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From the (Virtual) Driver’s Seat: Monday Night Racing in the NASCAR Cup Series Next Gen at Talladega Superspeedway

Presley Sorah breaks down the regular-season finale of the Monday Night Racing season from his perspective. Photo Credit: Robert Dorman

The eighth event of the sixth season of the Monday Night Racing (MNR) league was held on Monday, January 2nd at Talladega Superspeedway using the NASCAR Cup Series Next Gen cars. 

The MNR schedule took us to Talladega for the second time in Season 6 and for the final race of the regular season. Known as one of the most exciting tracks in the world, this race is at the top of my wildcard list for Season 6. As much fun as it is to pack race, I don’t enjoy racing Talladega (or any superspeedway) in a competitive manner, like MNR. With points and a regular season title on the line, any wrong move can spell disaster in a three-wide pack of cars. 

I normally struggle at finding speed in superspeedway qualifying but I managed to set the 5th fastest time, which I was excited about. Qualifying isn’t normally very important at Talladega, but it’s always nice to set a good time. 

The chaos in the actual race began immediately, with very aggressive two and three-wide moves all through the field. The draft plays such a major role in the Next Gen that you could be leading one lap, and outside the top 10 on the next. Knowing when to take and defend against runs was the name of the game. 

After only a few laps, I made my way into the lead. I led several laps before falling back to the middle of the top 10 where I started. After several laps of discussion between myself and my spotter/crew chief duo Robert Dorman and James Pike, we decided to bail on the lead pack. The leaders were racing aggressively enough to the point where it looked like a crash was imminent, so we elected to play it safe for a while. 

I ran the first third of the race single file at the back end of the top 30, waiting for the undeniable crash that was going to occur any time. We finally did get a crash at the lead, and I was able to miss it by laying back. 

Another 20+ lap run occurred, and the strategy was the same this time. This time, we found the downside to the strategy of laying back. The pack I was in, which was about 10 cars deep, lost the draft of the lead pack. This caused super aggressive racing trying to push back to the leaders and ultimately caused a wreck even though we were running around 30th. Thankfully I made it through the crash, but that was the end of me on that strategy for the night. 

For the remainder of the race, I decided to drive back up into the lead pack and battle. I took runs as I got them, while still playing it safe enough to not put myself in any immediate danger. 

I managed to work myself up into the top three and even the lead late in the second half of the race, before having to pit under green at lap 74. 

This was a scheduled pit stop, and the last scheduled pit stop I had for the race. iRacing has an in-sim voice chat that allows drivers to communicate with each other and race control, and I used this to find other drivers that would pit the same lap as me. Pitting by yourself at Talladega will lose you time, and ultimately the entire draft of the pack, so finding “friends” to pit with is crucial. 

I blended back into the lead pack after my pit stop, which consisted of about 10-15 cars, several of which were a lap down. The lap-down cars began to fight to get their lap back, which ended up causing a small crash and a caution with less than 10 laps to go.

The intensity upped tenfold with this caution because the lead pack of only about 10-15 cars now became the entire field of 40. If a new winner gets to victory lane they will punch their ticket to the MNR Playoffs. Although I’m already locked into the playoffs, most of the field had a playoff spot on the line as we restarted on lap 96/100.

A string of quick crashes sent us into triple over time. I misjudged a move on the second green-white-checkered, which set me back several positions. Although I lost a few spots, I had a clean car and restarted inside the top 10 for the final GWC so I still had a shot at the win. 

The final restart went about as I expected it to, with everything on the line. I lined up on the bottom lane, which got a good jump off the initial start. Coming off of turn 2 with 2 laps remaining, several of the leaders began to crash. I found a hole through the middle of them and thought I had the wreck missed, but I, unfortunately, got hit by a spinning car last second. The wreck, which ultimately took out almost the entire field, broke the right front of my car severely. I limped the car back to the checkered flag to finish just outside the top 20. 

I was disappointed with the finish, considering I had driven a good race and put myself in a prime position at the end, but that kind of finish is somewhat to be expected in a superspeedway race. I ended the regular season second in points, just as I did in Season 5 when I went on to win the championship. My points position will give me several bonus playoff points, which will give me the No. 2 seed to start round one of the playoffs next week. The Monday Night Racing league heads to Richmond Raceway with the Super Late Models next Monday, January 9th, at 7:45 PM EST.

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