The NASCAR iRacing.com Pro Series visited Las Vegas Motor Speedway for the tenth week of twelve in the season. With time running out to secure a spot in the 2012 NASCAR iRacing.com Series World Championship, Vegas was expected to be a hotly contested online race, and it lived-up to expectations as Alex Warren beat Patrick Baldwin in a thrilling late race battle that featured some of the best racing of the whole 2011 NiPS season.
Mitchell Hunt started on pole and jumped out to about a half-second lead shortly after the green flag flew. However, it quickly became obvious that the whole field of sim racers was very evenly matched; so evenly matched in fact that drivers who normally run very strong, such as Nick Ottinger, were mired back in traffic, unable to pass the cars ahead.
Warren (82) motored past Conti (8) and Baldwin (52) in the final laps to win at Vegas.
As the first run of the race wore on, second place driver Joshua Laughton slowly began closing the gap on Hunt. The aero-push made it hard for Laughton to make a move though, as the desert air seemed to stalled him as once he got closer than a couple car lengths away from Hunt’s back bumper. Finally on Lap 50, Hunt let Laughton go as he prepared to pit on the next lap, yielding the lead for some fresh tires and fuel. The rest of the field would soon follow.
Everything was turned upside down when Justin Thompson spun leaving pit road on Lap 55, bringing out the yellow. As a result, many competitive cars who already pitted were trapped a lap down. Some were fortunate enough to be in position to take the wave around, and when the green flew there were 20 cars on the lead lap with Jeremy Thornton leading the race.
It only took a lap for Thornton to lose the lead, as Baldwin quickly passed him and started to build a gap. Another caution soon followed when Steven Gilbert got loose off of Turn Four and hooked Paul Kusheba into the wall, heavily damaging both cars. That caution bred more cautions, and the leaders took the opportunity to pit for fuel on Lap 78. With only 55 laps remaining, everyone who pitted would be good to go on fuel if the race went green to the end. Greg Spears and Kevin King, who had pitted during the previous caution, stayed-out and hoped that more yellows would fly so they could make it on fuel as well.
On the restart, Laughton went three wide on the bottom, cleared Spears and King to take the lead before Chris Overland and Justin Thompson got together off of Turn Two the following lap, triggering another caution. Points leader Marcus Lindsey was also caught up in the wreck, putting his NiPS lead in jeopardy.
After a short seven lap run, the yellow came out again as Daniel Pope got into the back of Thompson as they raced the free pass. Most of the leaders came to pit road for tires, but five cars stayed out including Baldwin, who assumed the lead.
There was no disguising the fact that Hunt's "camo" liveried Impala was one of the fastest cars at LVMS.
Thus the race came down to a 19 lap sprint to the finish between Baldwin, Alex Warren, and Michael Conti. Both Conti and Warren were faster than Baldwin but were having a hard time finding a way around the leader. Conti got side-by-side with Baldwin a couple times, but could not complete the pass as the leader hung tough on the outside line. With five laps to go, Warren got by Conti and starting to reel-in Baldwin. The two battled side-by-side for two laps before Warren finally cleared Baldwin on the last lap of the race and pulled away for the win. Baldwin held onto second with Conti third and Laughton forth. Kenneth O’Keefe quietly moved up to fifth at the checkers for a solid finish to an equally solid run.
The win was Warren’s third of the 2011 season, putting him in the running for the NASCAR iRacing.com Pro Series championship. With Lindsey’s bad luck, the battle for the overall championship is wide open once again as he finds himself tied with Matt Whitten atop of the standings with only two races to go. Baldwin sits in third place but only is four points back. Warren moves up to fourth, 10 points behind the lead, and Richie Davidowitz rounds out the top five, only 18 points back.
With only two races remaining to decide the 25 drivers moving on to the 2012 NiSWC, things will get even wilder next week at Michigan International Speedway. The fast and wide track can easily handle three and four wide and normally features long runs, making setup very important once again. With how the last few races have gone, this one appears to be wide open for the taking. Who will take control of the championship going into the final week? Tune in next week to find out!