Every week, iRacing, the world’s premier online racing simulation service, highlights its latest news for NESN Fuel. This week, iRacing recapped the ninth round of the NASCAR Peak Antifreeze Series. Read more about iRacing here.
Bobby Zalenski dominated the second half of the NASCAR Peak Antifreeze Series race at Sonoma Raceway, leading the final 29 laps on the way to his second victory of 2017. Zalenski started fifth and had one of the strongest cars in the field, but used pit strategy to pass Corey Vincent for the lead. Zalenski pitted a lap earlier than Vincent, and that extra lap on new tires made all the difference as Zalenski pulled way to win by 4 1/2 seconds.
Vincent finished second after leading eight laps, but could not keep up with Zalenski over the long run. Nick Ottinger came home third after briefly looking like he could run down the two front-runners before losing several seconds when he nearly crashed on Turn 9. Matt Bussa was fourth and Taylor Hurst fifth at the checkers as none of the top five finishers started further back than ninth, a testament to how important qualifying and track position were to the outcome.
The race started with a flurry of activity as Zack Novak led from the pole until Lap Eight when Michael Conti, who had been hounding Novak in every braking zone, finally slipped past. Conti looked to have a very strong car, but a blown engine took him out of the race on Lap 10.
Conti’s misfortune handed the lead back to Novak, who proceeded to hold it until Vincent passed him after Novak got loose exiting Turn 3 and the two made slight contact. During the scuffle, Zalenski also slipped by Novak and into second place.
Zack Novak grabbed the early lead from Michael Conti (No. 5), Corey Vincent (No. 10) and Zalenski (No. 83).
Vincent continued holding a slight lead for the rest of the first run, but Zalenski chose to forgo the optimal strategy and pit on Lap 20 of 55, hoping that his one-lap advantage on tires would give him the lead. The strategy worked, as Zalenski passed Vincent after the leader pitted the next lap.
Further back in the field, Ottinger decided to run a more conventional strategy, pitting on Lap 26. This would give him fresher tires at the end of the race, but it cost him time in the short run. Ottinger had more than 10 seconds to erase in the last 28 laps but quickly got to work, cutting into Zalenski’s lead at more than half a second per lap.
With 14 laps to go, Ottinger had cut the gap to under four seconds before his Turn-9 “moment.” Check that — moments: Ottinger slid sideways for most of the corner and dropped back to eight seconds behind the leader, ending his shot at catching the two cars in front of him.
Meanwhile, Zalenski had to work for the first 15 laps of the final run as Vincent was quick on new tires. However, he faded late in the going, effectively handing the race to Zalenski so long as the leader could successfully work lapped traffic.
Bobby Zalenski was in a league of his own in the final laps at Sonoma.
Zalenski’s win also gave him the series points lead over Ray Alfalla, who finds himself 23 points back following an uncharacteristically poor race. Alfalla could only manage a twenty-third place starting spot and never made much headway before crashing in Turn 4 late in the race, leaving him classified 23rd at the finish. Logan Clampitt is third in the standings, 44 points out of the lead despite missing a race earlier in the season, while Vincent and Novak round out the top five. Notably absent is Ryan Luza, who fell to sixth in the standings after getting into a wreck with Cody Byus, which left him 38th at the finish.
With the NASCAR Peak Antifreeze Series playoffs quickly approaching, the sim racers head back to an oval for Round 10, New Hampshire Motor Speedway to be exact. Overtaking on the flat, 1-mile track is notoriously tough, often leading to chaotic sim racing, especially on restarts. Look for qualifying and pit strategy to be even more important than usual.
Can Luza and Alfalla rebound from their dismal runs at Sonoma? Can Zalenski keep riding the wave of momentum to his third win of the season? Find out in two weeks on iRacing Live!
All photos courtesy of iRacing