The greatest wild card in the ITSR Power Series championship battle came on the unpredictable high banks of Talladega Superspeedway, where a tricky aero package made maneuvering in the draft even more challenging for the 31 sim racers who started the race.
The field was led to the green flag by Rick Thompson, as he and his Speed Mafia teammates Brad Collins and Matt Delk captured three of the top four starting spots in the open qualifying session. Brian Motisko qualified third and Doug Heveron gridded in fifth before 95 laps of online racing excitement began.
Thompson paced the field on the low line in the opening laps, but on Lap 5, the high line headed by Motisko surged ahead and put the #9 car into the race lead. The revolving door of leaders continued on Lap 13, when Adam Hallock, Heveron, and title hopeful Delk traded the top spot on consecutive laps.
The battle up front finally cooled off when the race’s first caution flew on Lap 17 for contact between Marcus Napier and Bradley McLamb in the hectic midfield. Jose Gonzalez stayed out under the caution to take the lead, but on the ensuing restart, another strong outside run from Delk put his #6 Ford back into first.
Delk and Gonzalez continued to trade the lead over the next five laps before another leader emerged. On Lap 27, points leader Chad Dalton used a push from Delk to take the top spot. However, his lead was short-lived as contact on the following lap between Motisko and Gonzalez collected at least four other cars and brought out the race’s second caution.
After the restart on Lap 33, the race went green for the next 63 laps until the finish. That meant track position and pit strategy played important roles in determining who would fight for the win, and the driver with the best track position on the restart was leader Daniel E. Eberhardt, making just his third career start with the series.
Eberhardt led until hitting pit road for a green-flag stop on Lap 55. By virtue of being part of the first group of cars to receive service, Eberhardt and three other drivers – Justin Michael, Tim Johnston, and John Hensley – had a two-second lead after the cycle of stops that ballooned to more than 11 seconds when the next round of pit stops began on Lap 80.
For the all-important final stop of the race, Eberhardt and Michael took only fuel while Johnston and Hensley changed two tires, which cost them three seconds on the track. Behind those four lead cars, another pair – title contenders Dalton and Delk — fought for fifth place and the valuable point that came with it.
In the closing laps, the leaders rounded-up the lapped cars of Collins and Motisko, and the battle for the win came down to two tandems: Eberhardt and Motisko on the bottom, and Michael and Collins on top. At the finish line, Eberhardt had a ten-foot advantage over Michael, earning him his first Power Series win.
More than seven seconds behind the lead battle, Johnston led Hensley across the line to take third place, and more than 13 seconds behind them, Delk held off Dalton for fifth place. Tom Emasie finished seventh as the only other car on the lead lap.
Since Dalton kept his closest points rival in his sights all the way to the finish, he preserved a sizable 22-point lead over Delk and a 25-point lead over Johnston after the race. Dalton needs to finish only 20th at Charlotte to capture his first series championship, but the fight for a race win and championship glory will certainly last all 166 laps in next week’s finale under the lights.