The fifth event of the sixth season of the Monday Night Racing league was held on Monday, December 5 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway using the IndyCar IR-18.
This is the race I’ve had circled on my list since the Season 6 schedule was released, two months ago. The IndyCar at IMS is the car/track combination that I feel the most confident and comfortable with on the simulator, so I have been excited for this race all season.
The race week started just like any other does – with multiple practice races leading up to Monday. In these races, I showed lots of speed, including a victory in the Sunday night practice race.
Monday night began as well as it could have, with me scoring my first pole position of the season. Unfortunately, things quickly turned in the wrong direction right at the drop of the green flag.
I missed the memo of a rule change in the race start procedure in the driver’s meeting, which meant an early end-of-line (EOL) penalty would send me to the rear of the field after lap one. This instantly made the race much more difficult, but I was up for the task.
My crew chief and spotter duo, Robert Dorman and James Pike, kept me on a set strategy for the first half of the race, which played a key role in surviving and keeping our race alive.
The plan was to sit back and keep the car clean, which I was able to do, despite the first half of the race being carnage-filled, with drivers crashing regularly and quickly retiring from the race. I knew I had the speed to drive through the field and back to the top five if I wanted to, but it was far too risky to do so early in the race with the continuous crashing.
In the first half of the race, my team decided to pit under every caution and top off on fuel. I didn’t even take a new set of tires until lap 60, because I was running the car so easy to play it safe.
After about 65 laps of running in the back, I found myself just inside the top 20 after avoiding several big crashes. At the halfway point of the race, my team decided it was time to move forward cautiously.
It was then that I began to pick off drivers one-by-one, and move toward the front, finally, after 81 laps, making it back into the top 10 for the first time since my penalty on the initial start.
Passing in an IndyCar on an oval is never easy, with aerodynamics playing a major role in slowing down the cars in the pack. I managed to obtain several more positions and get into sixth place before the race’s final caution with 31 to go.
I had a perfect pit stop under caution and restarted 4th on the final restart. Now being in the top five, I was racing with the best of the best from this race and passing was even more difficult.
For several laps, I rode in fourth place, before the car running in third slapped the wall in front of me, promoting me to a podium position, which, in my opinion, is one of the toughest spots on the track when it comes to aerodynamics.
With 15 laps to go, I managed to make the move around Matt Stallknecht on the outside of turn three, putting me into second, and allowing me to set my sights on the race leader, Justin Melillo.
Melillo had more than a one-second lead, plus the benefits of drafting from a car, not on the lead-lap. That drafting help quickly disappeared, as the car spun in front of the field, leaving the top-two to battle it out after no caution was thrown.
With no draft, Melillo was a “sitting duck” and I was able to quickly catch him, but passing him was a different, and much more difficult story. For several laps, we stayed side-by-side, using crossover moves and side drafting, while managing to keep it clean.
As the race came to five laps to go, I was able to clear Melillo entering the first corner, when he caught a bad wake of dirty air, causing him to hit the outside wall. From there, it was smooth sailing, running all alone in the lead.
After the typical race-leader anxiety about a caution passed, and I realized that wouldn’t happen, I was able to take the white flag knowing it would take a disaster for me to lose the race, at this point.
As I took my final trip through turn four and crossed the infamous yard of bricks, the celebrations began. There’s nothing as special as winning at your home track, and to do so from the pole after overcoming all of the adversity throughout the race made it that much sweeter.
My win catapults me to the top of the points standings with just three races to go in the regular season. I’m hopeful and confident that I can hold on to that lead and bring home the regular season title.
Race 6 of the Monday Night Racing season is next Monday, December 12th, with the Next Gen cars at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park. All of the action starts at 7:45 PM EST live on Podium eSports.