Defending NASCAR iRacing.com Series World Champion Ray Alfalla won his first race of the year at Chicagoland Speedway Tuesday night, dominating the second half of the online race after taking the lead on Lap 54. Even the several late race yellows which bunched the field were no trouble for Alfalla, as he easily held-off Michael Conti and Steve Sheehan on the final green flag run to the checkered flag. After running second for 65 laps, Patrick Baldwin slipped to fourth ahead of Tyler D Hudson.
Alfalla was pleased with the result, which also moved him up to second in the championship standings behind Conti. “Car was excellent through the curved portion of the course, as they say. It was tough to keep focus on all the consecutive restarts, and I have to tip my cap to Patrick for how good he was at figuring out my start points,” said Alfalla, who clearly has momentum on his side as of late.
Phoenix-winner Nick Ottinger started from the pole again in his quest for back-to-back victories, but found trouble which relegated him to a twenty-eighth place finish. His problems started in the pits when he got a speeding penalty during a stop under an early yellow. It initially appeared Ottinger would recover from the error as he worked his way back into the top ten. However, he got into Kevin King on the front straightaway, triggering a pile-up that ended any chance he, King, Robert Hall and Carson McClelland had of a good finish.
Going into the race, drivers were expecting a much cleaner race than two weeks ago in Phoenix; and things looked promising for awhile, with some green flag runs mixed in with a couple of minor accidents. However, after the halfway point, the complexion of the race changed dramatically as the sim racers realized the restarts were by far the best time to make any sort of passes.
Everyone started becoming more aggressive on the restarts, and the yellows frequently flew. In the end, the race was slowed a dozen times for 50 of its 133 laps. For the second week in a row this also made it difficult for drivers in the middle of the pack to gain any ground, and after the final pit stop, most drivers were stuck with the track position they had exiting the pits. Despite the challenges, some drivers overcame poor starts to finish well, including Brad Davies (started twenty-eighth, finished sixth) and Vinnie Sansone (started forty-second, finished twelfth).
Jeremy Allen, the point leader coming into Chicagoland, had a sub-par day in route to an eighteenth place finish. Allen had a poor qualifying run, starting thirty-seventh, and never could get the track position he needed. Crash damaged ended up being his downfall, forcing him to limp home in a car which was well off competitive pace. The finish dropped Allen to third in the standings, 14 behind Conti and just ahead of Brian Schoenburg, who collected his third straight top ten finish, and Hudson.
Next week, another 1.5 mile takes center stage in the NiSWC, as the series heads west to Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Vegas is faster and has more grip than Chicagoland, forcing drivers to get every last bit out of the car to run the fastest laps possible. With his success at Chicagoland, Alfalla has to be considered the early favorite to grab another victory, but others like Sheehan and Ottinger have run strong in recent weeks and are more than capable of getting the job done. Of course, this is Vegas, where anything can happen. It would not be surprising to see a driver roll the dice on pit road and come away with the spoils of a victory in Sin City.