Justin Bolton captured his first career NASCAR iRacing.com Pro Series win on Tuesday night, coming back from an early crash to take the victory. Bolton, the winner of Hickory Motor Speedway’s Fall Classic for Limited Late Models, chose to stay out under a late-race yellow — which appeared to be a strange call, to say the least. In what had already been a yellow-filled race, however, the closing laps got even crazier with several crashes taking-out nearly all the top cars. The yellows helped Bolton maintain the lead and he did the rest, holding-off Paul Kusheba on a green-white-checker shootout for the win.
Kusheba, who made a valiant effort on the last lap, settled for the runner-up spot. Brandon Chubirko was third from Brandon Buie, Landon Harrison and Kwame Adjei as the top six were covered by .756s.
No less than a dozen cautions slowed the field for 55 laps and, in any other event, many of the wrecks might have been considered “The Big One.” By the end of the 156 lap online race, only a handful of cars were still running in reasonable condition, with only 11 cars finishing on the lead lap.
Phoenix has long been known for a track that produces its fair share of cautions and it did not take long for the first yellow to fly. On Lap One, outside polesitter Kenny Humpe got a bit too aggressive entering Turn Three and spun, causing a major stack-up in his wake. When the smoke cleared, a half-dozen cars had sustained damage with Humpe getting the worst of it.
With Humpe out of the picture, Kusheba assumed control of the race after taking four tires under during his first pit stop. Though he took four tires while some drivers took just two, Kusheba made quick work of everyone in front of him and took the lead. Although he later lost the lead under caution when Dylan Duval stayed out, Kusheba once again used his fresher tires to reclaim the lead.
The first Big One developed on a Lap 91 restart when everyone stacked up as the green waved. The inside line acccordioned together, sending Josh Berry spinning in front of the back half of the field. Jeremy Lukaszka, Brian Day, Brandon Hauck and PJ Stergios were also involved in the crash.
Laughton caught Kusheba with 30 laps remaining, but passing had proven to be difficult on worn tires. For nearly ten laps Laughton was right the bumper of Kusheba’s Chevy SS, waiting for a mistake. Kusheba finally made one off of Turn Four and Laughton dove to the inside in Turn One. The two ran door-to-door through Turns One and Two and were still side-by-side as they braked for Turn Three. As both drivers fought for ground in the middle of the corner, they made contact which sent both cars into the wall. Kusheba was able to continue with minimal damage but Laughton nosed hard into the front-stretch wall, ending his night.
The next two restarts saw two more large crashes unfold at the front of the field, eliminating nearly every competitive car except for Kusheba. The final wreck set up the one lap shootout and Bolton used a superb restart to come away with the victory.
After the 12-caution mess at Phoenix, NiPS drivers will likely enjoy seeing Homestead-Miami Speedway next on the schedule. The 1.5 mile oval normally has long green flag runs, which will be a welcome sight for drivers needing a good finish after crashing (or being crashed) at PIR. Look for Laughton to be strong once again if he can stay out of trouble . . . although after the first two races we have seen that is no easy task. Be sure to tune in next Tuesday night to catch Week Three of the NiPS from Homestead on ETV Live!