May 23rd, 2018 by Jason Lofing
Nick Shelton scored his first victory of the 2018 NASCAR PEAK Antifreeze iRacing Series after edging ahead of Jarl Teien in Turn Four on the final lap. The two battled side-by-side to the checkered flag with Shelton winning by just .007 seconds. The thrilling finish capped off a wild final 50 laps that saw seven crashes and the dominant cars finding trouble.
Matt Bussa came from dead last on the grid to finish third. Bobby Zalenski was fourth and Michael Guest picked up his second top-five result of the season with a fifth-place finish.
Polesitter Christian Challiner led the first 13 laps, but Keegan Leahy surged ahead as he looked like one of the cars to beat for the second week in a row. The first 81 of 200 laps ran caution free allowing Leahy to build his lead.
When the first yellow flag flew on lap 82, not only was Leahy’s lead erased but he lost the top spot in the pits as Logan Clampitt had a stellar stop and beat Leahy off of pit lane. Clampitt took advantage of the clean track out front and began to build a gap on the field as Ray Alfalla and Leahy fought for second.
As the run wore on though, Alfalla started to cut into the lead. Leahy, who had also been closing on the leader, chose to pit on lap 146. The early stop would have surely cycled Leahy to the lead, but a yellow flag on lap 150 trapped him a lap down and forced him to take the wave around to gain the lap back.
The last 50 laps were quite chaotic with multiple crashes breaking the race into short sprints. Clampitt survived the first restart but his race came undone on Lap 165 when another crash brought the leaders back to the pits for fresh tires. The leader overshot his pits and struggled to reverse, costing himself valuable time. In all, Clampitt lost 11 positions in the pits and would not challenge the leaders again.
Bobby Zalenski took advantage of Clampitt’s mistake and led the field to the restart. Zalenski would lead 11 laps before Shelton passed him to lead his first circuit on lap 178. With clean air in front, Shelton attempted to drive away from Alfalla, but another crash on lap 181 turned the race upside down.
While the leaders headed to the pits for another change of tires, Adam Gilliland and Brian Schoenburg decided to stay out on old tires. Gilliand, the control car on the start, brought the field down deep into the restart zone which caused the field to stack up. The pack could not make it to Turn One before several cars, including Leahy and Clampitt, were spinning across the fronstretch.
Gilliland used the chaos to hold the lead, but his car was not fast enough to stay in front on the next restart as Teien timed the start and raced into the lead before yet another crash slowed the field.
Teien held the lead on the penultimate restart, which saw Gilliland and Schoenburg meet their demise. The race came down to a two-lap shootout with Teien getting a near-perfect restart to jump out front over Shelton. However, Shelton had the quicker car and by the time the duo took the white flag, Shelton was right on the leader’s bumper. Shelton made his move in turn one but could not complete the pass, but was still alongside Teien entering turn three, giving him the preferred bottom groove. Giving it all his car had, Shelton got a great run through the middle of the corner, edged ahead, and won by inches.
The crazy finish concluded the first half of the 2018 PANiS regular season with Alfalla holding a 39-point lead over Leahy despite being involved in a crash during the last quarter of the race. Zalenski is third, Shelton surged to fourth and Matt Bussa rounds out the top five, knocking Ryan Luza to sixth after the defending series champion missed his second straight race.
With seven races remaining until the playoffs the series heads to Michigan International Speedway for Week Eight. Just a few short weeks ago it appeared Luza and Alfalla were the only two with a realistic shot at the title but Luza has seemingly disappeared and Alfalla has looked vulnerable in recent races with Leahy and Clampitt both having more speed at times. Will the trend continue, or can Alfalla get back to victory lane at Michigan?