The ITSR Power Series brought its tight points battles to the wide Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, and the mounting pressure on title contenders led to some thrilling online racing action and a potentially costly mistake in the closing laps.
In qualifying, Matt Delk recorded a lap of 37.447 seconds to score the pole position. Adam Hallock started second ahead of Marcus Napier, Chad Dalton, and Jeff S. Davis. Championship leader Tim Johnston struggled to put a quick lap on the board and settled for a 13th-place starting spot.
Once the green flag flew, Delk and Dalton – who entered the race third and second in points, respectively – pulled out to nearly a four-second lead ahead of the third-place battle between Rick Thompson and Corey Davis.
Behind them, Johnston was charging through the field and made it to fifth place before the first round of green-flag pit stops. Johnston was the first of the leaders to hit pit road, and his fresh tires helped put him in the race lead after the stops were complete.
While Johnston was gaining ground, polesitter Matt Delk lost several positions as the last of the leaders to pit. That forced him to fight back through the field while Dalton passed Johnston for the race lead.
Just as Delk caught Dalton on Lap 46, the race’s first caution flag flew for a mid-pack incident in Turn 2. Delk re-took the lead thanks to a quicker pit stop, but Dalton and Johnston were right behind for the restart.
The next round of green-flag racing didn’t last long, as another Turn-2 incident on Lap 54 brought out the caution once again. A two-tire call put Jeff S. Davis out front, but Delk and Dalton were able to get past him as they continued their race-long duel at the front of the field.
As another long run played out, drivers hit pit road for their final pit stops beginning on Lap 78. This time, strategy calls came into play as leaders Dalton, Johnston, and Delk all changed just two tires.
As the race entered the final ten laps, Johnston closed in on Dalton and got past him on Lap 94. Johnston began to pull away and appeared to have the race in hand. However, with three laps to go, Johnston scraped the wall exiting Turn 2 and again off of Turn 4. That brought Dalton back to his bumper and back to the lead.
The following lap, Johnston spun out of Turn 2 and hit the inside wall, ending the night for the defending series champion. Meanwhile, Johnston’s chief championship rival, Dalton, crossed the finish line one second clear of Delk to score his fourth win of the season.
Scott Simley, Dean Moll, and David Boden rounded out the top five finishers. Unlike the attrition-filled races at Chicagoland and New Hampshire, 20 of the 25 sim racers that started the race in Fontana made it to the finish.
Although Johnston failed to finish, he will use the Fontana race as one of his four dropped races in the points. But his late-race problems still cost him the championship lead, as Dalton unofficially climbs atop the standings by 6 points over Johnston and 20 over Delk. Just three races remain to decide the title and no more dropped races are allowed, so the championship will be won or lost on track.
With the fast one-mile oval in Phoenix, the high banks of Talladega, and the lightning quick mile-and-a-half at Charlotte remaining, the contenders will be tested on a variety of circuits, and as the Fontana race proved, the races certainly aren’t over until they’re over.