Monday, December 19th saw the seventh event of the sixth season of the Monday Night Racing (MNR) league take place, utilizing the 1987 NASCAR Cup Series car at Auto Club Speedway.
The 1987 NASCAR Cup Series car is widely considered to be one of the most fun cars to race on ovals in iRacing. Boasting a large amount of horsepower and poor aerodynamics, these cars are challenging to drive, but provide some of the most entertaining multi-groove racing the sim offers.
Monday Night Racing held a practice race on Sunday, which set the bar high for the main event on Monday. Every single lane on the track was able to prove useful throughout the entirety of each run.
Heading into the event, I was optimistic about my speed. Although I seemed to be lacking a little bit of qualifying speed compared to the other drivers, so I knew I was likely looking at a seventh to 15th-place qualifying effort.
Falling within my expectations – qualifying eighth – I was happy with the result, considering the knowledge that my race pace was much better than my qualifying pace. This was evident from the start, moving from eighth to second in just a couple of laps.
The tone of the event was set quickly, with drivers being extremely aggressive in order to make passes, no matter where in the field they were ranked. Just like in the practice race, every single lane was fast, and passing was easy to set up.
Early on in the race, I was able to put myself at the front of the pack, leading much of the first 50 laps, but not without a constant defense, and the occasional position swap between myself and several other drivers.
Throughout the race, a number of drivers attempted to pull off different strategy moves. The drivers on the strategy that I chose had to pit between lap 50 and lap 55. I was able to stretch the fuel as far as I possibly could, and brought it to pit road from the lead.
Multiple different strategies playing out throughout the field, saw other drivers electing to stay on the track longer, as a result of their extra fuel load.
As luck would have it, within five laps of me making a pit stop, a multi-car accident broke out in the second corner, bringing out another caution. Unfortunately, that was the worst possible timing for a yellow, as I was still trapped one lap down after my pit stop, forcing me to take the wave-around and restart 20th.
Restarting with less than 40 laps left, I was determined to make up all of the positions that I had just lost, as a result of the caution. Stretching the fuel nearly 40 laps was going to be a huge risk, so the whole field still had to pit once more.
Robert Dorman and James Pike, my spotter and crew chief combination, had a strategy that would have worked swimmingly had the race remained under green-flag conditions to the end. Sadly, the caution returned to the track after 10 laps.
My team chose to bring me down under the yellow for four brand-new tires and fuel, which would ensure that I could finish the race without having to come back down pit road.
Fighting back through the pack was difficult. Even though Auto Club is one of the widest tracks on the schedule, every single lane was log-jammed and passing was pretty much gridlocked, as everybody wanted to make it to the front.
With about 15 laps remaining, I got involved in a fender-bender off of the final corner, when the two drivers to my outside made contact, spinning down into my right-front wheel and pushing me into the grass. Luckily, the damage was only minor and didn’t hinder my run.
On the ensuing restarts, I was able to make some more moves to get into the top five in the closing laps of the race. Unsurprisingly, late-race restarts lead to more restarts, with a couple more crashes putting the race into double overtime, in which I restart on the front row.
Adam Cabot, the race leader and eventual race-winner, got an incredible jump on the restart leaving Nick Olsen to battle with me for the runner-up position, and hold off the snarling pack behind us. Olsen barely got me at the start-finish line, putting me third.
All things considered, I was pretty happy with the third-place finish. My worst finish on an oval this season is a seventh-place result, a testament to how consistent I’ve been able to be up to this point.
Heading into the regular-season finale, I sit second-place in points, 16 points behind Adam Cabot, with only one race remaining before the post-season begins.
With an off-weekend for the holidays next Monday, the Monday Night Racing league will return in two weeks, Monday, January 2, for the final race of the regular-season at Talladega Superspeedway.
Talladega is sure to be exciting, with many drivers fighting to fill the last few spots in Season 6 playoff grid. All of the action can be caught live at 7:45 PM EST on Podium eSports.