With his hopes for a NASCAR PEAK Antifreeze Series Powered by iRacing.com championship fading in the past couple of races, Nick Ottinger showed he is not out of the fight yet with a dominating performance at Richmond International Raceway. Starting fourth, Ottinger wasted no time moving to the lead, then paced the field for 153 of 200 laps on his way to the win. Adam Gilliland finished second, followed by Ray Alfalla. Matt Bussa and PJ Stergios finished fourth and fifth to round out the top five.
Alfalla started from the pole and, like Ottinger, was hoping to gain ground on series points leader Michael Conti. Alfalla’s car was good on the short run but fell off the pace once the tires started to wear. Ottinger, on the other hand, got stronger as the laps wore on and it was clear no one else in the field could keep pace.
As Alfalla and Ottinger battled up front, Conti was stuck back in the pack after qualifying a disappointing fourteenth. It was a surprising performance by Conti, who always seems to run at the front on short tracks and nearly won at Richmond last year before a late-race crash derailed his chances at the victory. Things didn’t get any better for Conti once last night’s race started, as he was unable to make significant progress through the field during the first half of the race while battling a very tight race car.
With no caution flags early in the going, Conti had no choice but to soldier-on while watching Ottinger and Alfalla drive away. He would eventually catch a break, but the race was more than three-fourths of the way through when things went his way.
The race looked like it could go caution-free for much of the evening but the yellow flag finally flew on Lap 156 when Brandon Schmidt got loose off of Turn Two and hit the back straightaway wall. Moments after the green flag waved again, a multi-car accident triggered a second caution and the sim racing did not resume in earnest until Lap 168.
The back-to-back cautions gave the field one more shot at Ottinger, but it did not matter as his car was simply too good. On the ensuing restart, Ottinger quickly jumped out to a five car length advantage and held station while the rest of the leaders fought for second.
The yellows were a blessing for Conti as he able to make adjustments to his ill-handling car. The changes helped as Conti used some skillful moves on the restarts to move to tenth. Still, P10 had to be quite a bitter disappointment for the championship leader, although he did well to limit the damage on a night that his car clearly could not run with the leaders.
Richmond continued the recent trend in NASCAR PEAK Antifreeze Series races of long green flag runs and few cautions. RIR is notorious for spins, crashes, and hot tempers but the caution waved only twice, following up back-to-back caution-free races at Atlanta and Watkins Glen.
Despite his subpar finish, Conti retains the championship lead over Alfalla. With just two races remaining, Conti holds a 17 point edge over Alfalla with Ottinger inching closer, now just 21 back of the lead. Chad Laughton and Chris Overland are fourth and fifth, but are well out of the running for the title unless something catastrophic happens to the top three.
Richmond marked the last short track of the season as the series now heads to Darlington Raceway for the penultimate race on the calendar. Conti, who was very strong at Atlanta, should be an early favorite but Alfalla and Ottinger will be putting-in extra time trying to gain an edge. Conti will be looking to build his margin for the Homestead finale but Darlington’s tricky turns can reach out and grab even the most experienced drivers. With the points so close, the top three cannot let their guard down for even a corner. Will it come down to a three-way fight to the finish? Or will Darlington claim one or more of the front runners before the checkers? Find out in two weeks on iRacing Live!