Warren Keith didn’t even bother to qualify. In the end, it didn’t matter either, as he drove from 40th place all the way to the front to finish first at virtual Las Vegas Speedway in Sunday’s MPI Cup Series event.
Keith kept a clean nose, and while he wasn’t always the best car on the racetrack, he was consistently up front and survived the chaos to take the win.
Zach Wilson and Mario Merenda lead us to the green flag, but Merenda quickly dropped to last place after having to serve a black flag. Meanwhile, the rest of the field wasted no time in getting the action going.
Austin Reedy, the winner of the last two MPI Cup races who had started 21st, was inside the top five by lap six. Our eventual winner, Keith, was inside the top 25 by that point too, with each driver having moved up 15 spots or more. But, on lap 12, a big wreck broke out as Austin Shoemaker was turned by Ray Rodgers.
Wilson led us back to green on lap 15.
Wilson had a nice start, but behind him, there were a cluster of drivers fighting for second: Judd Danielson, Alex Muscarella, Ross Harlow, Steven Stempien, and Reedy.
By lap 23, Reedy found himself in third. At the front, Muscarella took the lead from Wilson, bringing Reedy with him. At this point in the race, the top 12 were all within a second of one another.
By lap 30, Merenda had broken back into the top 20, and was making quick work of the field.
At the front, Ross Harlow took advantage of side by side battling from Muscarella and Reedy to rocket to the front. This pack of three would spend the rest of the stage up until lap 45 battling for the win, with Muscarella eventually ending up victorious. Harlow would end up second, and Reedy third.
It was the same story off pit road: Muscarella, Harlow, Reedy, and then Stempien. Reedy had a tough start falling back to ninth. But the chaos, caused by the slowing Reedy, put a rebounding Merenda back inside the top 10. Merenda methodically worked his way through the top 10, and by lap 57, he was up to second.
There was some great battling going on inside the top 10 for about the next 10 laps, but then disaster struck some of our front runners.
On lap 68, Harlow, Merenda, and Spencer Riggs, who were all fighting for third, wrecked hard and suffered serious damage, knocking them out of contention for the win.
On the ensuing restart, we saw more action packed racing inside the top 15. During the prior caution, a few drivers came and took tires, including Warren Keith.
With only a handful of laps to go before the stage break, Keith went from the back to P8 to gain stage points and track position. Alex Muscarella would convincingly win stage two, followed by Reedy, Stempien, Joe Sanchez, and Wilson.
A couple drivers tried staying out during the stage break, but they quickly fell through the field. Muscarella got the lead almost immediately. Steven Stempien got loose out of four, and nearly wrecked but somehow managed to save it. Then a wreck in turn two brought out the caution anyways.
There was another caution just a single lap after going green as Shayne Wyatt spun out of turn two. Stempien and Harlow were each involved in their second incidents of the night, as they piled in.
On the restart, Muscarella got a fantastic jump. Wilson got up to second, but got loose and lost a ton a ground going into three. He would fall all the way outside the top 25. As we saw at Auto Club last week, driver after driver would struggle with the uncontrollable nature of the NextGen car.
At this point (lap 110) Reedy is in second, with Keith in third. Two laps later, Reedy got loose and fell to ninth. Meanwhile, at the front, Daniel Michel, who had been inside the top ten all day, caught Muscarella and started fighting for the lead after starting 38th.
Reedy ripped back through the top ten to get to fourth. On lap 120, Keith got around Michel for second, with Muscarella in first still. A caution flew as a few cars in the back got tangled up on lap 128. Off pit road, Muscarella, Keith, Michel, Rogers, Justin Winters made up the top five for the restart.
On this restart, the dominant car, Muscarella, had a huge moment, and fell to the back of the top 15. Sadly for him, he’d never be able to fully recover. Michel would inherit the lead. On lap 139, Reedy drove around Keith, and caught Michel too, getting around him for lead.
By lap 155, Keith and Reedy had separated themselves by two seconds from Justin Winters and Michel, who were caught up in a bigger battle for third.
Green flag pit stops started on lap 169. By this point, Reedy and Keith had extended their lead out to five seconds. Keith brought his #42 machine down on lap 175. A lot of the lead group followed Keith onto pit road. Reedy would pit the next lap, but would make a huge mistake, as he would slide through his pit box. After leading by about a half second, Reedy would come out of the pits down three seconds on Keith. Now, only the top nine have not pitted and remained on track.
Muscarella was at the front of the cars stretching it and looking for a caution on lap 183, and miraculously they got one. Some front runners, including Michel, were taken out in a big accident.
The top six elected to stay out with a restart coming with ten to go. Muscarella was the first off with four tires in seventh.
On the ensuing restart, Justin Winters powered his way up into second, with Joe Sanchez moving up to third. Reedy would drop down to fourth. Keith had a great start. But, it would be for naught, as another big wreck hit in turn three.
This time, Alex Muscarella was involved.
This set up for a Green-White-Checkered finish with Keith, Sanchez, Winters, and Reedy making up the first two rows.
Keith was unfazed and had another great start. He pulled away easily as the three behind him got three wide. While fighting for third, Wintered wrecks out of two on the white flag lap. Reedy and Sanchez would have a great fight back to the stripe for second, with Sanchez taking the position. Two drivers we barely talked about all day, Garrett Brown and Chris Progar, would round out the top five.