NASCAR iRacing Seres Open  – Week 12: 400 Laps at Charlotte Motor Speedway

This is one of the races I look forward to more than most. The reasons are many, but the long green flag runs and pitting under green as well as the raw tactics of the long race always get me pumped. How hard does one push in the first 100 laps or even in the first half of the race? Do you short pit between  Lap 345 and Lap 350 knowing you’re on new tires early in the run with the Lucky Dawg should you get picked-off by a yellow? Do you stay out if a run goes short to hold lapped carw back? All of this runs through your head as the race winds down.

Long green flag runs, green flag pit stops and tactics are just a few of the reasons to look forward to the NASCAR iRacing Series’ visit to Charlotte.

Things got off to an interesting started as I was assigned the #29 car out of a field of 31. This meant I would start at the rear and with a chance to go a lap down early. But only three laps in we get the first yellow flag. so I topped-off the fuel and restarted 15th dropping to 16th as I let the #1 car go around the outside on the restart. We would only run until Lap 13 before a car behind me had an” issue” and brought out the second yellow. This time I pitted for tires and fuel and then again to top off with one to go . . . the start of the strategy plays.

Back to racing and I was sitting in 17th, but this was time to start my first attempt at a fuel run; it was just Lap 18. That went out the window as when the #25 car brought out yet another yellow flag. So I did the “one lap to go top off” and started again, this time in the 20th spot.  Not all the lead lap cars pitted, so fuel mileage could be interesting if the race stayed green.

Well, that is just what happened. On Lap 78 the #9 car hit pit road, moving me in to the 17th spot.  Five laps later the #14 car dropped-in followed a lap later by the #26. On the following laps the 1, 16, 5, 24, 8, 17 and 4, 2 and 19 all hit pit road and, on Lap 89, I turned a lap at a 30.186s and moved into P3. At this point I was running low on fuel myself, so on Lap 90 I was setting up to hit pit road when the yellow waved fly . . . I was one maybe the only car than had not pitted at that point. Great timing on the long fuel run for me.

Lap 96, back to green with only eight cars on the lead lap. This was the result of so many cars getting stuck a lap down, thanks to the yellow. The reason I was on the lead lap was all about the fuel run and the timing of the yellow flag. I would restart seventh and drop to eighth in an attempt to once again make a long fuel run. Would it work twice?

YES, was the answer to the question. I cruised around in eighth until Lap 145 when the #18 car hit the pits, first out of the lead lap cars. He stayed on the lead lap and used the new tires to move to the lead by Lap 152. A lap after he pitted the #19 and #2 cars did the same followed a lap later by the #3 car that had taken the lead at that point. Only the #20 and #9 car extended the run, hitting the pits on Lap 152. In that run I had gone a lap down back on Lap 142, but only to the leader. That was the #18 car and when he pitted three laps later I regained the lead lap. Due to the fact I had extended my fuel run I moved to second but was about to go a lap down when I hit the pits on Lap 154.  I came out a lap down, in eighth and on the same lap as five other cars. But just as my head was working to see what I would need to do to stay in the Lucky Dawg spot the yellow came out on Lap 157 and saved me. The #6 car (some 84 laps down at this point) had an incident which gave me a yellow I so needed. I took the Dawg and wrapped around back to the lead lap.

But as pit stops had taken place just 10 or less laps prior, a handful of guys stayed out. Now instead of eight cars on the lead lap we had a dozen. I started seventh and lost a while saving fuel until Lap 177, finding myself the last guy on the lead lap in P12. Pit stops were again just ahead and the car behind me was a full lap down, so starting on Lap 208 I began passing cars that were at the tail end of the lead lap as they hit the pits.

By Lap 215 I had not only regained the lead lap, I found myself in fourth place.  But that would be short-lived as I had to once again hit pit road. BUT WAIT!  YELLOW was in the air once again. We were just past the half way point and the leader, #18, got a black flag on pit road. The #14 car had just run his fastest lap of the race two laps earlier and now he had lost control after regaining the lead lap. The #19 car had just pitted so he got the Lucky Dawg and between the mess with the #18 unable to serve his Black Flag I would restart P6: the yellow had saved me again.

When we went back to green, the #18 pitted to serve his black flag and went a lap down going a lap down, only for the yellow to fly again putting  him back on the lead lap on Lap 231 while I was looking good myself in position P7 at this time.

At this point we had not had a long run and I wanted to keep as many cars a lap down as possible. So I stayed-out as we had only run four and a half laps. This worked as I was able not only to limit the number of cars on the lead lap to nine, but take the point and lead the next four laps. But this would put me a few laps behind on the fuel run if we should have a long run.

This turned out to be a half run, from Lap 243 to 270. On Lap 264 the 18 car was again in the lead and — again — got a black flag for a contact. I did not see it happen but about the only way to get a black flag would be to cross the grass and enter the pit area between the cones. This then required a pit under green and he dropped from the lead; the damage proved pretty significant however,  as he would not exit the pits for 17 laps . . .

I used this long run to once again pass cars that pitted and took the lead on Lap 334 only to have to pit myself on the following lap . . .  and be saved by yet another yellow. It appeared the mix of cars on old vs new tires and getting in and out of the pits had created issues after each long run, with me on the winning side of these long runs and yellow flags all day long.

This one was the one I was waiting for. I hit the pits with one to go on Lap 337. My fuel guru had told me it would be close, VERY CLOSE. He said I could make 61 laps if I did all I could to make the fuel run last. He needed 20 racing laps to lock down the numbers, but he was sure we could make it. No one else had shown the ability to make a run this long so he was sure I had a shot to pull this out.

We went green on Lap 339 and 290 laps later he clicked the radio button and said GREAT JOB, we are .4 laps to the good at this time. It was lap 358 and I had just run a 30.302s drafting off a damaged car. We had given up a lot of time to the leader and were about to go a lap down; that was more than we could make-up at the end. But there was always a shot that one or more of the top five could make an error as they would all have to pit for a splash ‘n go. I had no worries from behind: with 42 laps to go  I was three laps up to the seventh place car. Worst I could expect was a sixth place finish and if just one guy ahead made a mistake I would see a top five. But it was not to be . . .

On Lap 363 a car that was many laps down bulled his way past the car I was drafting and pushed him into the wall taking me with him. My car was damaged, but I still had three laps on the guy behind me and I could hold that. But then without slowing for the two cars slowing on the track the rookie of the race came flying out of Turn 4 and slammed the damaged car I had been drafting, shooting him across the track and into me, BANG!  Engine? Gone.

I climbed from the car, walked to the infield, took my helmet off and shook my head. As the emergency truck rolled up I recall asking where I finished only to get a long blank look back. Then it came back to me, what had just happened. I looked around and saw the pace car coming  out of Turn 4.  I replayed it all in my head. YES, I could see it clearly now. I turned to watch as the cars paced by and then all at once I took three steps onto the track and let my helmet fly, Bang. I hit the 14 car just behind the front wheel. This was the rookie that failed to slow and ended my race. I went from sixth to ninth in the blink of an eye and I was not going to see if the chance at a top five would have played out.

Overall the race went well for me with long fuel runs and yellows that worked out very well. This was a great race and I had shown that I could extend the fuel run with the help of my Fuel Guru to an extent that will one day win me my first race in the Sprint Cup Car. With long races coming at Talladega and Michigan as well as a few other tracks where I have solid history, this old timer should end the season in the Top 10 in my division. That is all I ask of myself.

James Falcon Pratt

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