Sunday, March 26, 2023

SVG Plays Spoiler, Wins Strategy Filled Cutoff MNR Event at Michigan

Shane van Gisbergen held off David Schildhouse to score yet another Monday Night Racing victory at virtual Michigan International Speedway. Photo Credit: Monday Night Racing.

He may have started at the back of the field, but nothing was going to stand in the way of Shane van Gisbergen returning to victory lane in Monday Night Racing at Michigan International Speedway.

Although he wasn’t playoff eligible, SVG still had more than enough motivation and he found a way to back up his victory from last December at the two-mile oval.

Monday’s event began with an early-race caution, after Rajah Caruth and Nick Olsen made contact in turn three, triggering a multi-car accident, which would hamper the evening of the two potential playoff contenders.

Season 4 MNR Champion Adam Cabot had already gone from fifth to first by this point in the race, as he muscled around the front row starters James Bickford and Gary Sexton to take the race lead.

On the lap six restart, Cabot maintained his lead. Meanwhile, real-world NASCAR Camping World Truck Series competitor Corey Heim continued his rapid charge through the field, and by lap 10, he had initiated a battle up front with Cabot.

On lap 13, the battle for the lead was between four cars: the aforementioned Heim and Cabot as well as Leighton Sibille, who started 18th, and David Schildhouse.

Heim got a huge push from Sibille that would put the real-life Kyle Busch Motorsports driver into the wall, which caused him to careen back down the racetrack, where an innocent Cabot had nowhere to go. Cabot would go spinning through the grass, and since he was out of the racing groove, there would be no caution. It would be the last we would see of both Heim and Cabot at the front.

Heim would spend most of the day fighting back through the field and ended up sixth, while Cabot would try and use strategy to make up track position but ran out of fuel on the last lap, finishing 24th.

The caution came back out as two Playoff cutline drivers made contact. Gary Sexton spun Gabe Wood while battling for position, which led to Wood spinning. Wood would sustain heavy damage.

Under this caution, most drivers would come down pit road with differing strategies. Bailey Turner and DJ Cummings would stay out altogether.

On lap 18, Schildhouse would take the lead on the restart after taking fuel only. However, just a couple of laps later, Robby Lyons would come out of nowhere to put his No. 2 machine in the lead. Just a lap later, Caruth’s day would go from bad to worse, as he would flip and be knocked out of the race, effectively ending his playoff chances.

On the lap 25 restart, Lyons got a big jump, but at drafting tracks that’s not a good thing. The big lead left Lyons as a sitting duck out of turn 4, where Ryan Vargas pulled a fantastic crossover. Meanwhile, Schildhouse, who had taken tires under the last caution, had already worked his way into the top five by the time lap 28 rolled around.

Another caution would come out on lap 30 though, as Max Kennon and Will Rodgers spun while aggressively drafting and smacked the inside wall.

On the ensuing restart, it was Brad Perez’s turn to steal the lead. One of the front-runners, and a two-time winner so far in Season 5, Presley Sorah would get the wall while fighting for position and his motor blew up. Amazingly, Sorah would coast to pit road, use his fast repair, and not lose a lap.

On lap 39, yet another caution came out as Alfredo and Heim, both of whom had already had incidents earlier in the race, made contact and wrecked. Pit road was very busy under this caution, but Noah Lewis and about three other drivers stayed out.

Under the lap 43 restart, Reid Wilson had a shining moment at the front, but quickly fell behind Sibille. The race would remain green for a few laps before, unbelievably, another caution came out. This time it was real-world two-time NHRA champion Ron Capps and Brett Baldeck who simply made contact coming off of turn 4.

As expected, pit road would yet again be very busy, but this time, over a dozen trucks stayed out on the racetrack. After a rash of cautions, this yellow flag period would actually be the last caution of the day.

Ryan Vargas would bring us back to the green flag, with Garrett Smithley, Matt Stallknecht, and James Bickford in tow. Things would be pretty tame for the most part, except for Van Gisbergen, who had ripped his way through the cars that stayed out to take the lead in just seven laps. By lap 61, Van Gisbergen had a half-second lead.

On lap 66, Joshua Slate found himself challenging Sorah, who had stayed out to gain track position, for the second position. David Schildhouse, who, like Slate and SVG had taken tires, was also in the fight near the front. They wouldn’t need to fight that hard for the position however, as just four laps later green flag stops began with Sorah and Bickford pitting.

On lap 74, Brad Perez made a bad call and took no tires on his stop. Perez, who at one point was leading the race, would pay the price and finish 19th as his tires faded on the long green flag run to the finish.

On lap 77, both SVG and Schildhouse brought it down pit road together. The two were side by side exiting pit road, with Schildhouse gaining a slight advantage. They would exit the pits in seventh and eighth, seven seconds back of Presley Sorah, who had taken the lead. In just a couple of laps, they found themselves fighting cars on older tires.

On lap 83, Bickford decided to pit due to not having enough fuel for the finish in his virtual tank, but he also elected to take tires so he would have an advantage in the event of a late-race caution. Unfortunately, Bickford never had the chance and wound up finishing 20th.

On lap 87, Schildhouse began fighting real-world NASCAR competitor Garrett Smithley aggressively for position inside the top five, but would wash up the racetrack and lose a spot to SVG. It would turn out that this move would ultimately be the one that would go on to win Van Gisburgen the race.

The next lap, the whole top five caught Sorah in third, who was short on fuel and saving, and a fight broke out for position. SVG would take the lead from Joshua Slate and began to drive a way. A lap later, Schildhouse would drive through and begin his pursuit of the leader.

With four laps to go, Schildhouse finally got within a tenth of SVG, but never quite had enough to make a move. The driver would make one more lunge coming out of the final corner, but it was to no avail. VanGisbergen would go on to win as drivers all over the racetrack began to run out of fuel, including Smithley and Charli Brown, both of whom were in the top 10 in the closing laps.

Schildhouse would come home second, with Slate third, George Balfanz Jr. fourth, and Preston Pardus rounded out the top-five finishers in the race.

With this being the final race of the Monday Night Racing Season 5 regular season, the Playoff field was set. The drivers who worked their way into the Round of 13 are: Presley Sorah, David Schildhouse, Anthony Alfredo, George Balfanz Jr., Max Kennon, James Bickford, Ryan Vargas, Will Rodgers, Adam Cabot, Gary Sexton, Collin Fern, Nick Olsen and Matt Stallknecht.

The opening race of the Interstate Batteries Monday Night Racing Season 5 Playoffs will take place at the Daytona International Speedway Road Course on Monday, July 18th. The race will feature the Mazda MX-5’s and the race is set to begin at 8:00 PM ET. Streaming coverage will be provided by Podium eSports.

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