The high banks of Daytona International Speedway welcomed the ITSR Power Series last Sunday night, and their race under the lights delivered 300 miles of bumper-to-bumper, door-to-door sim racing action.
Before the race began, the qualifying session saw several small packs of cars form, with each trying to time their runs on one other to maximize the draft. John Higman Jr.’s fast lap of 203.827 mph gave him the pole position, with Marcus Napier starting outside the front row of the 32-car grid.
In the opening laps of the race, the bottom line led by Higman pulled ahead of the outside charge, led first by Napier and later by Chad Dalton. The early action was halted on Lap 21 when Dalton and Brian Harvey got together in Turn 3, bringing-out the first caution.
Hensley Motorsports teammates Terry McCuin and Tim Johnston took just two tires in the pits, putting them up front for the restart ahead of Higman. Behind them, the field strung out mostly single file, logging laps as the race passed the 40 lap mark. The outside lane eventually re-formed, led by Turn 1 Heroes teammates Mike Kelley and Brian Motisko. They pulled even with McCuin, but the first round of green-flag pit stops interrupted their battle at the front.
The pit stops shuffled the running order, with Kelley assuming the lead ahead of Matt Murphy, Napier, Sergio Abella, and Higman. After another run of mostly single-file racing, the next round of green-flag pit stops saw drivers like Scott Simley move forward while others, including Murphy, slid back. However, Kelley retained the lead as the race entered the final 100 miles.
Several drivers worked the outside lane to move toward the front, and Sergio Abella succeeded in taking the lead with help from Higman. The trio of Kelley, Corey Davis, and Kyle Guerry then went outside looking to re-gain the top spots.
As the lead cars raced side-by-side, Guerry and Simley made contact on Lap 93, sending race-long contender Guerry sliding out of Turn 2 and into the path of Johnston’s car. Although it didn’t bring out a caution, the resulting damage to their cars took both drivers out of contention and ended Johnston’s season-opening win streak after two races.
Just ahead of that incident, Kelley re-took the lead before the final round of green-flag stops began on Lap 103. The top four drivers entered the pits together, so it became a race of strategy to determine who would emerge with the lead.
Davis and Simley took only a splash of fuel while Kelley and McCuin each changed two tires. That put Davis and Simley ahead, but they were quickly caught by Kelley and company in the draft, and Kelley again used the outside lane to vault into first place.
As the laps wound down, the lead pack of five cars was eventually caught by the second pack headed up by Napier. With five laps to go, Napier had a head of steam on the outside. Davis and Higman jumped in front, hoping to ride the momentum into the lead, but contact in Turn 3 between Napier and McCuin put them both in the wall and brought out the race-ending yellow flag.
When the caution flew, Kelley’s #2 Chevrolet was half a car length ahead of Davis’s #70 Ford, securing the victory for the Nebraskan after he started in 27th place. Davis, Simley, Higman, and Motisko rounded out the top five.
Kelley also moved atop the championship standings after points leaders Johnston and Dalton struggled, finishing 15th and 32nd, respectively. Those two drivers will look to rebound next week at Kentucky, where they’re both former winners in the Power Series.