With the season winding down, ITSR Power Series competitors found it more important than ever to score valuable points in recent trips to Chicagoland and New Hampshire. For the title contenders, that meant negotiating a minefield of crashed cars, pit strategy, and last-lap excitement that saw two first-time winners emerge.
Cloudy weather in Chicago meant high speeds in qualifying, and CJ LaVair topped the timesheets with a lap of 28.524 seconds. Scott Simley was second, followed by point leaders Tim Johnston and Chad Dalton, with Corey Davis rounding out the top five.
When the green flag flew, it didn’t stay out for long. A synchronized slide in Turn 3 by David Correia and Marcus Napier collected half a dozen cars before the first lap was finished. Three more cautions – part of a race total of eight – slowed the field before Lap 30, taking out a quarter of the 26 sim racers that started the race.
After that, the green flag finally flew for an extended period. Up front, Johnston got past Dalton for the lead on Lap 43, and he opened up a 2.5-second lead before pitting on Lap 63. However, as Johnston exited the pits, he spun on the apron exiting Turn 2 and brought out the caution once again.
That gave the advantage to Matt Delk, who had yet to pit and was able to stop under caution and retain the lead. Delk stayed out front until the next yellow flag flew just past the halfway point on Lap 87.
During the next extended green-flag run, Johnston took a turn out front ahead of Dalton before another round of green-flag stops. Trouble struck Dalton on pit road when he ran out of fuel and needed a costly tow into his pit box. That dropped him a lap down, but the damage could have been worse if not for a timely caution flag for a stalled car on the track.
Delk then cycled back into the lead, but he quickly dropped behind Simley, Johnston, and Terry McCuin as he tried to save enough fuel to make it to the finish. Ultimately, that strategy was rendered moot when the race’s final caution came out on Lap 152.
In the 11-lap sprint to the finish, Simley and Delk enjoyed a back-and-forth battle for the lead. On the last lap, Simley made a move to Delk’s inside entering Turn 3 and the two crossed the finish line side-by-side. By just 0.042 seconds, Simley prevailed to score his first Power Series victory.
Delk, Johnston, McCuin, and Dalton completed the top five, while Brian Motisko, Rick Thompson, John Wilcko, and Jeff S. Davis rounded out the rest of the lead-lap finishers. The points battle remained close after the race, with Johnston and Dalton tied atop the standings and Delk just 14 points behind in third.
The following week, the field traveled to the one-mile oval in New Hampshire for the Elijah Strong 150, supporting young cancer fighter and survivor Elijah Aschbrenner. In qualifying, Dalton won the pole with a 29.945-second lap, besting Delk, series newcomer Bradley McLamb, Johnston, and Simley.
At the start, Dalton didn’t hold the top spot for long. Delk used the preferred outside groove to take the lead on Lap 1, and he led all but two of the first 65 laps of the race. During that time, five cautions slowed the field, which made for lots of stop-and-start racing on the fitful paperclip-shaped oval affectionately known as The Magic Mile.
In the pits on Lap 67, Dalton used a quick stop to take over the lead. That put Delk in dirty air for the first time all race, and the #6 Ford spun exiting Turn 2 just after the restart. While he began to drive back through the pack, Dalton pulled away to a one-second lead over Johnston at the front of the field.
Following another caution on Lap 93, the longest green-flag run of the night began, and different strategies abounded. Dalton, Johnston, and Rich Jette pitted for tires and fuel on Lap 118. Several drivers further back in the field, including Motisko and Wilcko, saved fuel in attempt to make it to the finish without stopping. And up front, McLamb and Corey Davis continued pushing while hoping for a late-race caution.
Their wish came true when the yellow flag flew on Lap 125. However, leader McLamb received a speeding penalty on pit road, dropping him outside the top ten. Jette stayed out on slightly worn tires to take over the lead, but he had to survive five more cautions – and five more restarts — as the race neared the finish.
Jette’s last test came on a restart with one lap to go. Despite a stiff challenge from Johnston and some damage on the #36 Chevy, Jette held on and visited Power Series victory lane for the first time, following in Simley’s footsteps from the week before.
Behind Jette and Johnston were Corey Davis, Brian Motisko, and Jeff S. Davis. Noticeably absent from the top finishers were title contenders Dalton and Delk, who suffered problems in traffic during the chaotic final 25 laps.
With four dropped races accounted for, Johnston leads Dalton by a single point atop the standings. Next week’s race in Fontana is the final chance to use a drop week before the three-race, “earn-it-on-track” shootout for the championship begins and the online racing action in the Power Series really heats up.