Josh Berry got off to a hot start in his quest to return to the NASCAR iRacing.com Series World Championship by winning the NASCAR iRacing.com Pro Series opener at Texas Motor Speedway. The veteran sim-racer held-off a late charge by Richard Dusett and Kenny Humpe and benefited from a timely yellow to take home the checkered flag.
On the final restart with three laps to go, Berry did not get a great start and it allowed Dusett to challenge him exiting Turn Two. Dusett tried to dive under Berry down the backstraight, but Berry threw a block which ran Dusett nearly down to the white line. In response, Dusett drove his car hard into Turn Three and tapped the leader’s rear bumper, sending both cars up the track. Humpe, who had been watching the battle from third, attacked and appeared to pass both leaders just as a crash unfolded farther back in the field which drew a yellow.
Though it was clear Humpe was ahead at the exact moment the yellow flew, the last scoring loop scored Berry the leader, giving him the win under caution. Humpe ended-up second and Dusett was third. Mitchell Hunt finished fourth and 2011 NiPS champion Alex Warren rounded out the top five.
“Finally had a little luck on my side with one of these races.” — Josh Berry.
“Finally has a little luck on my side with one of these races,” said Berry. “I was lucky enough to beat Chad off pit road and hang on to get the W at the end.”
Berry was in command after taking the lead during a round of pit stops and benefited when Jared Crawford and Chad Laughton both encountered problems which kept them from contending for the win.
Crawford started from the pole and led the first 48 circuits before giving way to Laughton, who had been steadily catching him. After taking the lead, Laughton slowly began to inch away, but with the fuel window getting close, his attention would soon turn to pit road.
Crawford was the big loser on the first round of stops. He entered the pits a bit more conservatively than the rest of the leaders and it cost him nearly three seconds, and two positions on the track.
Things got even worse for Crawford during the second round of green flag stops. Along with outside polesitter Chris Overland, he short-pitted in the hopes of gaining time by being the first cars on fresh tires. Shortly after, a caution came out for Brian Blackford’s crash after he was hit while attempting to pit. Since the majority of the field had not pitted, Crawford and Overland were trapped a lap down. Though they could take the wave around and get back on the lead lap, their track position was gone without much time to get it back.
On the ensuing restart it was Laughton’s turn for trouble. Laughton and Hunt made contact in Turn One and Laughton ended-up backing his car into the wall. The damage forced Laughton to retire his dominant car from the race, leaving Dusett to challenge Berry the rest of the way.
After a clean first two-thirds of the race in which a single caution, the yellows flew much more often in the last third of the race. By the end, nine cautions slowed the field for 36 of 167 laps. The frequent yellows were bad for some, namely the drivers involved in the wrecks, but did help Crawford salvage a ninth place finish, allowing him to escape Texas without too big of a hit in the points.
Speaking of the points, with just a 10 race season there is already a sense of urgency for drivers like Laughton. For drivers that found trouble in Week One, things do not get any easier next week as the NiPS heads out to Phoenix International Raceway for Week Two. PIR normally has its fair share of incidents, meaning qualifying and strategy to maintain track position will be important factors. Be sure to catch all the excitement from PIR next Tuesday on ETV!