For any driver, the high banks and high speeds of Talladega Superspeedway can present a daunting challenge. For drivers in the ITSR Power Series entering last Sunday’s race at the track, that challenge was magnified by close points battles with no more safety nets in the standings as the season entered its final three races of sim racing.
The race before the race happened in the open qualifying session, where drivers jockeyed for position in packs and tried to time their runs to put up a quick lap. Matt Delk mastered the draft en route to the pole position with a lap of 47.631 seconds. Saif Faries, Kevin Stone, Corey Davis, and Marcus Napier lined up behind him in the starting field of 27 sim racers.
As the first of 95 laps began around the 2.66-mile superspeedway, Delk led the charge up front and most of the field slotted in behind him on the low line. There were some takers on the high groove, though, particularly a group consisting of J. Randall Watkins and iRacing Today Motorsports drivers Adam Hallock along with Dean Moll, and defending series champion Chad Dalton.
That outside line reached as high as second place, but they fell back as the first round of green-flag pit stops began around Lap 25. A mix of pit strategy and timing saw the field split from one large pack into two smaller ones. The pairing of Napier and Jeff S. Davis led the front pack of 12 cars while points leader Mike Kelley headed up the trailing pack of seven cars.
As the race continued under the green flag, a battle brewed among the leaders. Looking to get back to the front, Delk led an outside attack aided by Dalton and Brad Collins. Their group was also able to get alongside Napier but couldn’t quite edge ahead into the lead.
Napier and Jeff Davis began the second round of pit stops on Lap 52, but both overshot their pit stalls and incurred speeding penalties, which dropped them from the front of the field to the tail-end of the lead lap.
They weren’t the only sim racers to fall back during the pit sequence. Title contender Tim Johnston took four tires while the rest of the leaders changed just two. That dropped him from the lead pack to the Kelley-led second group, which expanded to as many as ten drivers as the race crossed the two-thirds mark.
Up front, the lead fell to Faries, who spearheaded a Ford alliance consisting of Corey Davis and Delk. When the final round of pit stops began on Lap 73, the Ford trio was the first to hit pit road. However, only two of them – Faries and Davis – emerged together, as Delk overshot his pit stall and couldn’t catch the lead draft once pit stops were completed.
While Delk slid back to join Kelley, Johnston, and others in the second pack, the leading group built a nine-second advantage with a mix of lead-lap and lap-down cars. The pairing of Jeff Davis and Napier led the group, still clinging to the tail-end of the lead lap, while Corey Davis and Faries held the top two positions in the race.
That lead group stayed single-file until the final three laps. When Corey Davis moved off the yellow line to get air to the radiator of his virtual Ford Fusion, Faries pounced, slotting in below Davis to take the lead. With little help on the outside, Davis slid back as the white flag waved while Faries held the race lead.
Exiting Turn 4 for the final time, second-place Dalton blew his engine, which gave Faries the gap he needed behind him to secure the win. Davis crossed the line in second, just edging Scott Simley for the position. Moll was fourth and Dalton crossed the finish line in fifth with smoke pouring from his detonated virtual engine.
There was also a battle in the second pack coming to the checkered flag. Delk led Kelley across the line to finish sixth, and behind them, a three-wide battle for eighth place ended with contact between Johnston, Terry McCuin, and Bobby Terrell. Terrell finished eighth and McCuin was ninth, while Johnston spun across the finish line in tenth place.
That incident was one of a very few in the caution-free race. Since the “Big One” never struck, sixteen cars finished on the lead lap and just two drivers failed to finish.
In Victory Lane, Faries was all smiles after collecting his tenth career Power Series victory and his first since August 2014 at Rockingham. The other big winner of the night was Davis, whose second-place result brought him to within three points of Kelley atop the point standings. Johnston’s late-race spin dropped him to 13 points back.
Although Talladega was the biggest wildcard among the final three races, the two remaining events each bring their own challenges. Next week’s race hits the fast but narrow Charlotte Motor Speedway, while the venue for the season finale is unknown and will be decided by an ongoing driver vote. With those obstacles in place, the pressure built in Talladega will only ratchet-up as the season winds to a close.