Thomas Hazard held-off Brian Schoenburg throughout a late, long green flag run to score his second career victory during Tuesday’s NASCAR iRacing Series World Championship race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Hazard took the lead at the three-quarter mark of the race and, while the Schoenburg kept him honest, drove to a convincing win to bolster his lead in the series points race.
It was an online race full of twists and turns, one that began with defending series champion Richard Towler winning the pole for the second consecutive race. Towler would have to take the green from pit road, however, after he was delayed by technical issues immediately prior to the start.
The chief beneficiary of Towler’s issues would be John Gorlinsky, who led the opening laps of the race in his Wrangler Impala. Jesse Atchison and Towler then moved to the front when they were the only two sim racers to stay on track during a Lap 10 caution. Although Gorlinsky quickly reasserted himself at the green as Atchison pulled to the apron in Turn One, Towler hung tough on older tires and slipped back only as far as 12th position throughout the subsequent 20 lap green run.
Josh Parker’s Suave for Men Chevy showed some early strength and passed Gorlinsky for the lead on Lap 19. Although the crew of Darlington winner Brad Wright got him the lead during the next yellow flag pit stop sequence, Parker regained the top spot on Lap 46 during another round of stops and went on to dominate the action for the best part of the next 100 laps with Ray Alfalla, Parker, Derek Wood and Wright leading the chase.
The complexion of the race completely changed on Lap 142 when Parker got caught speeding on his entry to pit road during a scheduled green flag pit stop. Further complicating matters, Alfalla and Pedro Mojica got together a lap later between Turns One and Two. The resulting yellow trapped Parker and many of the other front runners either on the tail end of the lead lap, or a full lap down, and vaulted Hazard – on pit road when the caution lights appeared – into the lead. Brad Davies was second, despite having made contact with the wall on a few occasions, with Schoenburg third from Greg Spears and Atchison.
What would be the final restart on Lap 150 saw Hazard show a clean pair of heels to the field to come home 1.5s clear of Schoenburg to take his second career NASCAR iRacing.com Series World Championship victory and bolster, albeit marginally, his series-leading points total.
“As the laps went on I kept hoping to stay green, and to my surprise we did.” — Thomas Hazard
“As the laps went on I kept hoping to stay green, and to my surprise we did,” said Hazard. “Everyone did a great job to make that happen and I am extremely surprised to have won as I had a fourth place car at best. Thanks to Main Performance PC and Obutto Gaming Cockpit for supporting us and also a big thanks to Josh Berry and Daniel Pope II for the work on the setup.”
Speaking of careers, it was a career day for Schoenburg and the InsideSimRacing.tv Impala as his runner-up finish was not only his best result yet in the series, it moved him into sixth place overall in the NASCAR iRacing.com Series World Championship standings.
Alfalla rebounded from his various adventures to salvage a third place finish, rallying from the 11th position on the final restart to minimize his points loss to Hazard by the recovery and now sits nine points back of the series leader.
Speaking of adventures, after gaining track position early in the race, Towler slipped down the order and faced a task similar to that of Alfalla in the closing stages of the race. Like Alfalla, he also delivered a late-race surge to come from ninth on the final restart to a season-best fourth place finish. Patrick Fogel was another to score a season best at Charlotte, bringing the TCSCustomDiecast.com Chevy home fifth ahead of Atchison. Some other noteworthy performances included Spears (P8), Matthew Moose (P10), Justin Lowery (P11) and Jean Costa (P12).
On the other hand, Parker and Wright were left to wonder what could have been… as they saw secure top five finishes morph into 15th and 16th place after they were trapped a lap down when the Lap 143 caution derailed their green flag pit stops.
“It feels good to be disappointed about a 16th,” said a philosophical Wright. “I felt like I was a top five car there and I backed it up by running in the top five the majority of the race, just no ending result to prove it . . . all you can do is move on and focus on next week. Congrats to Thomas (Hazard) on the win.”
This race had it all: green flag pit stops, interesting strategy, and many drivers scoring much- needed good finishes. The caution flag in this event flew just six times, and the series carries positive momentum into the rest of the season.
Next on the calendar is the Pocono Raceway on June 8th. This will be the first time the series heads to the Pennsylvania track. Look for drivers who ran well at Indianapolis last year to have a really strong package at ‘The Tricky Triangle!’
Editor’s note: Jason Lofing, iRN’s usual NiSWC correspondent, could not cover the Charlotte race. (He has a good excuse — he was on a plane to Charlotte when the race was run.) Thanks to Brian Schoenburg for pinch-hitting — good job on the story, not to mention on the race track!