June 23rd, 2016 by Corey Davis
The last time the ITSR Power Series raced at the Atlanta Motor Speedway, Tim Johnston led the most laps but pancaked the Turn-4 wall while racing for the lead with 12 laps remaining. More than a year-and-a-half later, Johnston returned to Atlanta determined to reverse his luck at the track.
While he topped the speed charts in the pre-race practice, Johnston managed just second place in qualifying. Marcus Napier took the pole position with a blistering lap averaging 200.986 miles per hour around the 1.54-mile oval. Corey Davis and Scott Simley made up the second row on the starting grid of 18 sim racers.
When the green flag waved to begin 130 laps of online racing, Johnston motored around the outside of Napier to get to the race lead. His stay out front was short-lived, though, as Davis got by for the lead on Lap 4 while Johnston began saving his tires on Atlanta’s gritty high banks.
By Lap 12, Johnston reeled Davis back in and re-took the top spot, but the racing remained close among the top four drivers as the first round of green-flag pit stops approached. Fourth-place Bobby Terrell was the first to hit pit road on Lap 32, and the other leaders followed shortly thereafter.
Johnston held the lead after the cycle of stops was complete, and with more tire saving in the next run, he stretched his lead over Terrell from half a second to 2.5 seconds as the race reached the halfway mark.
While the race stayed clean and green, the next round of pit stops was anything but clean for Davis. Plagued by a sticking throttle pedal, Davis sped entering the pits and faced a 15-second penalty, which dropped him outside the top ten.
As Davis slowly clawed back positions, at the front of the field, Johnston saw his advantage narrow, with Terrell closing within one second of the leader. Their battle wasn’t the only close one on the track; after another round of pit stops, the race for fifth place heated up between Brad Collins, Bradley McLamb, and Terry McCuin.
As those three dueled for position, McCuin spun exiting Turn 4 – the same corner that claimed teammate Johnston in the last Atlanta race – to bring out the race’s one and only caution flag.
The field hit pit road one last time for fresh tires, and Johnston won the race out of the pits to keep the lead. However, for a driver whose advantage had been long-run speed, the short 14-lap run to the finish could have derailed his hopes for a win.
Those hopes were bolstered by a strong restart that kept Johnston out front. Meanwhile, the battle raged behind him between Simley and Napier. Inside the final five laps, Napier brushed the backstretch wall, which let Simley breathe a bit easier in second place and set his sights on Johnston. Meanwhile, Napier faced a new fight with Davis, who rebounded from the penalty to race into the top five.
In the closing laps, Johnston held a half-second lead over Simley and took the checkered flag to capture a long-awaited Atlanta victory. Just behind them, Napier held the third position at the finish while Davis nipped Collins in a side-by-side battle for fourth.
The rest of the top ten featured Rick Thompson, Bradley McLamb, Brian Motisko, Matt Murphy, and Kevin Stone. After running inside the top five for much of the race, Terrell slipped to eleventh at the finish due to late-race electrical issues and a last-lap crash down the backstretch.
After Johnston’s first Atlanta win since August 2013, the Power Series’ all-time wins leader looks to break another long winless skid at the next venue. His last and only win at the Daytona International Speedway came in November 2013, and despite several close calls including a second-place finish last season, he has come up short in the past five races at the track.
Of course, given the lottery-style nature of superspeedway sim racing, he’s not the only driver who will hope to find victory lane. It will take 100 laps of white-knuckled racing under the lights next Sunday to see who prevails in the virtual Florida summer night.