks at the lead on both the outside and inside lines.
But the five-time track champion at Five Flags knew not to get too careless, content with keep his running position.
And why not? It was just enough to squeak by Winslow.
“I got hurry up and take pictures because I got another race,” Thompson said.
Apparently Randy Thompson knew something no one else knew.
As good as his Super Stocks No. 42 was, his Sportsmen No. 42 was that much more hooked up.
Steve Buttrick was glad his didn’t get put on the hook.
Thompson, who captured the Super Stocks track title moments earlier, took the lead early in the 25-lap feature to go wire-to-wire on Double Points Night for the Sportsmen.
“It’s ’bout (darn) time we made it back up in this car,” Thompson said. “It’s the best this car has been in probably two years. I hope it’s this good at the (Snowball) Derby.”
After avoiding near disaster midway through the race, Buttrick rebounded to finish second and cut into the points lead of Brannon Fowler.
Going into next Saturday night’s Night of Champions, Fowler’s lead over Buttrick is a miniscule 14 points.
After the points racing theatrics of the Super Stocks that saw Thompson win by just two points, we had more drama with 14 laps complete in the Sportsmen feature.
Fowler and Buttrick came out of Turn 4 three-wide with lapped car Thomas Faddis. Fowler, on the inside, tried to get around Faddis, but sent Faddis’ No. 12 into the left side of Buttrick, whose No. 33 ended up in the outside wall.
The wrecker came out, but Buttrick waved him away, desperate to drive it. Miraculously, Buttrick somehow fired it up and got it going.
“Whatever happened there, water was all over my windshield,” Buttrick said. “I thought the radiator was gone. But if I had air in two tires, I was going back out there. It was good enough to get up to the front.
“I’m looking forward to the 30-lap race next week. That’s more of my deal.”
Coming out of the wreckage, Fowler had damage to the right front wheel area that caused him some alignment issues, forcing him momentarily to the pits.
He returned seconds later, but started three spots behind Buttrick. Fowler never was able to close the gap.
Half the time the Butler U-Pull-It Bombers have raced this year at Five Flags Speedway, Gary Goodwin has had reason to smile.
On Friday, the charter boat fishing captain capped off Double Points Night with his sixth checkered flag in 12 chances this season.
Goodwin padded his points lead against third-place finisher Brandon Burks and virtually locked up his second consecutive track title.
“I appreciate the crew for helping out the last couple of weeks,” Goodwin said. “Everybody helped me out and it worked out well.
“That should seal it up for next week. I’ll just show up and watch.”
Goodwin started 11th in the 17-car field, but quickly held the lead by lap five of No. 20.