Entering the penultimate round of season 11 for the ITSR Power Series, the three drivers contending for the championship had their minds on the standings, as just 13 points separated Mike Kelley, Corey Davis, and Tim Johnston in the standings. Meanwhile, the rest of the 19 sim racers in the field at the Charlotte Motor Speedway hoped to play the role of spoiler by taking a race victory.
Overcast skies and a cool track surface made for some quick qualifying laps, and no one was quicker than Bobby Terrell. He earned the pole position with a fast lap averaging 198.151 mph. Matt Delk, Scott Simley, Kelley, and Dean Moll rounded out the top five qualifiers, while title contenders Davis and Johnston started sixth and seventh, respectively.
When the online racing action got underway, Terrell had the car to beat, leading the opening green-flag run. The first caution of the night flew on Lap 17 when Kevin Stone spun exiting Turn 2, pancaking the inside wall.
The field hit pit road under caution and Terrell led the field back to the green, but Kelley got past him on the restart, earning a valuable bonus point for leading a lap. He stayed out front for that abbreviated green-flag run, which ended on Lap 26 when defending race winner Adam Hallock slid through Turns 1 and 2 to bring out the caution.
Kelley held the top spot on the ensuing restart, but problems soon hit the race and points leader. While battling side-by-side with Delk on Lap 34, Kelley suffered an electrical problem that dropped him a lap down.
Although Kelley was in the position for the Lucky Dog if the yellow flag waved, the race stayed clean and green, forcing him to play catch-up and pick off other cars that fell a lap behind as well.
Up front, Delk assumed the lead with Terrell in close pursuit, and the two of them opened a nearly three-second lead before the first round of green-flag pit stops. While the top four cars pitted by Lap 62, Simley stayed out an extra seven laps before hitting pit road.
Although the extra laps on older tires cost Simley nearly half a lap to new race leader Terrell, it was all part of a strategy to stretch his fuel and make it to the finish on one less pit stop than his competitors.
As the race entered the final 50 laps, Terrell established himself as the best of the drivers needing an extra pit stop. He pulled out a four-second lead over the battle between Davis and Johnston for an important extra point in the standings.
While Simley’s strategy saw him drop as far back as eighth place, once the leaders made their final pit stops, the scoreboard showed Simley with an eight-second lead over Terrell. From there, the only question was whether Simley’s fuel would last for his full 40-lap run to the finish.
That task proved no problem for Simley, who crossed the finish line 6.7 seconds ahead of second-place Terrell. He even had enough fuel left in the tank for a post-race burnout to celebrate his first win of the season and his second career Power Series victory.
Johnston edged Davis for third place with Terry McCuin completing the top five. Kelley fell a second lap down by the end of the race, but he gained several positions and finished in the ninth position. Although Kelley limited his losses after the early problems, the standings saw a shake-up with Davis taking over the championship lead by just two points over Kelley and nine points over Johnston.
The sim racing title will be decided at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which won a recent driver vote to earn the position as the season finale. Both Davis and Johnston have wins at Indy, but Kelley should also be a strong contender after a series-leading eight finishes of first or second this season.
Although the outcome of this season’s championship fight is uncertain, one thing is for sure: The winner will have earned the title after what’s sure to be a competitive and thrilling battle at the Brickyard.