With thousands watching via the live broadcast on iRacing.com, Ray Alfalla came home the winner in a wild Round One of the 2011 Nascar iRacing.com Series World Championship at Daytona International Speedway on Tuesday evening. The Floridian took over the top spot when Jesse Atchison crashed-out of the lead on Lap 86 and stayed in front over the remaining 15 laps to lead Pedro Mojico and Josh Parker to the checkered flag.
The night got under way with one of the closest qualifying sessions in sim racing history with Derek Wood pacing the 49 entrants with a lap of 47.151 seconds. So how close was the field? Just ask Byron Daley, who missed the race by qualifying forty-first quickest with 47.245 seconds. That’s right, nine hundredths of a second from first to forty-first. Defending NiSWC champion Richard Towler started the season from the ninth position while restrictor plate master Jesse Atchison rolled off deep in the field, starting thirty-second. Another pre-race favorite, Tyler Hudson, just squeaked into the race in the thirty-sixth spot, and faced a daunting task of coming through the field.
Wood led the field to the green, but did not remain there long as he and his Drill Isle teammates headed to pit road on Lap Eight, going for a two stop strategy. While the rest of the field, now led by Thomas Hazard, stayed out and saved gas, Wood and company lined up single file and began to run them down by a couple tenths a lap.
All that strategy went out the window with the first caution on Lap 33. Coming through Turn One, Matt Sentell got a bit too high and scraped the wall, triggering a melee in the middle of the corner. When the smoke cleared, nine cars were either out of the race or heavily damaged.
“I hate plate racing, but there’s no excuse for that. Lost concentration, got in the wall, took out a bunch of good cars.” – Matt Sentell
The resulting yellow flag also put everyone within a fuel window such that one more stop would easily make the distance.
The field restarted with Jordan Erickson at the point and it looked like the field would be content to ride it out until the final round of pit stops. The calm didn’t last long, however, as Nolan Scott blew his engine on Lap 46 while running eighth, resulting in another caution.
Most of the field pitted immediately, banking on there being more cautions. Wood and company again employed a different strategy, stopping with one lap before the green and hoping the crashing was over. Atchison won the race off of pit road and assumed the lead, which he looked to hold until the end of the race – assuming he could save some fuel during another caution.
Unfortunately, Atchison ended up being the caution. On Lap 86, he slipped-up a lane coming-off Turn Four into Hazard’s path. The two made contact, with Atchison spinning through the tri oval grass and back onto the track, resulting in another big accident. While the crash ended many drivers’ shot at a win, it was exactly what those who did not have enough fuel to make the finish needed. One of them was Alfalla, who now held the lead and was able to conserve enough fuel under the yellow to make the distance.
Since everyone could make it on fuel, business was about to pick up. Five laps shy of the finish, Tyler Hudson and Jean Costa made contact, sending Hudson spinning with the whole field piling-in right behind. The “Big One” set up a one lap dash for the checkers, but Alfalla got a great and crossed the finish line a tenth of a second ahead of Mojica as another massive crash unfolded in their mirrors. When the virtual dust settled it was Parker in third, Darrin Stevens fourth and Thomas Lewandowski in fifth. Most of the other drivers crashed across the finish line, with Chris Main actually finishing the race upside down.
When asked about his victory, Alfalla simply said it felt “amazing.”
The series shifts gears back to the mile and a half Las Vegas Motor Speedway in two weeks. With a little more racing room, Vegas should have some long green runs and plenty of pit strategy. Can Alfalla start off the season two for two, or will Towler or 2010 runner-up Brad Davies, who finished 17th and 25th at Daytona, rebound for the victory? Be sure to check back in two weeks time. Or better yet, catch the live broadcast of the Las Vegas race on www.iracing.com beginning at 9 pm ET on Tuesday, March 1 (0200 GMT Wednesday, March 2).