Thomas Hazard took the victory at Bristol Motor Speedway in Round Three of the NASCAR iRacing.com Series World Championship (NiSWC), holding-off teammate Josh Berry during a flurry of late race restarts. Hazard spent nearly every lap of the race running in the top five, just biding his time. He made his move on the long green flag run in the middle of the race, taking the lead from Brad Wright on Lap 156. Although several cautions late in the race bunched the field, no one could get by Hazard, who moved into second in the NiSWC standings with the victory.
The race was a typical short track online race: early cautions, a long run in the middle, and several cautions at the end. With Bristol already a bit short on racing room, a rule change earlier in the week increasing the number of cars from 40 to 43, left everyone was on edge wondering what would be in store with an extra three cars taking the green flag.
Track position has been everything so far this season, so drivers put maximum effort into their qualifying setups. Derek Wood continued his strong qualifying form so far this season by scoring his second pole. Wood led the field to the green and stayed there until the first caution and accompanying pit stop. This set off a trend of pit stops changing the lead of the race, as passing for the lead was nearly impossible after a few laps went by into a run.
“Track position was extremely crucial as it was nearly impossible to pass the entire race.” – Thomas Hazard
The first 90 laps of the race were littered with spins, crashes, and broken race cars. Several contenders were taken out of the running by misfortune including outside pole sitter Connor Mackenzie as well as Daniel Pope and Thomas Lewandowski. Once the century mark was reached, the field settled down for a long green flag run which separated the contenders from the pretenders with Ray Alfalla joining Berry, Hazard, and Wright in a four car breakaway at the front.
Lapped traffic proved very difficult all day, especially when everyone was on old tires. The only way to pass was to wait for the driver in front to make a mistake . . . or to use the front bumper. Hazard did just that while trying to lap Ben Sexton, making contact and spinning Sexton around. The resulting caution led to wholesale pit stops, with Hazard beating his foes back onto the track in what turned-out to be the winning move.
The last 80 laps were full of short runs and more crashes as patience wore thin. The inside line was definitely the place to be on the restarts as the bottom groove was clearly faster. The last of the 16 cautions finally ended the 2 hour, 250 lap marathon with Hazard cruising to victory under the yellow with Berry in tow.
“I had an excellent car and was able to keep it inside the top five the entire race,” Hazard said. “Track position was extremely crucial as it was nearly impossible to pass the entire race.”
Jeremy Allen, Alfalla, and Richie Davidowitz rounded-out the top five finishers, all but Alfalla representing the Main Performance team. Last season’s NiSWC top finishers, Richard Towler and Brad Davies, both struggled at Bristol, finishing twentieth and thirty-fifth respectively. Runner up Berry, always a front runner and a familiar face in victory lane, had this to say about his second place run: “I’ve never been so happy to finish second in a race.” Just goes to show how competitive the NiSWC is on a week to week basis.
“I’ve never been so happy to finish second in a race.” – Josh Berry
With his fourth place finish, Alfalla (124 points) continues to lead the points by a slim two markers over Hazard (122). Parker (114) is only ten points back of the lead while Derek Wood (104) and Chris Main (103) complete the top five after three races. Consistency is key with the new point system and with Martinsville Speedway hosting Week Four action it will not get any easier. Martinsville is even tighter quarters than Bristol which could lead to more rough and tumble racing. Alfalla and Hazard have a bit of a cushion, but with 48 hungry drivers breathing down their neck and another short track to come, now is no time to relax.