Week Twelve of the NASCAR iRacing.com Series World Championship brought the series to the fabled Indianapolis Motor Speedway. With the season’s end in sight it was anyone’s guess what might happen in the online race. The Brickyard is not known for intense stock car battles thanks to its flat corners and long straightaways, but the world’s top sim racers put on possibly the best show of the 2011 season with Brad Davies registering a dominating performance to take his second win of the campaign.
Championship leader Ray Alfalla came to Indy looking to build on his already impressive point lead but would have to deal with some stiff competition. Davies and Derek Wood captured the front row starting spots, putting them in prime position to control the race. Passing had been difficult for the drivers all week during practice and the race would prove no different. Thus Alfalla, starting sixth, had his work cut out.
Moments after Davies led the field to the green, the caution lights flashed as several drivers near the tail end of the field got together. Despite the ominous start, the 80 lap race would run largely trouble free, slowed by just four cautions for 15 laps.
When the green flag waved again on Lap Five, Davies quickly demonstrated his Whisky River Chevy was the car to beat, pulling to a comfortable lead over Josh Parker, Wood and Alfalla before another caution occasioned the first round of pit stops on Lap 22. Although Davies retained the lead exiting pit road, Parker would stay glued to his spoiler through the first part of the next run while Alfalla and Wood swapped third place a couple of times before the championship leader took control of the spot. Not content with third, Alfalla duly reeled-in Parker and grabbed the runner-up spot on Lap 51.
Earlier, the leaders opted to stay on track during a Lap 34 caution as defending series champion Richard Towler and 2011 championship contenders Thomas Hazard and Tyler Hudson went “off sequence” and stopped for fuel and tires. Thus when Davies, Alfalla and Parker made their final stops around Lap 58, Towler, Hazard and Hudson took over the top three spots. What’s more, Alfalla was so quick on and off pit road, that he leap-frogged past Davies as the erstwhile leaders returned to the race track.
While Towler, Hazard and Hudson prayed for a caution that never came, Davies nibbled into Alfalla’s margin tenth by tenth as the laps wound down. As first Towler, then Hazard and finally Hudson headed for the pits, Alfalla moved into a tenuous lead on Lap 72, with Davies filling his mirrors.
Try as he might, Alfalla could not hold off the hard-charging Davies as the 2010 series runner-up used a good run off of Turn Four to take the lead with five laps remaining. Alfalla kept-up the pressure but could never get close enough to mount a serious comeback attempt, and Davies took the checkered flag with a .2s margin of victory over the series points leader. Parker was third, a distant four seconds back of the leaders, while Josh Berry had a nice drive from fifteenth starting spot to finish fourth. Brad Wright continued his impressive season with another top five, ahead of Steve Sheehan and Wood, with Towler’s combination of speed and strategy netting an eighth place finish ahead of Brian Schoenburg and John Gorlinsky.
The second place effort helped Alfalla (434 points) in the chase for the title as he now holds a healthy 31 point cushion over new second place man Wright (403). Hazard (401) dropped to third in the standings after coming home 16th while Hudson (367) also dropped to fifth behind Schoenburg (381) thanks to a 26th place finish.
The race also marked the end of an era of sorts, as the NASCAR iRacing.com Series World Championship expects to debut a new tire in two weeks at Atlanta Motor Speedway. This throws the drivers a brand new challenge and, with just six races remaining in the season, it will be make or break time for many competitors – those looking to finish in the top 25 in points and a guaranteed spot in the 2012 series, as well as those with designs on the 2011 title. Alfalla appears to be in the driver’s seat as the series heads to Atlanta, but now is no time to let his guard down. It is either adapt to the new tires or be left in the dust, and six races leaves plenty of time for strange things to happen. Tune into www.iRacing.com in two weeks’ time for what promises to be a race for the ages!