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Luza (2) makes the winning move on Zalenski in the NASCAR iRacing Pro Series opener.

Ryan Luza asserted himself as the early-season favorite in the NASCAR iRacing Pro Series, passing Bobby Zalenski with three laps to go en route to a win at Texas Motor Speedway. Zalenski, who led 88 of 167 laps, could not hold off the charging Luza on a restart with six laps remaining and wound-up second.

Brian Schoenburg overcame trouble early in the race to come home third, with Jarl Teien and Nolan Scott rounding-out the top five.

The fight to the finish was set up by a flurry of late caution flags for several accidents. Zalenski had been holding Luza off on the short runs between the yellows but as heat cycles piled up on the tires, Luza’s car seemed to react better than Zalenski’s. With three laps to go and Zalenski in front, Luza got a run off Turn Two, drawing alongside the leader’s Ford Fusion into Turn Three. Zalenski held station though that corner, but Luza put him away the next time through Turns One and Two.

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A series of cautions in the final laps turned the race in Luza favor.

The race started with pole-winner Keegan Leahy leading the first 11 circuits before the first caution waved and brought the leaders to pit road. Leahy won the race off pit road and retained the lead, but when the race went green again Luza passed him for the lead and looked to pull away.

Luza’s lead evaporated a short time later thanks to another caution and, while he won the race off pit road to retain the lead, he had company in the form of Zalenski who had entered the picture for the first time. On the ensuing restart Luza initially jumped out to a small lead but Zalenski was not to be denied and easily grabbed the lead for the first time. Zalenski’s short run speed at this point in the race was the class of the field, but Luza started closing on the long run and regained the lead just before Zalenski ducked to pit road for tires and fuel.

A caution shortly after the round of pit stops cycled Zalenski back to the lead but Nickolas Shelton was eager to show he had the speed to run up front too. Shelton passed Zalenski on Lap 109 and started to pull away, looking to take control of the race. Shelton continued as the head of the field through a round of green flag pit stops until the caution flew and closed ranks again.

While most of the sim racers decided to stay out Shelton opted for tires over track position. The decision was costly as he never regained the lost ground, and eventually finished fourteenth.

Luza also had a close call on Lap 144. While running third behind Garrett Lowe, Luza drove into Turn Three hard and clipped Lowe in the left rear.  The impact sent Lowe careening into his own car before crashing into the outside wall. Luza sustained right front damage in the melee but did it not appear to be hamper him on his way to the victory.

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Luza was lucky to survive this encounter with Lowe’s rear quarter panel; Lowe was not so fortunate.

The NASCAR iRacing Pro Series point standings will have a very different to those of the NASCAR-based NASCAR PEAK Antifreeze Series. iRacing’s own point system is used in the Pro Series which awards points based on the strength of field rating of the race.  Furthermore, the series has multiple splits and winners of the lower-rated splits could potentially score enough points to advance to the NASCAR PEAK Antifreeze Series.

Case in point: Santiago Tirres won the second split at Texas, scoring 340 points compared to Luza’s 382 and sits sixth in the standings. Third split winner Joe Letteriello also cracked the top-fifteen in the standings with 300 points.

Week 2 sees the series heading west to Phoenix International Raceway, one of only two tracks a mile or less in length on the schedule. Luza is off to a fast start but PIR requires a very different setup than Texas, making picking a favorite a tough task. Who will find victory lane in the Valley of the Sun? Find out next week on iRacingLive and SimRacingNews!

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