For a driver competing for the 16th Street Racing League championship, Josh Chin had achieved almost all of his goals this season. One thing eluded him however, and that was an oval victory. Similar to Will Power in the real world series, Chin knew that without victory at one of the two remaining oval races, chances of becoming champion would be a lot more difficult. That all changed at Iowa Speedway.
The day began with the first heat races in 16th Street history. Drivers ran in three heat races mimicking the 2013 Iowa Corn 250, and pressure was for drivers as the only way to progress was to finish in the Top Six of races. When all was said and done, familiar faces were up front, with Matt Cooke taking victory in the final heat race, earning himself 15 points in the process, and extending his championship lead. Both Chin and Tim Holgate had good finishes, negating the full effect of the points swing.
One thing that Holgate needed to do was finish the online race. After the controversial incident one week removed, his championship hopes were truly in the balance, and he could not afford a bad result. His heartbreak continued early though, as he was involved in the first incident of the day. Randy Crossno got loose on the bump in the centre of Turns 1&2, and as drivers swarmed to avoid him, Ray Kingsbury found the side of Holgate’s car, sending him into the wall. This was the second time in as many weeks that the two drivers had been in an incident with other; however this time around Holgate was more than ready to take the blame stating that he ‘simply should have just stayed a little bit higher on the racetrack.’
Just like New Hampshire a week ago, cautions were the order of the day in the early going, with Niall McBride, Joe Branch, Neffry Aawg and Doyle Johnson all involved in incidents which caused the yellow to wave. McBride was lucky, voiding all other competitors and the wall, and was able to carry on without accruing any damage. Other drivers were not so lucky, although the attrition race wasn’t as high as the number of cautions would perhaps suggest. Luck was also a player on Pit Road, where both Josh Chin and Martin Miller became victim of a closed pit exit light, caused because some cars a lap down were still catching up to the pace car. Both drivers had to go to the rear of the field, thought the effect was far more profound for Chin: He restarted in P21, his championship rival Cooke in the Top 10.
It was the first time all season that we’d seen a true split strategy, with nine cars staying out on the racetrack at this point, placing Randy Crossno in the lead. Connor Cross lined up alongside him, and actually passed the Aero-X driver about five laps after the restart in what was his best race in the season to date. Cross led a number of laps before Crossno was able to get back pass, and eventually pull out a one second advantage. Matt Cooke was eventually able to close however, and with the caution flag many expected not coming, the nine cars that stayed out had to make a journey onto pit road under green.
Pitting under green can always be risky at Iowa, as apart from the difficulties coming off the banking onto the flat apron, and slowing down to 40MPH, drivers also lose about 2 laps to the leader. Crossno was able to come back out ahead of Cooke, however the Canadian’s momentum and lower fuel meant that he was able to slot it down the inside coming out of Turn 2. Cooke was able to pull away from Crossno, and this proved critical when the time came for him to make his own pit stop under green, as he was able to come out in the overall race lead. Some drivers continued to have strong showings, most notably Ray Kingsbury, Connor Cross and Michael Armstrong, and the long green flag period proved a welcome change to the stop start nature of the early going.
The caution eventually did come out under crazy circumstances, as Ray Kingsbury suffered an apparent suspension failure just after making a pitstop. As his car speared towards the outside SAFER barrier, he barely missed his brother Matt, who was already at full speed and was working the high line. The caution was a disaster for the nine drivers on the alternate strategy, who had just completed their sequence of pitstops, and were scored two laps down. Whilst all were able to get one of these back, the situation was similar to the 2009 IndyCar Richmond race in that only a handful of drivers were scored on the lead lap. More importantly in terms of the championship, the caution allowed Josh Chin to close up to the leader, and a good pitstop put him back into the mix.
The restart saw Chin and Cooke battle out-front, in a stunning battle that saw them change the lead three times in as many laps. Iowa’s banking means that the inside line can be difficult to hold in traffic, in some ways negating it’s advantage and allowing this close two wide racing. Despite some close calls, drivers continued to run two and even three wide at points, yet all were able to make it through the other end. A couple of drivers pinned a lap down were being increasingly aggressive to make their way through the field, to maximize their chance of getting back onto the lead lap should another caution come out.
This caution did eventually come with 28 laps remaining in the race, as Chuck Eisenbarth found trouble in an incident where he was the only victim. This presented another challenge to the lap down drivers, as they were about 10 laps shy on fuel, yet had the opportunity to get waved back onto the lead lap. Crossno, Eric Davis and Mark Schutte took the safe option, with all other sim-racers choosing to receive the wave around, and take their chances. As the laps continued to wind down, it became apparent that this was the wrong option, as they were forced to pit with 8 to go, dropping two laps down come race end.
Up front, the battle between the championship rivals continued in earnest, again with both multiple lead changes in as many laps. With five laps to go, Chin was able to catch the draft from lap traffic, which proved just enough to keep Cooke at bay to take victory by 0.162 after just over 200 miles of racing. Cary Bettenhausen was able to take his best finish of the season in fourth, however for a number of drivers, their true speed didn’t represent their final position, as the split strategy lingered on for almost 2/3 of the race and proved decisive in almost all cases for those who took it.
As far as the championship goes, whilst Holgate is theoretically still in with a shot, he’s realistically eliminated from contention leaving just Chin and Cooke. Chin’s the odds on favorite to win at Road America this coming week, and therefore, the championship will likely come down to the final round at Auto Club. Bonus points are becoming more and more important, and a clean sweep for Chin on the road course could leave him in the lead heading into Auto Club Speedway.