February and means only one of two things: We either have more months of bitter cold, and crazy insane winter weather . . . or spring is coming early. For anyone living in Las Vegas, well it has been spring since September. So I hope it’s not one of those blistering hot years. However, there’s one thing that Punxutawney Phil doesn’t see and that would be that the stock cars have returned to the track. As an avid NASCAR fan, I’m excited to see the racing back. The two month break is just too much for me to handle.

It’s that time of year when racers’ hearts turn to Daytona . . .

With the season kicking-off for the NASCAR teams, another season is kicking off for the iRacing motorsports simulation enthusiast like me. February is the start of the new NASCAR iRacing Series, where for 26 weeks we all will follow the same NASCAR schedule, and at the end everyone hopes to score high enough in the points to race in the iRacing Pro Series.

Race one opened-up on the 2.5 mile high banks of Daytona International Speedway. With the recent rules package adjustments, tandem sim-racing is no more and the pack is back. It’s a race of pure concentration for 200 laps, with 32 cars nose to tail, two by two 16 rows deep at speeds over 200 MPH. It’s a race where one ill-timed move will not only ruin your own race, but several sim-racers around you. The goal is to survive the Big One, so you can be there at the end. Another factor on every one’s mind is hoping that you don’t blow the motor from overheating. The tight pack racing has every one tucked in line, and with very little room to get out of line for fresh air.

The week started off with a lot of practicing, where many quickly discovered the tandems were no more and the large packs had returned. Another rude awakening for most was that improper pushing would likely send the lead car for a spin on the exit of the corners if you were not square on their bumper. Early practicing set the tone that the racing would likely be crash-filled events . . . and a lot of them at that.  That didn’t deter anyone from signing up for the virtual version of the America’s Greatest Race. Friday’s event saw 677 users register with 22 total splits. For my race recap, I’ll be focusing on the split I was placed in: Split 4 which had a total SOF of 4430.

Brandon Traino secured the pole with the outside pole occupied by Jason Loy. 29 other drivers joined Brandon and Jason in their hopes of winning the Daytona 500. It was a clean start for all drivers and Jason took the lead the opening lap. His time spent in front was brief as the outside line prevailed with Arrey Ati (who had Dalton Baldwin in tow) would led the next seven circuits around the 2.5 mile superspeedway. After Arrey and Dalton moved from the high line to the low line, I was the lead car in the high line. Jacob Harberts was second in line and was possibly the sole reason I managed to get to the front on Lap Nine. My stint was very brief, as the low line regained a little momentum back and I dropped back to third. Then the momentum shifted once again to the high side, as Jacob and I rocketed past both Arrey and Dalton on the entry to Turn Three, and I led the next four circuits before a strong group over-powered the low line, dropping me back to third.

We were only 16 laps into the race, so I wasn’t concerned with trying to lead every lap. Honestly leading them all was never on my mind. I just wanted to survive any early mayhem and be there at the end.  Sure enough, the race was slowed on lap 25 when contact from a lapped car sent several drivers to the pits for early repairs. At this point I was perfectly happy with dropping to the rear and just riding it out for the next 155 laps. The pit stop under the caution was a great opportunity to accomplish a safe measure of dropping back.

The green flag waved again on Lap 28 and we were fortunate to make it through some scary situations but the race stayed green before a melee broke out in Turn One on Lap 53, when some fast drivers were forced into a very tight three wide position. Unfortunately this is where my race would end, as I was unable to avoid the spinning lapped car. Many top names were on the flatbed to the garage. Although I was able to drive back to the pits for a lengthy 3 minutes of repairs, I had sustained heavy front end damage that greatly reduced the car’s top speed.

Attrition was taking an early toll on the race with a third of the entries in the pits for repairs or already on the hauler. I know I was greatly disappointed to have the race over so early. I’m sure the others were not pleased either. It’s the product of superspeedway racing in close quarters, where we all depend on others to not make costly mistakes.

The race would continue on for the remaining two thirds, but with only brief stints of green flag racing with Ethan Lane and Matt Sanders alternating in the lead. With another round of pit stops under the yellow flag complete, the race restarted with Matt on point. With fewer cars on the track, the pack was much smaller and was able to complete 45 laps under green. The long green flag run forced all drivers on to pit road for another round of service as Miguel Gomes, Brandon M. Thrasher joined Matt as drivers who lead laps during the 45 lap green flag stint.

With all cars serviced for another run, Matt led the field the entire stretch to the next stop. With the laps winding down, the drivers were starting to look a little aggressive. With fewer than 20 laps remaining the lead had changed hands as Brandon (Traino) powered to the front and looked like it was his race to win.

A caution would wave with six laps remaining, however, which would present one last challenge of storming off into Turn One.  The final lap saw Dalton Baldwin make a strong challenge for the lead on the back stretch. Unfortunately, contact ensued in Turn Three, resulting in a disastrous finish for both Dalton and Brandon.  Meanwhile, Al Rodriguez pushing Nathan Wise squeaked through cleanly, before Al set up a strong outside pass on Nathan coming off of Turn Four to secure himself a win in the iRacing Daytona 500 by 0.013 of a second. Topping out the top 10 were James Ray, Anthony Roselli, Corey A Wolf, Dalton Baldwin, Matt Sander, Edward Burch Jr, Brandon Traino, and Alex Kan.

The race was slowed six times for 24 laps. There were 41 lead changes among 14 different leaders; Matt Sanders would led the most laps with 83. Fastest lap goes to James Ray with a time of 43.651s.

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