Earnhardt Jr. Wins Inaugural NASCAR iRacing.com Series World Championship Race
A late race crash gave fuel-short race-leader Dale Earnhardt, Jr. just the breathing room he needed to win the first-ever NASCAR iRacing.com Series World Championship race at Daytona International Speedway. The yellow flag flew with just two laps remaining in the 100-lap race just as Earnhardt was about to pit for a quick splash of fuel. Instead, with his virtual Chevy Impala SS running low, Earnhardt swept under the checkered flag for the victory.
“Coming through turns 3-4 with two laps left I had to prepare for a pit stop for a little gas,” Earnhardt said following the race. “I looked in the mirror and saw an accident and the yellow came out. At this point I had exactly three-tenths of a gallon left and sputtered across the line to take the yellow. After two more laps of sputtering I took the checkered and that was that. You can’t get any luckier than that.”
Thomas Hazard, of Rochester, MN, finished on Earnhardt’s bumper and was pushing him the second half of the race. The international flavor of the field was reflected by the third-place finisher, Germany’s Martin Thiemt.
Earnhardt, who will start from the front row at the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Daytona 500 this weekend, 19th in the 37-car field and methodically made his way toward the front. “I knew I had a quick car and made a couple moves up the middle throughout the first run and got all the way up to third.”
While Earnhardt Jr. took the strategy of going to the front as quickly as possible, others took the opposite approach. Jesse Atchison, Robert Hall, and John Prather all lay back expecting a big wreck.
Atchison, who drove through the field at the end to finish eighth, said “I went to the back because Earnhardt, (Patrick) Fogel, and (Jordan) Erickson were all going up the middle three wide, and I wasn't sure if the people around them could hold it. It turns out that they did and that may have cost me a chance to win due to being so far back when I pitted."
Pole-winner Josh Parker dominated the first half of the race, which went caution free until the end, when a miscue by Erickson set off the sort of chain reaction. But leading the race cost Parker fuel mileage and he was forced to pit for gas on lap 47, three laps before the half-way point – and then was penalized for speeding on pit road.
Pit road saw nearly as much excitement as the track itself. Front-row starter Jim Caudill Jr. was also caught speeding, and other drivers had miscues getting into the pits, damaging their chances to win.
It was savvy pitwork on Earnhardt’s part that put him in the lead. “I guess I had a good stop because when the cycle was over I was leading,” he noted. “I was happy about this but then came to the realization that I wouldn't make it to the end on fuel.”
Shortly after Erickson found himself in trouble. "After 5 to go, it was just balls to the wall,” he said. “I saw a gap in the middle and threw it in there and started to make up a few spots to hopefully break into the top-10. But it didn't last too long – I got squeezed up into the high line, wrecked and ended a lot of people's race. Either way, I'd make that same move again."
Following the checker, Earnhardt paid tribute to his fellow online racers. "I enjoyed the race; I enjoyed the competition even more. With this group, it’s going to be a lot of fun this season in the NASCAR iRacing World Championship. You are all some solid dudes who are a lot of fun to race with."
The next race of the NASCAR iRacing.com Series World Championship will be held on February 23 ( 9 p.m. EST) on the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. It will be the first test of the 1.5-mile tracks that represent much of the schedule.
Top 10 Finishers – NASCAR iRacing.com World Championship Round 1 – Daytona International Speedway:
Dale Earnhardt Jr. – Mooresville, NC
Thomas Hazard – Rochester, MN
Martin Thiemt – Kerpen, Germany
Derek Wood – Lincoln, NB
Jayson Anderson – Visalia, CA
Thomas Lewandowski – Buffalo, NY
Chris Main – Germantown, MD
Jesse Atchison – Prince Frederick, MD
Derek Cash – Beloit, WI
Marcus Caton – Atlanta, GA