When the real-world Sprint Cup Series teams head to the Daytona International Speedway, they anticipate wrecked cars and million-dollar damage bills. When the ITSR Power Series hits the virtual high banks at the World Center of Racing, the teams often expect a very different challenge.
Entering Sunday night’s race, the past 258 laps — more than 670 miles — of simracing across three restrictor-plate events ran caution-free. For drivers hoping to win, those long stretches of close-quarters online racing punctuated by green-flag pit stops leave little room for error. Sunday night’s Power Series race at Daytona was no different, and the smallest mistakes during the race made the difference between finishing among the leaders and falling out of contention.
Before the green flag waved, the field took to the track for the always-competitive open qualifying session. After a ten-minute chess match of drafting and finding the right pack to run with, a surprising polesitter topped the speed charts. For the first time in his 150 series starts, David Correia earned the pole position with a lap of 44.551 seconds, edging Tim Johnston, Adam Hallock, John Hensley, and Terry McCuin at the front of the field.
Correia led the field of 16 simracers to the green flag, and he was the pied piper of Daytona in the opening laps, leading the inside line as the field stretched out single-file. Although Brian Motisko organized a challenge on the outside groove midway through the first fuel run, they were never able to overtake Correia for the lead.
Green-flag pit stops beginning on Lap 25 saw the first reshuffling of the race. McCuin led the frontrunners off of pit road while Correia stumbled out of his pit box, dropping him out of the lead draft. Once the cycle of stops was complete, the field was fragmented into several smaller packs: a group of five led by McCuin, another group of five led by Brad Collins, and a series of single-car and two-car groups that fell behind because of slow pit stops or pit road penalties.
As the race closed in on the midway point, the second pack caught the first, giving a group of ten cars fighting for the lead. Jeff Gilmore and Marcus Napier made a run on the outside lane, but they also failed to clear the leader as another round of green-flag stops began.
McCuin again emerged with the lead, this time trailed by his teammate and drafting partner Johnston. The lead pack was down to just eight drivers after more pit road mistakes again afflicted two of the frontrunners. As the race stayed green, the field stayed single-file, gearing up for the final round of pit stops that could make or break their chances.
For Johnston, the biggest move of the race – and, it turns out, the winning move – came not on the race track but on the entry to pit road as those final pit stops began on Lap 75. Using some late braking while slowing on the Daytona apron, Johnston nosed ahead of McCuin and Napier entering the pits and held the lead on the pit exit.
While Johnston pulled ahead, other drivers fell behind during that decisive round of pit stops. Napier overshot his pit stall, and in the race off of pit road, he along with Gilmore and Motisko slipped out of reach of the lead pack.
That left just five drivers in the front group: Johnston and McCuin leading the field, followed by Scott Simley, Corey Davis, and Collins. The 25-lap run to the finish was largely a single-file parade among this group, but when the white flag waved, Simley and Davis jumped to the outside to make a move for the win.
However, their attempt in the outer groove found no more success than those earlier in the race. With help from his teammate on the bottom lane, Johnston crossed the finish line 0.058 seconds ahead of Simley to take the victory. McCuin, Davis, and Collins rounded out the top five, all finishing within three tenths of Johnston.
After winning the previous race at Atlanta, the Daytona victory was Johnston’s second straight. That Atlanta experience could translate to more success as the series next heads to a similar mile-and-a-half circuit.
The Kentucky Speedway also features a wide, bumpy track surface, and with two previous wins at the track, Johnston will be no longshot as the Power Series prepares for its own Kentucky Derby.