Darlington Raceway welcomed the sim-racers of the NASCAR iRacing Series for Week 8 of the open and fixed championships. Call it “The Lady in Black” or “The Track Too Touch to Tame,” Darlington has become a popular track in this series due to it being one of the toughest racetracks of NASCAR, with many of the greats earning multiple wins here in real life – including Dale Earnhardt Sr. winning an amazing 10 times. The egg–shaped oval provides a test for sim-racers in terms of driving skill and technical setup, with both being crucial to gaining good points at Darlington.
In the first of the Fixed online races this week NASCAR PEAK Antifreeze Series drivers made their respective ways to the front of the field, with Ray Alfalla taking the win of the 5033 SoF race earning 326 points. Alfalla led every single lap bar one, showcasing the pace that brought him the PRO/WC title in 2012. Brian Schoenburg finished nine seconds back from Alfalla, and this trend continued through the pack, giving the drivers room to breathe at Darlington. In third place was Josh Berry, who made up a few places from his starting spot of 11th.
Race Two of the week did not prove to be as popular as the rest, with the event only triple splitting compared to six or seven splits we normally see in the series. Nonetheless UK&I driver Alistair Topley scored the top-split win he was looking for, finishing just under 1s ahead of P2 Derrick Stone. Both drivers made their way through the field to finish at the top. With the small SoF (3075) not giving a lot of points away, even though both drivers finished well, the points they earned might not be beneficial to their series campaigns. Benelux driver Jeroen Anema clinched P3, with a gap of around seven seconds between the top three and the rest of the pack.
The third race of the Fixed week saw Simon Crochart start from the pole position, lead 174 laps and take to Victory Lane with 274 points under his belt. Blade Whitt fought Crochart all the way to the flag before settling for the runner-up spot, with the gap between the two around .3s at the end. However Crochart seemed dominant all race, with the fastest lap and an incident free race – always handy when improving your Safety Rating (SR). Although the best Steffen Nobbis could manage was third place finish, he had the distinction of being the only driver other than Crochart to lead a lap.
The final race of the week in the Fixed series saw some of the best from the Open series move across to the Fixed for a final chance at racing at Darlington. Tyler Hudson made an opportunistic move on the the final lap of the race to move ahead of Michael Conti to capture the win. Conti led 123 laps of the 184 lap race, yet was unable to keep Hudson behind him when it counted – at the finish line. Malik Ray finished third, a few seconds back from Conti. Although the top finishers collected great points, it was something of a moot point in terms of the Fixed championship as Messrs Hudson, Conti and Ray appear to be focused on the Open series.
Speaking of which . . .
In the Open setup series it was Hudson taking the Top Spot with 387 points from the 6034 SoF. In similar fashion to his Fixed win, he passed second place finisher Ray with four laps to go and never looked back – that’s why he is the reigning NASCAR PEAK Antifreeze Champion! Ray led 144 laps, yet all was not lost as a 2nd place finish still earned him 373 pts in his efforts to go for Pro. Likewise, third place finisher Tyler Hill had much to be pleased about considering he began his race in P20.
The second race of the week saw Chad Laughton once again make his way to Victory Lane as he narrowly finished ahead of Benjamin Burmeister. The gap at the end was .3s, a close finish considering the demands Darlington brings with it. Burmeister madeup places throughout the race (as he started P11) yet was unable to pass Laughton for the lead. Ray carried-on his good finishes with a run to third place in this online race, pulling off the fastest lap – as a statement to the other drivers.
Jared Crawford put on a display of dominance in the final Open race of the week, as he started on pole, clocked the fastest lap, led the most laps and went on to finish first – quite an impressive achievement in the NASCAR iRacing Series. Patrick Baldwin finished second ahead of Canada’s Nicolas Goertzen with Crawford, Baldwin and Goertzen finishing within half a second of one another. Just missing a podium finish, Kyle Crump came home a further 2.5s behind the top trio, but a fourth place could be helpful at the end of the season. Unfortunately, the points on offer weren’t high enough to allow Crawford to be on par with Hudson, but 360 is nonetheless a handy amount.
At the top of the Fixed standings after Darlington is Matt Bussa even though he has only raced seven weeks out of a possible eight. Therefore once drop weeks come into play he could potentially move even further away from the rest of the Fixed competition. Dwayne Vincent holds on to the second place spot, Vincent has been up in the top five in the standings every week, and that sort of consistency always leads to a good result at the end of the series. Steven Gilbert rounds out the top three and, with 1952 points, is 46 points behind Vincent and 117 points behind Bussa.
The gap at the top of the Open series has closed quite significantly over the past two weeks, which really puts the emphasis on how tight the competition is this year for the championship — and for the A license drivers, the coveted Black stripes. After Darlington we see a new leader of the series in Malik Ray, who takes over the top spot from Jordy Lopez Jr, with just four points separating the two. With the high SoF the Open series races generate, the points totals are larger than the Fixed series – with Ray at 2697 and Lopez Jr 2694. Benjamin Burmeister moves up to third just ahead of Justin Bolton.
In two weeks, Richmond International Raceway will host the NASCAR iRacing Series as we once again head back to short track racing. In the meantime, the series takes a week-long “Easter” break so teams and drivers have double the amount of time to get their setups and driver style sorted; fitting as Richmond is known to be a drivers racetrack.
Check out iRacingNews in a fortnight for the round-up of Richmond.