May 9th, 2019 by Jason Lofing
Zack Novak used a nearly flawless performance to earn his second eNASCAR PEAK Antifreeze iRacing Series victory of 2019, dominating Round 7 at Kansas Speedway. Despite starting 21st on the grid, Novak wasted no time in his march to the front, taking the lead for the first time on Lap 21 even with three early cautions slowing the field.
From there, it was about keeping the clean air and managing tire wear, both of which Novak excelled in doing as he cruised to victory over Renegades’ Garrett Lowe, who closed to within .8 seconds by the checkered flag. Blake Reynolds of Team Dillon eSports followed in third, and Novak’s Roush Fenway Racing teammate Michael Guest finished fourth. JTG Daugherty’s Nick Ottinger followed up his win at Talladega with a fifth-place finish, as every top-five finisher started outside the top 20.
“Clean air was huge, and the car was just a rocket ship,” said Novak. “This is such a huge momentum boost for everyone at Roush Fenway Racing.”
With the aero package keeping the field bunched together on restarts, many drivers feared a wreckfest, and it appeared their fears had been realized as three cautions flew during the first 14 laps. The second of these incidents collected Bobby Zalenski and Michael Conti when Eric Smith hit the wall off Turn 4 while battling inside the top 10. All three cars suffered damage, but Smith got the worst of it as he was unable to continue and finished last.
On Lap 14, Ryan Luza had a rare bout of tough luck as contact between Casey Kirwan, Logan Clampitt, and Caine Cook left Luza with nowhere to go. He slid into Corey Vincent and then into the wall, causing heavy damage to his car and relegating him to a 36th place finish.
After the initial flurry of the cautions, the tables turned, and the race went green for the final 115 circuits. Novak, who had worked himself into 10th by avoiding the early chaos, took only three laps to cut through the field and pass Casey Tucker and Jarl Teien for the lead. Once he took the top spot, Novak looked to break the draft of the field behind, running the top groove to keep his momentum.
15 laps later, Novak had succeeded in breaking away from the field, and while his pace in relation to the field equalized on a longer run, his superior short run speed was the difference. He held the lead uncontested until he pitted under green on Lap 52. With no issues on pit road, Novak regained the lead when the pit cycle completed on Lap 70.
The second run was nearly a mirror image of the first, with Novak easily holding all challengers at bay. Another great pit stop by the #6 crew on Lap 92 set him up for the run to the finish, and Novak led a race-high 81 of 134 laps en route to the win.
Luza still holds a healthy points lead even with his poor finish, as he sits 40 points in front of Keegan Leahy, who started on pole but received damage early and fell to 29th at the checkered flag. Novak is third, just a single point behind Leahy. Reynolds is an additional nine markers adrift of Novak in fourth, and one ahead of Ryan Lowe in fifth.
As the 2019 season approaches the halfway point, the series heads to Charlotte for the annual 300-mile event under the lights on May 21. With Novak riding the momentum from his second win, will Luza now have some competition? Or will the former champion pick up where he left off before his misstep at Kansas? Be sure to tune in to the iRacing Esports Network on Facebook, Twitch, and YouTube to find out!