Bristol Motor Speedway has quite an odd relationship with the racing community. Everyone acknowledges the excitement that the unique 30 degree banking of Tennessee’s most popular oval track brings, with speeds not seen at most short tracks around the country (with hot tempers to boot). While the acknowledgement may be there, not every driver is willing to roll the dice to come out and grid at this “edge of your seat” oval, where reaction times are significantly lessened, as for many, coming off the turns means not only hitting your marks but saying a prayer as well. A true love-it-or-hate-it track, Bristol hosted the 6th week of the iRacing.com Sprint Car Series, and plenty of action was seen on the “World’s Fastest Half-Mile” with the 800 horsepower sprint car.
One of the few safest events that the course would see during the week, qualifying was led by Fred Lampela, blazing a time of 13.662s. Trailing almost a full tenth of a second behind, Vinnie Sansone would sit second on the qualifying charts. While still missing a few regulars, 36 drivers attempted qualifying, and 92 race entries would be placed throughout the seven races that went official.
The action started on Monday, with a field of 16 cars taking the green to start the week. Steve Linder led the field to the green flag and proceeded to put distance between himself and iSCS veteran Michael Willard2, but on Lap 3, Turn 2 had other plans. Linder lost control on exit and after trying to straighten out his ride, crashed into the inside retaining wall, causing significant damage to the left side of his machine. Linder was able to pull off the track without the yellow being shown, but on Lap 4, Cody White3 lost control as his sprint car snapped hard towards the outside wall in T2, collecting Justin Bankowski as the car drifted down the track’s banking. The field geared up for another green flag run on Lap 10, this time with Willard2 on point. Those spectating the race would see USAC rising star Christopher Bell, who bested Kyle Larson during Indiana’s Midget Week, move through the field after starting 12th. While battling Eddie Walczyk for 5th, Bell almost found himself in the garage area after getting snagged on Walczyk’s rear tire. Bell was able to break loose from the entanglement, but spun Walczyk in the process, ending Eddie’s night. Shortly after the second caution of the night, Cole Anderson spun in Turn 4, bringing out the third yellow of the event. The last restart of the night came on Lap 32, and with Willard2 and Michael Linder leading the way, competition was coming fast behind them. Driving with a slightly bruised sprint, Bell advanced all the way up to the third position and begun to challenge Linder for second place. With only five laps remaining, trouble hit as Bell got loose off of the unpopular T2, snapping into the outside retaining wall and flipping violently down the backstretch. No doubt a mistake by the iRacing AI official, no caution was shown for the incident, and the race ended under green, with Willard2 earning the win and Linder placing second. Fritz Kletke completed the podium with a third place run, with David Cumbo Jr. finishing in fourth. Cole Anderson overcame his earlier spin to finish fifth, two laps down.
Tuesday and Thursday held the biggest strength-of-field races of the week, as per the norm for the iSCS. When the drivers gridded up for the top split event on Tuesday (3144 SOF), Lampela hadn’t achieved his top qualification time for the week, which put Sansone on the pole position. After the green flag dropped, Sansone led an 11-car field through 22 caution-free laps until Florian Godard spun, collecting Cole Anderson. The yellow flag was displayed, bunching the field back up again and giving Pro-class driver PJ Stergios, a regular in the iSCS, another shot at getting around Sansone for the lead. The race went green on Lap 29, with the field able to go to the checkered flag without any more cautions, even though Todd Taylor2 hit the front-stretch wall and stopped near the exit of pit road. Vinnie Sansone was crowned the winner as the 50-lap race concluded, with Stergios trailing close behind in second by .495 seconds. Michael Linder had another incident-free race for his season, finding himself in third place ahead of the driver who beat him in Monday’s thriller, Michael Willard2. Coon Landry completed the top five with a respectable incident-free run.
Thursday featured another showdown between Sansone and Lampela, with Fred earning the pole for the event. The yellow flag was quickly displayed on Lap 3 after Mark Hephner collided with the stopped vehicle of Anderson, who had hit the wall and wasn’t able to get the car out of the way of traffic. With the only caution of the night done for, the drivers went back to racing for a long green flag run. Things got heated at the head of the pack, as Sansone attempted multiple times to find a hole to get past Lampela. On Lap 19, As Sansone found the hole he wanted going into T3, Lampela cut down onto Sansone’s sprint. As the wheels touched and the smoke was briefly displayed, Sansone’s sprint took a sharp dive up the banking. He was able to keep control of the car, however, and kept it off of the wall to continue his pursuit of Lampela, albeit with a damaged vehicle. As the laps closed down, Sansone wasn’t able to catch Lampela, and Fred went on to win Thursday’s main event. Michael Willard2 completed the podium in third, with Coon Landry in fourth. Leila Wilson re-entered the spotlight with an impressive top 5 performance after starting back in tenth position.
There were many other highlights through the week as well. Mark Hephner took on the high banks in the second split event on Tuesday and came out a winner, leading all but three laps of the event. He finished less than a second ahead of Daniel Muse, with the podium also being shared with Chet Wheeler Jr., driving the fan-favorite Grave Digger sprint car. Nicholas Howard, arguably the most promising rookie of this season, also left Bristol with his second iSCS win in the second split on Thursday. After a duel between himself and Jonathan Carrigan, Howard led 22 laps to take the victory over Carrigan – again, by less than a second. In the last official race of the week, however, Howard wasn’t able to chase down the likes of Lampela, who took his second win of the week over Howard by 6 seconds. Michael Willard2, who won Wednesday’s race as well, scored a highly improbable run during the week. With four top 5 finishes, Willard2 also escaped Bristol with zero incident points to his name.
Heading into New Hampshire Motor Speedway for Week 7, drivers will be able to escape the tension of the high banked short track to comfortably record fast laps on a flatter, longer oval. The battle for the championship continues to heat up, with Sansone leading Lampela by just 38 points. Chances are high that Alan Binder will return for Week 7, but will Sansone be victorious at the Magic Mile? Will Lampela be able to overtake the small points margin to grab the top spot? Find out soon on iRN!
iSCS 2013 S2 CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS
1. Vinnie Sansone (962)
2. Fred Lampela (-38)
3. Steve Linder (-275)
4. Cap Henry (-306)
5. Alan Binder (-409)