Whoever said you had to qualify up front to finish there, forgot to tell James Krahula.
The Texas native raced to his first win of the season with a dominating second-half performance in the ButtKicker 200 at Richmond Raceway.
“There was no strategy in that,” said Krahula, who led 172 laps after starting 32nd. “I didn’t want to qualify in the back, I hit the wall in qualifying. But that’s what allowed me to win the race.”
Krahula pitted early and often while several accidents – including three on the opening lap – slowed the action.
After an unexpected green flag run saw early leader Chris Lanini hit pit lane, most of the lead lap cars followed. But Krahula used the extra fuel from his early stops to inherit the lead on lap 93.
One lap later, Michael Gray spun in turn two, clipping Michael Goodman and clobbering the wall. Just five drivers were on the lead lap.
After pit cycles, just 12 cars remained on the lead lap, and Krahula only lost the lead during pit cycles.
“We went green, and everyone got stuck a lap down,” Krahula said. “I got up there in the lead, and the yellows just fell perfect. I’ve said this before, but I’d rather be lucky than good.”
Dan Geren rallied to finish second, a remarkable result given how his race started.
Starting on the pole, Geren spun before taking the green – a Roberto Guerrero moment as commentator Bill “Soup” Zahn called it – and by turn one was last of the 35 cars.
But a spin by Tony Showen on the back straight, followed by Brian Greenlee’s spin in turn three, brought out a caution and allowed Geren to also play the pit strategy game while working his way back through the field.
“I said I needed to be careful on the start, and what did I do? I stepped right no it,” Geren said of his first lap spin. “I just avoided everything after. My teammates called out a few for me…I tried to get around James at the end, but the dirty air was too much to deal with.”
Justin Weaver narrowly avoided multiple incidents, including the Gray spin, to finish third.
“The car was solid tonight, it felt really good on long runs,” Weaver said. “I was trying to keep as much clean air as possible on the wings. If you got stuck behind in that dirty air, you’d have some hairy situations out there. It was a lot of fun.”
Joe Branch and Joe Hassert rounded out the top five.
Adam Blocker looked to be a serious contender, and perhaps the only driver with the pace to get around Lanini in the early going. But Blocker was caught a lap down following the green flag stops and had to work his way back through the field after getting back on the lead lap.
Blocker came home seventh, just ahead of Lanini, but opened up an eleven point lead in the standings over his Adrenaline Motorsports teammate Andrew Kinsella.
Kinsella had worked his way into the top three and even led some laps before the most controversial moment of the night.
Ian Adams, who ran in the top five early but spent most of the race trying to get back on the lead lap, drove to the inside of Kinsella on lap 212. The lapped car of Adams pushed up the track, punting Kinsella and sending the points leader hard into the wall.
Brian Yaczik maintains third in the points, but Geren closed to within three points thanks to the Michigan drivers struggles exiting the pits. Yaczik did a half-spin, suffered some damage and finished two laps down in 14th.
The race was slowed by nine cautions for 46 laps, and just ten cars finished on the lead lap.
Krahula and Lanini were the only drivers to lead double digit laps in a race that never saw a green flag pass for the lead, outside of pit cycles.
The Lionheart IndyCar Series presented by First Medical Equipment heads to North Carolina next week for the FISCH Motors 200 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The event can be seen live on the iRacing eSports Network, presented by Global SimRacing Channel, at 10:35 p.m. EST on September 26.