Steve Sheehan put on a show Tuesday night at Michigan International Speedway, winning his second straight NASCAR iRacing.com Series World Championship race in commanding fashion from Derek Wood and Richard Towler. Sheehan qualified on the pole and had the dominant car on a short run. That turned-out to be the winning combination as eight cautions flew during the 100 lap online race, making good short runs the key to a good finish. Some contenders, however, would find trouble on the extremely slick race track . . .
Sheehan made good use of his pole position and sprinted into the lead at the start of the race. The first caution came on Lap 13 as Jordan Erickson got into Joshua Laughton, sending Laughton sliding through the grass and collecting Darrin Stevens and Jameson Spies in the process. Sheehan and Brad Wright led the field to the restart and swapped the lead back and forth but that battle was quickly interrupted by another yellow as a big wreck erupted behind them on Lap 26.
Wood got into Turn Three too hot and ran over John Gorlinsky, sparking a chain reaction accident that ended series point leader Ray Alfalla’s day and relegated him to a forty-first place finish. Thomas Hazard, Alfalla’s closest pursuer in the championship hunt, damaged his front end in heavy contact with Brian Schoenburg as the two drivers tried to avoid the wreck.
The leaders stayed on track under the yellow and, once again, Sheehan led the field to the green flag. The race stayed green despite a spin on the back straightaway by Josh Berry that threatened to ruin his day. The long run did not favor Sheehan’s car and he fell back to fifth behind Towler, Wood, Brad Davies and Thomas Lewandowski. Sheehan needed a yellow fast and he got his wish on Lap 56 as a solo spin by Bryan Blackford slowed the field, allowing the leaders to duck to pit road for some much-needed tires.
Sheehan had an amazing stop, going from fifth to first, and putting himself in the driver’s seat yet again. The remainder of the event was repeatedly interrupted by cautions as the racing picked-up a few notches as the drivers could smell the checkers. A caution on Lap 73 gave Sheehan’s pursuers one more shot at grabbing the lead on pit row but no one’s crew rose to the occasion.
Meanwhile, back in the field Schoenburg and Berry took the wave around and looked poised to salvage good finishes. A massive accident on the restart helped their cause, as more than a dozen cars crashed moments after the green flag waved, giving the twosome some free spots and setting the field up for a dash to the finish with only 19 laps remaining.
Sheehan took off on the restart, building a large gap on Wood and looking like he would coast to victory. However, Wood started to close the gap with about ten laps to go and seemed poised to make the winning pass. But with five laps remaining, the eighth and final caution of the race denied Wood his chance of victory and handed Sheehan his second win in a row.
Sheehan was the first to admit that luck might have played a part in his back-to-back wins.
“I made a fairly big mistake out of Turn Four with 10 laps to go and had to back way off in order to not take the wall down, and lost half of the lead I had built up… so that alone put Derek back in my draft, and much closer than I wanted him. If it would have gone green he would have been all over me.”
Wood settled for second and Towler continued his recent success with a third place finish, while Josh Parker and Davies rounded-out the top five. Further back, Berry and Schoenburg finished tenth and thirteenth, respectively, after charging through the field on the last run. Even in damaged race cars they would not be denied a decent result and in this series, that says a lot.
Hazard rebounded from his early accident to finish ninth and regained the points lead from Alfalla. With 358 points, he now leads Alfalla by seven markers. Wright (328) sits third while Tyler Hudson and Schoenburg continue their consistency, holding down the fourth and fifth positions with 313 and 307 points, respectively.
Next, the series shifts gears and moves on to New Hampshire Motor Speedway. “The Magic Mile” is wide and flat, making it the perfect driver’s track. The driver who finds the most grip coming off the turns will have a leg up on the competition and with a points race this close, every position is huge. Will Alfalla get back on the right track or will Hazard build a gap on top of the standings? And how about Sheehan’s bid for a three-fer? Check out the broadcast on www.iRacing.com in two weeks’ time to find out!