May 18th, 2016 by Corey Davis
After 16 races over a four-month period, the ITSR Power Series entered its season finale with a tight points battle – just nine markers separated the top three drivers in the standings – and a legendary venue in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where an online racing champion would be crowned.
Qualifying promised to be important at the Brickyard, where passing is decidedly difficult. The pole position went not to one of the title contenders, but to a driver hoping to play the role of spoiler in the season finale. Defending rookie of the year Matt Delk turned a fast qualifying lap of 49.455 seconds to start in first place.
Points leader Corey Davis qualified a tenth behind Delk to start second, followed by David Boden and Matt Delk. Four-time series champion Tim Johnston, who entered the race nine points behind Davis, started fifth ahead of teammates Brian Motisko and Mike Kelley, who was second in points and in search of his first series title.
Delk led the field of 20 sim racers to the green flag under overcast skies in Indianapolis. In the early laps, Davis stayed right on his bumper and the two opened a 1.5-second gap over the hard-charging duo of Johnston and Kelley.
The race’s first yellow flag flew on Lap 15 when David Correia spun exiting Turn 4 and ricocheted from the inside wall to the outside, damaging his #25 Ford. The leaders all took that opportunity to hit pit road, but the order was unchanged after the stops, with Delk holding the lead.
On the restart, the leaders shuffled behind Delk as Davis couldn’t hold his runner-up position on the outside, allowing both Johnston and Kelley to get past. The following lap, the caution came out again after James Coulibaly slid up into Scott Simley’s car in Turn 1, collecting three other cars in the process.
Under that caution, the first strategy play began among the title contenders, who were all looking for valuable bonus points on offer for leading a lap and leading the most laps. While Delk pitted, the three championship assailants all stayed on track, giving Johnston the lead and an extra point in the standings.
When the race went back to green-flag racing, Johnston led Kelley, Davis, and Delk as the leading foursome opened up a gap ahead of fifth-place Dean Moll. Although none of them could pass Johnston on the track, he headed to pit road for a green-flag stop on Lap 38, which handed the lead and a bonus point to Kelley before he stopped three laps later.
After the pit stops cycled through, Johnston found himself back out front with a 2.5-second lead over Kelley and Davis, who battled leaving pit road and on the track for the next five laps. Kelley eventually took the position while Davis fell in behind him and Delk closed in on them both.
The final round of pit stops began on Lap 60 in the 80-lap race. Johnston and Kelley were the first to pit, with Delk following one lap later. That left Davis on track to pick up a bonus point for leading a lap. However, his extra laps on older tires and a bobble exiting the pits dropped him out of the battle for the win.
As the race entered the final 15 laps, Johnston continued to lead but Kelley closed to just two car lengths behind him. With Delk in third and Davis in fourth, the points were tied between Kelley and Davis – a familiar position for them, as they finished Power Series season 8 tied atop the standings with Davis winning on the tiebreaker.
Davis again held the tiebreaker in this case, which meant Kelley needed to find a way past Johnston to win the race. As the laps wound down, though, Kelley’s valiant effort to catch the leader wore out his tires, and Delk eventually moved through to second place on Lap 75.
In the closing laps, Johnston’s nearly two-second lead held firm and he scored the victory after leading the most laps. With a perfect points total in the race, Johnston did everything he could do to make up ground in the standings. But as the rest of the field crossed the yard of bricks for the final time – Delk in second, Kelley in third, and Davis in fourth – it was points leader Davis who had done enough to capture his second series championship, this time by a single point over Kelley and by four ahead of Johnston.
For four-time champion Johnston, the Indy result was a show of strength, and perhaps a sign of what could’ve been. Despite winning four races including the finale, Johnston also had four finishes of tenth or worse, including the late-season race at Talladega that saw him cross the finish line sideways after a last-lap spin.
For Kelley, the ending of the season was nothing short of a disappointment; “to say I’m gutted,” he said, “would be a bit of an understatement.” His double-digit points lead was erased in the final three events, with the biggest blow coming at Charlotte, where he suffered electrical problems while contending for the lead and fell a lap down.
And for Davis, the championship marked a bounce-back from a miserable season 10 in which he finished a career-worst seventh in points. Two DNFs in the first three races of season 11 nearly jeopardized his chances early on, but after that, he never finished worse than seventh en route to the top of the standings.
Behind the top three in points, a trio of race winners brought home the next three positions. Delk finished fourth in his sophomore season with Simley fifth and Moll in sixth. Brad Collins was eighth in the final standings, followed by Terry McCuin, Adam Hallock, and Bobby Terrell.
With this season in the books, the start of the next one is just around the corner. The Power Series opens its 12th season on, appropriately enough, June 12th at the Michigan International Speedway. When the green flag flies on the new season, motivation will be high for the champion to defend his crown and for nearly two dozen other drivers to take it away.