Brad Wright held-off Brad Davies over a series of late-race restarts en route to winning Tuesday’s NASCAR iRacing Series World Championship (NiSWC) at Darlington Speedway for his first career victory in the series. The Lady in Black’s treacherous surface and walls claimed many victims over the course of the 183 lap event, making survival key to earning a good finish.
Defending NiSWC champion Richard Towler won the pole and led the first stint of the race, which surprisingly consisted of nearly 50 straight laps of green flag racing as everyone seemed content just to race the race track and log laps. Staying on the lead lap was the key and those drivers who went down a lap in the early going were forced to play catch-up the rest of the race.
When the first caution flew and the field came to pit road on Lap 45, Towler made a critical error. The defending champ got caught for speeding in the pits, and the resulting penalty forced him to restart the race at the tail end of the field. Josh Parker took over the lead at that point and checked-out on the field, showing that he was clearly the car to beat. He held the lead until a round of pit stops under the caution flag, which saw Davies take two tires and grab the race lead. Everyone was curious, would two tires pay off?
The answer was ‘Yes.’ Davies used clean air to his advantage and held-off Parker for nearly 30 laps until the next caution flew on Lap 105. This time around, Parker beat Davies off pit road and looked poised to drive into victory lane, as no one could come close to his race pace. The tables turned though when the yellow waved once again on Lap 117.
While Parker and most of the other front runners hit pit road for fresh tires, Ray Alfalla, Brian Schoenburg, Patrick Fogel, John Gorlinsky and Towler stayed out, hoping track position would mean more than fresh rubber. But shortly after the green flew, disaster struck when Towler and Parker made contact, sending both cars spinning into the Turn Three wall and out of the race.
With the two fastest cars out of action, the race was now wide open. The driver who played his cards right and made his final pit stop at the right time would have the best shot at winning.
Cautions kept breeding more cautions, which led Alfalla and the other leaders to stay out on track to keep track position. The Floridian held the lead until Lap 147 when Davies, armed with fresher tires, looked low on the front straightaway and took the top spot away. Another yellow slowed the field on Lap 155 and Davies, along with most of the other leaders, elected to pit one last time for tires. Thomas Hazard chose to stay out on old tires and press his luck, hoping a string of late cautions would lead to a victory.
The ensuing restart saw Chris Main spin his tires from third place, triggering a mad scramble behind him with Wright taking advantage, moving up to third. Wright then made quick work of Gorlinksy and Hazard to take the lead on Lap 167 and had only one man to beat: Davies. Davies made a valiant charge, but came up just short in the end, finishing just over three tenths of a second behind the winner.
Wright explained how restarts were the key to his win. “On the next to last restart, I had gained the lead from Thomas Hazard and stretched out an eight car lead. The last restart, I had the lead, but was not comfortable at all due to Brad Davies being in my mirror the last 10 laps. After (Davies made) a few mistakes trying to catch me, I was fortunate enough to hold off his charge.”
“I had the lead, but was not comfortable at all due to Brad Davies being in my mirror the last 10 laps.” — Brad Wright
Behind the tense battle for first, Connor Mackenzie limped his battered car home to an impressive third place, with Hazard slipping to fourth and Gorlinsky holding-on to fifth.
After seven of eighteen races this season, Hazard (263 points) now holds the point lead by three points over Alfalla. Wright jumped all the way to third in the standings, 23 points behind the leader. Parker (224) sits in fourth, while Tyler Hudson rounds-out the top five after a fourteenth place finish at Darlington.
Week Eight sees the series shift back to a 1.5 mile track, Charlotte Motor Speedway. The track promises to be a welcome break from the tense action and caution- filled events from previous weeks, with long green flag runs being common place. Setting a car up for the long run will be a key to winning, and the driver who hits the setup the best will have a great shot at running away with the show. Will Towler break out of his slump, or will another new face end up in victory lane for the first time? Tune in to PSRTV’s broadcast on www.iRacing.com in two weeks’ time to find out!