Steve Sheehan beat Ray Alfalla, John Gorlinsky and Richard Towler at Pocono Raceway for his first victory of the 2011 NASCAR iRacing.com Series World Championship season last night. Sheehan made the winning pass on pit road, which has become a common theme in an online racing series where overtaking on the track has proven increasingly difficult as the races progress. While Sheehan did not have the fastest car at Pocono, he had track position when it mattered most: during the final 20 laps when several cautions slowed the action, allowing the New Yorker to hold the lead to the finish.
The night’s most dominant car belonged to defending series champion Towler. Plagued by bad luck most of the 2011 season, Towler captured his third consecutive pole position and this time looked poised to take home a victory. Though his initial start did not go as planned, Towler took over the lead on Lap 16 from Brian Schoenburg and quickly began to build a healthy gap on the field.
Towler continued to pace the field until the next caution, which saw him lose the lead in the pits to Gorlinsky. No matter for Towler though for, when the field restarted on Lap 39, he quickly regained the top spot as a massive crash collected nearly half the field behind him. The melee was sparked when Derek Wood checked-up out of the Tunnel Turn and was hit from behind by Joshua Laughton. Both cars were sent spinning which completely blocked the track, collecting contenders such as Brad Davies, Josh Parker and Josh Berry while damaging several other cars.
The wreck thinned the field out and the race went green for the next 34 laps, which included a round of green flag stops. Towler led the leaders onto pit road, but spun when entering which allowed Alfalla to grab the lead. It appeared the race would be decided by these two drivers, but a Lap 77 caution flag set-up a 20 lap dash to the finish, as all the lead lap cars had to hit pit road one more time.
Alfalla and the rest of the leaders knew this might be their best chance to make up, or lose ground. Alfalla did the latter as his crew lost him three spots in the pits, while Sheehan’s bunch gained him three spots and the race lead.
As it turned-out Towler, Alfalla and the others did not get much of a chance to battle Sheehan for the win. Four cautions slowed the pace during the final 50 miles, including one with three laps remaining which effectively ended the race with Sheehan taking the checkers behind the pace car. Alfalla held-on to second, while Gorlinsky got around Towler for third moments before the final yellow, and Schoenburg continued his strong runs of late with a fifth place finish.
With Thomas Hazard encountering trouble and finishing a disappointing thirty-fourth at Pocono, Alfalla regains the series point lead at the halfway point of the season. Alfalla (347 points) is 22 points clear of Hazard (323) and an impressive 58 ahead of Brad Wright which is more points than can be earned in a race. With 281 points, Tyler Hudson sits just a handful of points behind Wright and Schoenburg (276) sneaks into the top five for the first time this season.
The second half of the season starts at Michigan International Speedway, which is always a favorite among drivers with its wide surface and multiple grooves. The racing has been getting better and better the past few weeks so look for more of the same in two weeks’ time. Alfalla has a bit of a cushion on the race for series’ top prize but now is no time to look in the rear-view mirror. Let the Motor City madness begin!