April 22nd, 2016 by Corey Davis
For the second time in the past three weeks, the ITSR Power Series took to the track twice in one day for a doubleheader of online racing. The previous event at Auto Club Speedway saw one race marred by multiple cautions while the other featured long stretches of green-flag action. The latest doubleheader event at the Iowa Speedway was no different.
Clear skies, a loose setup, and Iowa’s bumpy corner exits combined to present a challenge for drivers in the daytime race. Points leader Mike Kelley mastered the tricky track conditions best in qualifying, earning the pole position with a lap of 22.773 seconds. Tim Johnston qualified just 0.001 seconds off of Kelley’s pace to start second and Matt Delk was just 0.003 seconds back, putting him third on the starting grid of 24 sim racers.
Yellow flags were the story of the first race in the doubleheader, with seven cautions slowing the field for 34 laps – nearly half of the 70-lap race distance. Several early cautions meant the front runners largely held their positions, but Johnston did find a way past Kelley on Lap 16 just before the race’s third yellow flag waved.
Under that caution, most drivers pitted despite having few green-flag laps under their belts. Johnston stayed out and held the lead while Scott Simley also stayed on track, moving from ninth to second place. However, on the following restart, Simley spun exiting Turn 2, triggering the biggest crash of the race.
At least seven cars were involved, including Kelley, who spun to the inside to avoid Simley and was eventually hit by another spinning car. After lengthy repairs under several subsequent cautions, Kelley began a charge back through the field. He was eventually joined by Johnston, who fell to the back when he pitted under caution on Lap 31.
The battle at the front of the field boiled down to Delk v Corey Davis. As the race entered its longest green-flag stretch – a 15-lap run to the finish – their two Fords pulled away from the rest of the field while engaged in their own close battle. Iowa’s progressive banking shined in the race, with Delk running a higher line to carry momentum off the corners while Davis ran lower to take the shorter way around.
Delk took the white flag just a car length ahead, but as he closed-in on the lapped car of teammate Fred Thompson exiting Turn 2, disaster struck. Delk and Thompson made contact, spinning them both and letting Davis squeeze through to take the lead and the win.
Although Davis led just one lap all race, it was the most important one, giving him his fourth win of the season. David Boden finished second ahead of Johnston, Kelley, and Dean Moll. After seeing a potential win slip away on the final lap, Delk limped home in a disappointing 12th position.
The Iowa afternoon soon turned to night, and the drivers hit the track once again with much cooler and grippier track conditions. Davis kept his momentum rolling by taking the pole for the night race with a lap of 22.151 seconds. Saif Faries, Napier, Kelley, and Delk also started inside the top five.
This race got off to a cleaner start, going green for 14 laps before the first yellow flag waved when Johnston and Napier made contact exiting Turn 4. But for polesitter and early leader Davis, the ensuing restart was one to forget.
When the green flag flew on Lap 20, Delk got by to take the lead, and the following lap, Davis slid into Moll exiting Turn 2, dropping him even further back. To add insult to injury, Davis followed Kelley in a synchronized slide out of Turn 4, putting them both at the back of the field.
Another caution on Lap 24 allowed them both to pit and re-group to make a charge back through the field. While Delk continued to lead Johnston at the front, both Kelley and Davis moved back inside the top five by Lap 39. However, another spin by Kelley on Lap 43 dropped him back in the field once again.
Meanwhile, Davis caught Brad Collins and John Hensley to set up one of the most entertaining battles of the race. Hensley was strong running the high line, so no matter which of Iowa’s multiple grooves they chose, Collins and Davis were unable to find a way past.
That battle was interrupted by another caution on Lap 62, which set the stage for the final restart of the night. Delk continued to lead over Johnston while Adam Hallock lined up third ahead of Hensley, Davis, and Collins.
Once the green flag waved, Delk moved back to the high line that he had worked successfully all evening. While Johnston gave chase, he bobbled on Lap 70, which slowed Hensley and finally gave Davis an opening to move into third place.
Inside the final five laps of the 75-lap race, one more caution came out. That locked-up the win for Delk in his determined drive following the frustrating ending to the day’s earlier race. Johnston finished second ahead of Davis, Collins, and Napier.
The Iowa twin-bill was the last chance to take a mulligan this season, as each driver’s four worst races have been dropped and the final three races will all count in the standings. That was good news for Kelley, who dropped both Iowa results after hitting the spin cycle on the short track.
Kelley thus leads the standings by eight points over Davis and ten over Johnston. Fourth-place Delk is 40 points behind, so the fight for the season 11 championship is effectively a three-horse race. There are several other close battles brewing, including ties for fifth between Moll and Simley and for eighth between Terry McCuin and Adam Hallock.
Next week’s race at Talladega Superspeedway could easily shake up the standings, as packs of cars separated by mere inches mean a big wreck could happen at any time. A crash could ruin the hopes for some while a clean race could leave drivers breathing a bit easier as the season winds down.