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iRacing: Pit strategy, caution lift Stergios to victory

April 04, 2012, Jason Lofing, Special to NASCAR.COM, NASCAR.com

Jake Stergios wins after holding off challengers on several late restarts during the final 20 laps. (iRacing.com)

Jake Stergios (Candia, N.H.) used pit strategy and a timely caution to grab an improbable win in the NASCAR iRacing.com Series World Championship race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, spoiling a dominant run by Robert Hall (Hampton, Ga.). It was Stergios' first series victory.

Better known for his achievements in online road racing, Stergios stayed on the track when the race leaders pitted during a long green-flag run late in the race, then caught a break when the caution flew a few laps later. He pitted and retained the lead, then held off Michael J. Johnson (Garner, Ky.), Brandon Buchberger (Sugar Grove, Ill.), Charles Cosper (Belton, Texas) and Chad Coleman (Pendergrass, Ga.) on several late restarts during the final 20 laps.

Series heavyweights weren't among the top finishers, but unpredictable finishes are a staple of the series at Las Vegas.

Stergios' surprise victory brought back memories of when Sandeep Banerjee's (Mumbai, India) drove through the field with a damaged car to win in 2010. While not as dramatic, Stergios' win will be remembered as one of those "where did he come from?" moments.

Series point leader Michael Conti (Woodland Park, N.J.) had a rough, up-and-down day. He started on the pole, looking to build on his lead over Ray Alfalla (Cape Coral, Fla.), who began third. Things looked promising for the opening 11 laps, when Conti built a big lead over the rest of the field before the first yellow flew. Hall took the lead during the first round of pit stops, and Conti never found his way back to the front because his car did not handle well in traffic. He finished 20th after being involved in a wreck with just a few laps remaining.

After taking the lead on Lap 12, Hall led a race-high 98 of 134 laps, and it looked like no one but Alfalla could match his blistering pace. The same caution that helped Stergios win relegated Hall and Alfalla to seventh and eighth place, respectively, not what their cars were capable of delivering.

After four of 17 races, Conti holds a one-point lead over defending champion Alfalla in the series standings. Brian Schoenburg (Moorpark, Calif.) moved to third with his 13th-place finish, 12 points off the lead. Hall is another 12 points back, and Johnson rounds out the Top 5.

Series points leader Michael Conti (5) finished 20th after being involved in a wreck with just a few laps remaining. (iRacing.com)

The Las Vegas race was the cleanest of the season, which bodes well heading to Texas Motor Speedway. Both are 1.5-mile tracks, but the similarities stop there. The early frontrunners in Las Vegas, such as Hall, Conti and Alfalla, will be the early favorites in Texas, but as Stergios showed, you can never count anyone out.