August 17th, 2016 by Corey Davis
As the ITSR Power Series crossed the midway point of its twelfth season, victory lane remained something of an exclusive club. Unlike Season 11, which saw five winners in the first seven races, just three sim racers – Mike Kelley, Tim Johnston, and Corey Davis – visited the winner’s circle through the first eight events this season. That trio looked to keep their winning ways intact as the series headed to two high-speed circuits in Pocono and Kansas.
The series’ visit to Pocono Raceway’s Tricky Triangle was a bit trickier than normal this season, with fog limiting visibility down the long straightaways and wide, sweeping corners. While foggy weather brought an early end to the real-world Sprint Cup Series’ visit to Pocono last month, it couldn’t stop the Power Series from completing a full 200 miles of online racing competition.
Kelley raced through the fog to snag the pole position with a lap of 52.383 seconds, edging Davis, David Boden, and Johnston. Points leader Scott Simley qualified in fifth, looking to continue a consistent season and grab his first victory.
When the green flag waved, the inside line led by Kelley got off to a strong start, and Boden moved into second entering Turn 1. By Lap 8, Davis moved back into second place, but Kelley firmly held the lead through the opening dozen laps of the race.
On Lap 12, the yellow flag waved when David Correia and Allen McEwen made contact while racing for 11th position. The caution brought the field to pit road, but Kelley retained the lead and led Davis and Johnston to the restart.
As that green-flag run continued, Kelley seemed untouchable up front while Davis faded back to third place on Lap 31. When the fuel window opened on Lap 34, Davis was the first to pit and his fresh tires gave him the race lead once Kelley and Johnston pitted two laps later.
After those stops were complete, Davis held a 2.5 second lead, but his advantage narrowed during the next run. When the final round of pit stops began with 24 laps remaining, Johnston was just 1.4 seconds behind, and despite pitting a lap after Davis and Kelley, Johnston used a quick pit stop to emerge just one second out of the lead.
As the race stayed green and the leaders worked through traffic, Johnston closed to within a second of Davis on Lap 64. However, he slowly faded in the closing laps and Davis eked out a 2.5 second lead.
Behind that fight for the win, Simley found trouble on Lap 69. Exiting Turn 2, his car slid sideways and collided with the inside wall. Although the race stayed under green, the day was done for the series’ points leader.
With three laps to go, the yellow flag waved for just the second time all race when Demonte Dotson hit the wall in the Tunnel Turn. From there, the field made the final few trips around foggy Pocono behind the pace car, with Davis crossing the line to score the victory over Johnston, Kelley, Terry McCuin, and John Hensley.
The following Sunday saw a change of weather and a change of venue as the Power Series moved to the decidedly less foggy Kansas Speedway for 133 laps of racing under the lights. One thing that didn’t change was the driver on top of the scoring charts, as Davis followed up his Pocono victory with a pole-winning lap averaging 186.7 mph. Marcus Napier, Johnston, Kelley, and Hensley completed the top five drivers on the starting grid.
In the opening laps of the race, the trio of Davis, Johnston, and Kelley distanced themselves from the rest of the field, all while engaged in their own chess match of tire saving as they rode around the high line of the 1.5-mile oval. On Lap 22, Johnston made a move for the lead, passing Davis entering Turn 3 to take over the top spot.
The first round of pit stops began on Lap 31 under the green flag, with the three leaders among the first to hit pit road. That handed the lead to Tommy Emasie, who stretched his fuel in the race-opening run. He may have also stretched his tires too far, though, as Emasie spun exiting Turn 2 on Lap 36 to bring out the race’s first yellow flag.
Johnston led through that caution and another one just eight laps later. When the race finally settled back into a green-flag rhythm, the action up front again heated up, with Davis taking the top spot on Lap 52, only to lose it again on Lap 66 as differing tire conservation strategies played out among the leaders.
Another round of green-flag stops began on Lap 75, and as the first car to pit, Kelley inherited the lead when the cycle of stops was complete. While he had a mirror full of Johnston and Kelley throughout the next run, the field began to thin out behind them. Napier ran more than 11 seconds behind the leaders in fourth place while Simley was the fifth and final car on the lead lap entering the final round of green-flag stops.
Kelley held the lead through those stops and was engaged in a close battle with Johnston when the race’s most controversial moment struck with 13 laps remaining. As Kelley looked to lap Simley entering Turn 1, Simley slid up the track into the side of Kelley’s car. That sent Simley’s car pinballing across the track, eventually colliding with innocent bystander Johnston.
Under the ensuing caution, Johnston pitted with significant right-side damage but eschewed any repairs in order to keep the lead. For the restart, Davis lined up to Johnston’s outside in second place while Napier and Kelley gridded on the second row.
When the green flag waved with eight laps remaining, Johnston got a strong start and shot to the outside entering Turn 1. A sluggish restart by Davis meant he entered the corner three-wide with Napier and Kelley. However, with Johnston’s damaged car slowing Kelley in the high lane and Napier running in the less-banked bottom groove, Davis had the advantage exiting the corner and he emerged with the lead.
From there, Davis protected the high line and took the checkered flag 0.8 seconds ahead of Napier and Kelley. Johnston limped home five seconds back in fourth place while Emasie was fifth as the last car on the lead lap.
Those two weeks of racing, capped off by the late-race drama at Kansas, saw a major shuffle in the points standings. On the strength of his back-to-back wins, Davis took over the championship lead by 7 points over Johnston and 17 over Simley. Kelley sits sixth in points after missing three races early in the season, but once the four dropped races are factored in, he should move up in the standings.
Next week, the Power Series continues its Midwestern trek, moving from Kansas to the Iowa Speedway. With short tracks known to stir up some excitement, the Kansas controversy could be the lead-in to more action involving the Power Series’ title contenders.