After a late-race slide at Pocono cost Nick Ottinger a shot at the win, the hottest driver in the 2013 NASCAR iRacing Series World Championship season rebounded with an impressive victory at Kentucky Speedway. Ottinger took the lead for the first time on Lap 68 and led the rest of the way, barely holding-off polesitter Michael Conti on a Green-White-Checker finish.
The duel for the win was set-up by the eighth caution of the race, which gave Conti one more chance to grab the victory from Ottinger. Conti timed the restart perfectly and ran side-by-side with Ottinger through Turns One and Two. Pocono winner Ray Alfalla also joined the fight as the leaders dove off into Turn Three, heading for the white flag. However, another crash in the back of the field brought out the ninth and final caution, freezing the field and securing Ottinger’s victory by less than a car length.
Conti was second and Alfalla was third. Byron Daley had one of his best runs of the season with a fourth place finish and Brian Schoenburg bounced back from a last lap crash at Pocono to grab fifth. Marcus Lindsey just missed-out on another top five, coming home sixth after running near the front most of the evening.
Ottinger started twelfth, not great by his standards, but quickly worked his way through the field. On the first two pit stops during early yellow flags, Ottinger chose to go the conservative route and took four tires on both trips down pit road. This turned out to be a great call as the online race went green for nearly 70 laps after the second pit stop, which had seen many drivers opt for just two tires in order to gain track position. Taking advantage of his four fresh tires, Ottinger quickly worked past the drivers who had only taken right sides on the previous stop. Although Conti was on the same strategy and had plenty of speed, Ottinger was never passed on the track again and went on to lead 96 of 167 laps.
In the early going it looked as if Conti was the favorite to win. He led 46 laps and was consistently the fastest car on the track. Unfortunately, when he and Ottinger found themselves back in traffic after a round of pit stops Ottinger got through the traffic better and Conti was left staring at the Rheem Chevy’s rear bumper the rest of the way.
Ottinger’s fourth win of the season also helped him gain ground in the championship standings. Tyler Hudson still holds the lead, but following his eight place run at Kentucky, his margin over Ottinger has dwindled to 11 points. Alfalla also gained some ground and is now third in the standings, 19 markers back. Schoenburg is fourth, just four points back of Alfalla and three points ahead of Lindsey, who is fifth.
As the first half of the season has come to a close, consistency has been the name of the game. Five drivers still have a legitimate shot at the championship at $10,500 prize, with Conti also may have an outside shot due to him currently having a zero as a drop week.
Hudson has been on another level of consistency thus far, which could be tough to beat. Despite no wins and only two top fives, his average finish is ninth and he always seems to be a factor at the end. The competition will be stiff though as the top five is chock full of NiSWC experience.
Hudson will try to keep his points lead as the second half of the season kicks off at the most unpredictable of race tracks: Talladega Superspeedway. It is the race that anyone can win, and nowhere on the track is safe. An early crash could take out any one of the championship front runners and put a major speed bump in their quest for the title, but a win could do wonders for their chances.
Could this be the week Hudson or Schoenburg finally reach victory lane in the NiSWC? Or will we see another surprise, first time winner in the series as we did when Adam Gilliland took the checkered flag at Daytona earlier this year? Tune into iRacing Live and MRN.com for thrilling superspeedway action from Talladega!