The season 10 finale for the ITSR Power Series came at the fast Charlotte Motor Speedway, where 166 laps and several early accidents thinned the starting field of 26 sim racers and left a first-time race winner and a first-time series champion celebrating to end the night.
In qualifying, Talladega winner Daniel Eberhardt picked up where he left off one week earlier by winning the pole with a blistering lap averaging 198.47 mph. Scott Simley, William Amaker, Matt Delk, and Mike Rominger completed the top five starting spots, all qualifying within half a tenth of the pole time.
In the first 10 laps of the race, Eberhardt and Amaker traded the lead but neither could hold off Simley, who took the top spot on Lap 14. Less than a second behind the lead battle, all three drivers in mathematical contention for the championship – Chad Dalton, Delk, and Tim Johnston – raced for fourth place.
The title fight took a major turn on Lap 23. As the field lapped past Fred Thompson, he slid exiting Turn 2 and made slight contact with Dalton before hooking his Speed Mafia teammate Delk. That incident knocked-out Delk, who entered the race second in points, and meant Dalton just needed to avoid a catastrophic DNF to clinch the title.
Dalton’s crew repaired his car during the pit stops and kept him on the lead lap while Simley continued to lead under caution. After the restart, Simley pulled away while a close battle for second place played out between Amaker, Johnston, and Eberhardt.
That race went awry on Lap 31, when Amaker clipped the Turn-4 apron and collected Johnston and a half-dozen other cars in the biggest wreck of the night. Once again, Dalton was right behind the wreck and took some front-end damage, but he was ultimately able to continue after making more repairs.
Once the race restarted and Dalton felt-out his wounded car, electrical gremlins struck and he lost radio contact with his team. However, he worked his way back into the top ten and held-on to his points lead as the laps ticked off and more competitors fell out of the race.
With the early cautions out of the way, the race entered an extended green-flag run lasting more than 120 laps, which put the running order on shuffle as some drivers managed their tire falloff and others hit pit road early to take fresh virtual rubber.
Amid the mixed bag of strategy, Simley continued to have the car to beat, and as the race entered the final 10 laps, he held a 7.5 second lead over Terry McCuin. However, that lead was wiped away when Doug Sigmon spun exiting the pits on Lap 158, collecting John Hensley and bringing out the race’s third and final caution.
After surviving the attrition of the night and his own close calls, Dalton had the championship in hand as he came down pit road, so he gambled with a two-tire change to take the lead over Simley.
When the race restarted with five laps remaining, Dalton and his iRacing Today Motorsports teammate Adam Hallock pulled ahead of Simley, and on four fresh tires, Hallock passed Dalton with just two laps to go. Simley got past Dalton on the final lap, but Hallock’s lead was safe and the rookie driver scored his first series victory.
Dalton, Bradley McLamb, and Brad Collins completed the top five, while Rick Thompson, McCuin, and Johnston were the only other lead-lap finishers.
Despite his early-race dramas, Dalton’s perseverance all evening and all season rewarded him with his first series championship.
“Just like the entire season, I overcame all sorts of issues and obstacles throughout each race,” said Dalton after the race. “Made it stressful, but worth it in the end.”
Dalton’s championship effort was bolstered by a series-high six poles, five wins, and 14 top-five finishes out of 18 races. And while the championship battle didn’t come down to single-digit points as it has in some recent seasons, Dalton’s consistency amid his rivals’ bad fortunes ensured that it didn’t need to.
The Power Series now takes more than a month off before its 11th season begins, giving Dalton plenty of time to celebrate and the rest of the field a chance to plan how they might beat him next time the online racing series hits the track.