August 30th, 2017 by Jason Lofing
Three-time NASCAR PEAK Antifreeze Series Powered By iRacing Champion Ray Alfalla claimed victory in the first ever NPAS playoff race at Darlington Raceway for his third win of the 2017 season. The dominating performance vaulted Alfalla into the championship lead as he chases an unprecedented fourth championship in iRacing’s most prestigious oval series.
Michael Conti came home second, nearly 1.9 seconds behind Alfalla. Ryan Luza finished third to nearly keep pace with Alfalla in the championship. Logan Clampitt was fourth and Brian Schoenburg came from twenty-fourth on the grid to finish fifth, barely beating Bobby Zalenski as the two crashed across the start/finish line.
Zack Novak led the field to the green after winning his fourth pole of the year and led the first 29 circuits. However, it was Luza with the long run speed early in the race and he passed Novak down the backstretch on Lap 30 to gain control of the race. Shortly thereafter, a caution brought the field to the pits for the first time in the evening with Luza maintaining the lead off pit road.
Then on the ensuing restart Luza made an uncharacteristic mistake that likely cost him a chance at contending for the win when he changed lanes before the start/finish line. The preemptive move earned Luza a drive through penalty, putting him a lap behind.
Back at the front, Bobby Zalenski took over the lead when Luza pitted with Alfalla tracking him closely in second. As the run wore on Zalenski was able to keep Alfalla at bay, but Luza was able to un-lap himself, which would prove important in his rally back to the front.
Unable to catch and pass Zalenski on the track, Alfalla turned to pit strategy as he ducked in earlier than Zalenski on Lap 70. With Zalenski staying out until Lap 72, Alfalla made up several seconds on the former leader as they both worked through traffic on their far fresher tires.
Alfalla finally cycled to the lead on Lap 89 due to an extended pit sequence with Conti less than a second behind. Zalenski rode in third, still quite a distance behind the leaders despite his two-lap fresher rubber. Alfalla, in fact, began to pull away from everyone as he asserted himself as the driver to beat. The only chance the field looked to have would be a caution or a mistake by Alfalla on pit road.
The rest of the field got their wish on Lap 142 when Josh Berry spun and crashed off Turn Two. Alfalla was first off pit road and with everyone having enough fuel to go to the finish, the race was on. For the first 20 laps Conti could maintain touch with the leader but slowly but surely Alfalla started building a gap and was not challenged on his way to the win.
Alfalla’s victory allowed him to jump Luza and into the NPAS points lead with two races remaining until the final cut in the playoffs. Alfalla leads Luza by three points and Zalenski is nine markers back. Clampitt holds the final transfer spot, five points behind Zalenski and nine in front of Novak, who struggled to a seventeenth-place result.
Chicagoland Speedway plays host to race two of the NPAS playoffs as all eight title contenders are within 14 points of the final transfer position. Alfalla was definitely the car to beat at Darlington but if Luza can stay penalty-free Alfalla, Zalenski, and the others will likely have their hands full by the end of the night. Can Alfalla go two-for-two, or will one of the other seven contenders find the winner’s circle in a bid to upset the favorite? Find out in two weeks on iRacing Live!
Watch the full race broadacst here: