Everyone who drives in the NASCAR iRacing Series World Championship (NiSWC) will tell you Thomas Lewandowski knows how to find his way to victory lane. In fact, the New Yorker had visited the winner’s circle 167 times on the iRacing ovals before Tuesday night’s online race at Dover International Speedway. Still, while Lewandowski has run well in NiSWC and even finished third in the 2010 points race, none of those 167 wins had ever come in NiSWC competition.
But win number 168 proved to be a classic. Lewandowski held-off both championship leader Ray Alfalla and John Gorlinsky over the final 54 laps of a rough and tumble race, to take the checkered flag by just 0.135 of a second. In a race filled with 11 cautions and constantly changing pit strategies, Lewandowski stayed out of trouble and made all the right calls. Most importantly, he gained valuable track position when it mattered most by taking two tires on the final pit stop. It proved to be the winning move.
“All I had to do was get lucky with some cautions and hold-off Ray at the end of the race,” Lewandowski said. “I would like to thank Ray for racing me clean at the end even though I threw a couple blocks in at the end of the race and also like to say thanks to my sponsors Wrangler, Whiskey River, TaxSlayer, and to all my teammates at JRM.“
While Alfalla held-off Gorlinsky for the runner-up spot, most of the other top points contenders weren’t so lucky. Josh Parker started on the pole ahead of teammates Brad Davies and Steve Sheehan and all three looked poised to capture victory. Parker started the race strong, leading the first 65 laps before giving up the lead on a pit stop. Try as he might, Parker could never regain the track position he lost in the pits and with 51 laps to go got caught up in a big crash on the front straightaway, ending any hopes he had for a victory.
Davies looked as good, if not better than Parker and ran in the top three most of the race. It was looking like a typical Brad Davies race until a technical problem with less than 40 laps remaining put him six laps down and out of the running. Davies ended-up a disappointing twenty-eighth in what might have been the fastest car at Dover.
Sheehan looked to be on his way to a good day as well, staying in the top five most of the race. By the time it was over though, the Monster Mile had bitten him as well. Sheehan spun off of Turn Two on Lap 155 and smacked the inside wall before coming up into the groove again and collecting Jesse Atchison and Jameson Spies, both of whom were having great runs up until that point.
Spies’ wreck was quite spectacular as his number 97 Chevy turned upside down and slid on its roof from the back straight all the way to the pit entry. His take on the wreck was spiced with his usual humor.
“I was trying to crack the top ten,” Spies said, “when I saw Sheehan spinning across the track. I hesitated for a split second, then the next thing I know my oil pan was pointed sunny side up.”
Thomas Hazard, Brad Wright, Derek Wood, and Brian Schoenburg also found trouble at Dover and although they all managed to remain in the top ten in points, all lost ground on Alfalla.
Hazard looked to be finished after an early crash, but his crew never stopped working on the car and by the end of the race he was competitive again, coming home a strong seventh. Wood also got spun early and rallied back for tenth. Wright and Schoenburg were not so lucky. Wright got caught up in the wreck that eliminated Parker while Schoenburg got turned around by Lewandowski when the eventual winner had to check-up after getting into Chris Main.
The points got shaken-up a bit in all the action, but the man at the top of the heap remains the same: Ray Alfalla. His strong run moved him still closer to the 2011 championship, as he now finds himself 41 points ahead of Hazard. Wright sits 23 points back of Hazard in third but now is only one point behind Gorlinsky, who rallied from his thirty-eighth place starting spot. Davies remained in fifth despite his poor finish but will have to rebound in order to stay there.
With only three races to go, Alfalla looks to be in pretty good shape if he can keep the fenders on his car the rest of the season. The battle now may be for second and with Texas Motor Speedway next on the schedule, it is anyone’s guess to what might happen. The last 1.5 mile track saw the JRM cars dominate. Will it be more of the same, or will another new face find victory lane?