Saturday, April 1, 2023

Shane van Gisbergen Survives Wreck-Filled Race at Auto Club, Captures Seventh Monday Night Racing Win

Shane van Gisbergen captured his seventh career Monday Night Racing victory Monday at Auto Club Speedway, tying him for second all-time on the win list. PC: Monday Night Racing | Twitter

Shane van Gisbergen has shown time and time again that he’s one of those drivers that play by the “checkers or wreckers” mentality, and Monday’s Roasted Gems Coffee 110 at Auto Club Speedway was no exception.

The penultimate event in the ‘Round of 7’ for the Season 5 Monday Night Racing Playoffs was a race that featured a bunch of carnage throughout the event, leaving the point standings shaken heading into an elimination race at Atlanta.

Right from the start, MNR Playoff contender Anthony Alfredo had issues, falling about 30 seconds behind the pack before the race’s initial start, after his wheel came disconnected. It would be 19 laps before the NASCAR Xfinity Series driver would get the benefit of a caution.

On the race’s first restart, Colin Fern and Nick Olsen would see the top spot taken away while battling, as Presley Sorah would move into the lead on the restart. Just moments later, a massive block from Adam Cabot would cause a massive stack-up and a huge accident, collecting Fern, Olsen, and others.

While attempting to repair his damaged vehicle, Fern suffered connectivity issues, eliminating him from contention and the event, after getting trapped in his pit stall and further disqualified. This issue places Fern in a must-win situation for next week’s event at Atlanta.

After the race’s second multi-car accident, Shane van Gisbergen began to sneak into the conversation for the lead, after starting outside the top-20, battling with Presley Sorah and Adam Cabot, two Playoff contenders.

NASCAR Xfinity Series full-timer, Bayley Currey, would find his way into the top-spot 41 laps into the event, taking the lead away from Sorah. However, the lead wouldn’t be long-lived, as Currey crashed while fighting for the lead, collecting James Bickford, and Justin Melillo.

Luckily for Bickford, one of seven drivers still in the hunt for the Season 5 MNR championship, he would be able to continue, even grabbing the lead after a cycle of pit stops. 

Miraculously, after multiple accidents in the event, six of the seven drivers still eligible to win the championship sat inside the top-nine runners, with the exception of Colin Fern, who has been wrecked early.

Throughout the middle portion of the event, the top spot would continue to change hands between numerous drivers running inside the top-10, including David Schildhouse and Anthony Alfredo.

Inside the race’s final 45 laps, Ryan Vargas, Anthony Alfredo, and DJ Cummings would all get tangled up in a multi-car accident, which forced both Vargas and Alfredo to utilize their fast repairs. Cummings was able to fix his car, only sustaining minor damage.

From that point forward, the strategy became the main talking point of the race, as many teams utilized a number of varying strategies, in order to put themselves in a position to capture the victory.

Bailey Turner elected to take fuel-only on his pit stop, putting him into the lead on the restart. Just a few laps late, Cummings would get involved in another accident, this time at the hands of eventual winner Shane van Gisbergen, but the track remained green.

…that is, until it didn’t, as a giant crash occurred the following lap at the rear of the field, which most significantly involved Ryan Vargas, who had already used his fast repair after being involved in an earlier crash.

With about 20 laps to go, another accident in the rear of the field would trigger a caution flag, which placed Anthony Alfredo back on the lead lap, after receiving the free pass. This would – again – open up a variety of strategies.

Only Adam Cabot and George Balfanz Jr. would remain on the track under the caution, putting them up front for the restart. Despite fantastic starts for both, they would quickly fall through the running older on old tires.

As the race wound down, Shane van Gisbergen would be involved in another incident with 12 laps to go, getting into the back of Max Kennon, which collected a number of others including Brandon Brown and Justin Melillo.

Consistency was scarce over the final 10 laps of the race, with restart after restart taking place, with drivers near the middle portion of the field being collected in accidents on multiple occasions, one of which involved Anthony Alfredo.

The second-to-last restart would be a green-white-checkered attempt, and one that wouldn’t last long, after the series’ defending champion, Adam Cabot, wrecked hard while battling for the lead, collecting many others.

In a second attempt at Overtime, the field would make it to the white flag, with James Bickford and David Schildhouse being among the drivers fighting for the victory. However, just after taking the white flag, Matt Stallknecht made contact with David Schildhouse, collecting the majority of the field in a massive crash.

When the dust settled, Shane van Gisbergen would be the first driver to cross the start-finish line at Auto Club Speedway, picking up his seventh career victory in the Monday Night Racing league, tying him for second all-time.

James Bickford would finish the race in the runner-up position, with Bailey Turner, Presley Sorah, and Anthony Alfredo rounding out the top-five finishers. Dakotah Curtis would come home in sixth, with Justin Melillo, Devon Henry, George Balfanz Jr., and DJ Cummings rounding out the top-10.

Playoff contenders finishing outside the top-10 included David Schildhouse in 11th, Adam Cabot in 13th, Ryan Vargas in 25th, and Colin Fern in 32nd.

As the series heads into another elimination race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, the seven drivers still in contention for the victory are tight in points, with Presley Sorah – the points leader – only having a 15-point gap on the cutline.

James Bickford (+11), Anthony Alfredo (+10), and David Schildhouse (+7) are currently on the good side of the bubble, while Adam Cabot (-7), Ryan Vargas (-19), and Colin Fern (-28) are on the outside looking in.

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