Special from Speed51.com – The 47th Annual Winchester 400 came down to a late-race duel between Florida veteran Jeff Choquette and Georgia youngster Chandler Smith. The two battled side by side for the better part of the last 20 laps for the infamous Winchester Rifle.
In the end, it was Choquette taking the checkered flag by a car length over Smith to win the biggest race of his career. Choquette led much of the race in the Jett Concrete No. 9, holding off repeated challenges from Smith and Donnie Wilson in his first trip to the big half-mile oval in six years.
“He was better than I was,” Choquette told Speed51.com. “I mean he was faster. I saw in the beginning part of the race he had a sway bar issue I guess. It’s kind of line dependent around here and I was able to hold the high side and keep him underneath me. We beat there for the last ten laps or so. He got free there one time and he caught back up there pretty quick. He got free one more time and it allowed me to get out there just a little bit more. He was able to get right back up to me one more time but coming to the checkered. It was just a little too late for him.
“It’s a statement that the car makes it 400 laps. They asked me what the goal was before and I said to race around good cars so I tried to do that all race and keep myself up in that position and not get all wadded up and end up in the fence. I can’t thank my Jett guys enough. They bust their butt all weekend and we came up here and tested to get a few more laps around here. Hopefully we can get us three more this year.”
Smith stayed glued to Choquette during the final run of the race. However, he couldn’t complete the pass and settled for a runner-up finish, his second podium in as many tries.
“I was just trying to stay off of him and be as clean as I could to get by him,” Smith said. “I didn’t want to end up with the highlight of Chandler Smith wins Winchester 400 by taking out the leader. So, hats off to Jeff, hats off to all their crew, they deserve it. We did really good today. Our Toyota Camry was on rails but maybe we’ll come back next year and finish a position better.”
Smith started on the pole and led the first hundred laps of the race before a broken sway bar forced the team to replace the broken part under a red flag. He methodically worked his way back toward the front and in contention for the win.
“Everything started going downhill from there,” Smith stated. “The sway bar broke off and we had to go find another one under the red flag. We worked back through the field but just had to wait for the last three cautions to come in. Other than that, it was pretty good. Hats off to everybody on my crew.”
Choquette, Smith, and Donnie Wilson led the majority of the race, while Steve Wallace and Austin Kunert had their turns with the lead. In the end, it was Choquette picking up the win and the rifle in a crown jewel Super Late Model race after finishing second in last year’s Snowball Derby.
“It’s awesome,” Choquette said. “The last time I was here was six years ago. It’s always one that you watch. This track is fast and wide open and you’re up on the wheel every lap. I might have rode a total of twenty laps all race. It’s cool, the gun that everybody is after is awesome, the trophy is awesome. You get to race against good cars, so good momentum builder coming into the other big races.”
Steve Wallace finished third, followed by Stephen Nasse and 2018 NASCAR K&N Pro Series East champion Tyler Ankrum.
Josh Brock won the ARCA/CRA Super Series championship with his eighth-place finish. Speed51.com will have more on Brock’s championship season soon.
For on-demand coverage of Sunday’s 47th Annual Winchester 400, visit Speed51.com’s Trackside Now.
-Story by Koty Geyer, Speed51.com State Editor (IN & MI)
-Photo credit: Speed51.com / MoJo Photos