The penultimate round of the NASCAR iRacing Series brought the sim racers to Phoenix International Raceway to begin their final charges to gain any positions – as the end of the season is just around the corner! With the series using the repaved version of the track on iRacing for the first line, finding the fastest line around the one mile track in the Valley of the Sun was the first order of business.
Allen Boes came out on top in Race One of the week, with a high (but not the highest!) 5751 SoF netting him 369 points for the win. He fought hard with Tyler Hudson but Boes came out on top, with .2s the delta between the duo at the checkered flag. Brian Schoenburg led an impressive 82 laps, but wasn’t able to convert his pace into a top three result – eventually finishing a little further down in P7. Instead, third place went to Ryan Lowe who showed great pace both in quali and the race to move up a spot from his starting position. Jordy Lopez Jr came home fourth, just over a second behind the winner after 156 laps of sim racing. Rounding out the top five was Brandon Kettelle, a further .3s away from Lopez and too much of a gap to push to take the place at the end.
Race Two saw Jared Mogard defeat Jacob Harberts in his quest to claim the triple (most laps lead, fastest lap and the win). Harberts was pretty much in control of the race up until the tide started to turn on Lap 141. Mogard took over the lead and stayed there ’til the end, capturing 213 points for the win, compared to runner-up Harberts’ 204. Travin Morgan completed the top three, with Jake Hayes and Daniel Smallwood securing the final top five spots. Split 2, saw the World’s Fastest Indian — aka Sandeep Banerjee — win by over a second and set the fastest lap by over .1s – a big gap in oval racing! Rick Mitchell was the victor in Split 3 – leading 34 laps and winning by a similar margin to Banerjee.
Zack Novak made the most of the 4595 SoF that Race Three had to offer, with a very handy 294 points heading his way afterwards. Hideyuki Honda kept Novak busy – especially towards the end, with only .1s between them after 156 laps; Novak had to work hard for his win. Jake Goodwin finished a very well driven race in third, quite a bit behind the top two but, more importantly, ahead of Randy Hedrick who was only .2s behind at the finish. Don Stephenson rounded out the top five, just a second back of Hedrick.
The final race of the Phoenix week provided the most points – with 377 points on offer to the driver who could pull it out of the bag when it counted. The 5581 SoF was filled with experienced and fast drivers, and there was one man who could step up his game – like he’s done all year: Michael Conti. Paul Kusheba was Conti’s closest competition but with .9s seconds separating them, the 2014 NASCAR PEAK Antifreeze Series champion made it look easy. 2013 NPAS champion Hudson had his work cut-out holding onto a third place finish, with Jordan Westfall missing-out on the podium by under .1s! Cole Anderson completed the top five for the last time at Phoenix this season – and with just 1.3 seconds separating the top five and two seconds separating first from eighth, PIR delivered a great penultimate week to the season.
Bussa continues his dominance as he sits above the field for yet another week, with a 200 point buffer to Dwayne Vincent – who holds onto second quite comfortably. The top twosome seem quite settled in terms of the championship; I don’t see these positions changing come Homestead. Kris Kelley is on 6812 points in third, but those around him are slowly catching up: With Joshua Filyaw just 110 points behind and the menacing duo of Hudson and Conti getting close as well, Homestead could well be a showcase of how well these drivers can drive under pressure!
Homestead completes the 36-week season of the NASCAR iRacing Series. Given that the South Florida speedway has produced many nail-biting finishes in real life, as a spectator of the series all season, I expect nothing less from the virtual representation of the series. Will Bussa keep it together to stop anyone and everyone from taking the championship from him? Will Kelley and Filyaw keep the pro sim races at bay drivers? Check back here next week, for the final report of the season!