Roush Fenway Racing’s Zack Novak won his third eNASCAR PEAK Antifreeze iRacing Series race of 2019, surviving late-race cautions and the series’ first overtime finish on his way to Victory Lane. Novak started fourth and hung around the front most of the evening but only led 33 of 134 laps as passing proved difficult on worn tires.
With track position at a premium, Novak chose to pit a few laps after most of the front-runners, giving him fresher tires as laps wound down. Richmond Raceay eSports’ Jimmy Mullis, the leader at the time, pitted later but had a slow stop, eliminating him as a threat. The strategy worked, vaulting Novak into the lead and on his way to victory when the caution flew with 11 laps to go. The yellow brought all of the lead lap cars to the pits, where Novak’s crew got him out with the lead over JTG Daugherty Racing’s Christian Challiner.
Within a lap of the restart, the caution flew again when Ray Alfalla and Nickolas Shelton made contact, sparking a crash in Turn 2 which ended with Alfalla’s Wood Brothers Ford wrecked, continuing his disastrous 2019 season.
The crash set up a green-white-checker shootout with Novak leading over Team Dillon eSports’ Blake Reynolds. When the green flew, Novak jumped ahead and Mullis moved to second, but he was unable to keep pace with the lead as Novak edged ahead to win by just over two tenths of a second. Taylor Hurst followed in third, while Challiner slipped to fourth. Reynolds rounded out the top five, the outside lane not being kind to him on the final restart.
“We struggled a bit in the first run, but we got it fixed up after pit stops,” said Novak. “On the heat cycle the car was just stellar in traffic and me, Jimmy, and Taylor just ran away with it.”
Joe Gibbs Racing’s Bobby Zalenski led the field to green for a series-leading fourth time this season and had a dominant car early. After fending off an early challenge from Novak, Zalenski started to pull away by Lap 30, showing his muscle on the long run.
Positions were jumbled on Lap 46 when Ashton Crowder was spun by Logan Kress right in the middle of green flag stops. Hurst, who was on pit road when the caution flew, was able to complete his stop without losing a lap and inherited the lead. Zalenski, the leader when the pit cycle began, would restart sixth.
Hurst was unable to keep the lead on the ensuing restart as Mullis jumped to his outside in Turns 3 and 4, grabbing the top spot away. Novak also was able to get around Hurst shortly after and began his pursuit of Mullis. Despite seemingly having the faster car, Novak couldn’t do anything with Mullis in the dirty air and chose to undercut him in the pits, benefitting when Mullis had a longer pit stop. Novak quickly dispatched the drivers ahead of him on older tires upon his return to the track, leading to what looked to be an easy victory if not for the late cautions.
The win propelled Novak back into the top five in points, and with only three races left in the regular season, gives him bit of breathing room. Keegan Leahy still leads the standings even with a disappointing 20th at Kentucky. Luza is second, six points behind, but he too struggled with a 24th place effort. Reynolds closed to within 20 points of the lead in third, while Garrett Lowe holds fourth after his 12th place result.
With only three races remaining until the field of championship hopefuls is cut to eight, the series moves on to Pocono Raceway for Week 12. Leahy won here in 2018 and will look to right the ship after a disappointing Kentucky, as will Luza and Lowe, as three of the top five in the standings failed to crack the top ten. Can the frontrunners of 2019 rebound after a down week or is this a signal the rest of the pack has caught up? Find out in two weeks when the best oval racers in iRacing take on the Tricky Triangle.