Ray Alfalla from Slipangle Motorsports held off a late charge from Gale Force Racing’s Nick Ottinger at Phoenix International Raceway en route to his second victory in the 2015 NASCAR PEAK Antifreeze Series Powered by iRacing. Ottinger had to settle for second, less than one tenth of a second behind and a single position short in his quest for a third straight win. Polesitter Casey Tucker (Last Row Motorsports) finished third, followed by series championship leader Kenny Humpe (The TEAM) and PJ Stergios.
Alfalla, who led a race-high 86 of 156 laps, took advantage of some timely cautions and a solid pit strategy and found the winner’s circle for the first time since the season opener at Daytona. Ottinger appeared to have a slightly better car than anyone else on the long run but a decision to short-pit cost him when a caution flew for a wreck before the rest of the front runners made their stops. The untimely yellow trapped Ottinger back in traffic with just 45 laps to go which, later, lead him to remark that his second place finish “felt like a win.”
The night got underway with Humpe taking the lead on Lap Three and quickly opening a one second margin over the field. Humpe held the lead until the first yellow flew on Lap 29 and the field pitted for fresh tires and fuel. Humpe’s crew was sluggish, losing him three positions in the pits and handing the lead back to Tucker.
On the restart Ottinger jumped to the lead but, after a flurry of cautions, Alfalla went to the point as he raced hard for the clean air out front. After a few laps it was Ottinger who prevailed and the race settled into the longest green flag run of the night.
With nobody able to make it on fuel to the end, Ottinger decided to play some pit strategy and short-pitted as soon as his fuel window opened. The move was risky as it put him a lap down but if the pit stop cycle completed he would own a massive lead thanks to his fresh tires. Unfortunately for Ottinger, a crash on the frontstretch on Lap 104 trapped him a lap down as Alfalla and a handful of other cars had yet to make their stops. Ottinger would get back on the lead lap by taking the wave around but now had older tires than Alfalla and the rest of the frontrunners.
Ottinger received some help by way of another caution just 11 laps after taking the wave around which allowed him to pit for tires. When the race restarted with 31 laps remaining Ottinger was in fifteenth but now had fresher tires than the leaders and began charging back to the front. In just seven laps Ottinger was already up to eighth and yet another caution bunched the field up, playing right into his favor.
As so often happens at short tracks, cautions breed cautions and the frequent yellows at the end of the race enabled Ottinger to maximize the benefit of his fresh tires. After going from fifteenth to eighth, he picked up two more spots on the next restart and three additional places on the next before the ninth and final yellow flag of the night flew, setting-up a five lap shootout for the win.
Alfalla still led, Tucker was second, and Ottinger was behind the front row in third as the race went green. Ottinger made quick work of Tucker and started reeling-in Alfalla. By the time the white flag flew Alfalla had a mirror full of the 05 car but would not be denied as he calmly negotiated Turns Three and Four a final time to take the checkered flag with Ottinger right on his bumper.
The win allowed Alfalla to slightly close on Humpe in the championship standings but Humpe still enjoys a massive 109 point advantage. Alfalla also distanced himself from Stergios, who is now 39 points adrift in third. Bryan Blackford and Matt Bussa are tied for fifth, 23 points behind Stergios and three points in front of Chris Overland who fell in the standings due to last night’s disappointing thirtieth place finish.
With just three races remaining in the 2015 NASCAR PEAK Antifreeze Series the series shifts to Darlington Raceway, one of the toughest tracks on the circuit. Humpe will have a chance to officially clinch the championship if he can leave “The Lady in Black” with a 97 point lead, leaving Alfalla with some work to do if he hopes to keep the pressure on an additional week. Darlington generally favors the veteran sim racers so it would be no surprise to see Alfalla, Ottinger, and Humpe battling for the win once again. Can anyone else break up the dominant threesome? Tune into iRacingLive in two weeks’ time to find out!