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Ray Alfalla (Slip Angle Motorsports) captured his third NASCAR PEAK Antifreeze Series championship, capping a remarkable season with a second-place finish in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. PJ Stergios (ineX Racing), Alfalla’s competition for the championship, won the race in a clutch performance but fell two points short of winning his first championship.
The difference in the championship came down to laps led, with Alfalla's 50 giving him the bonus point for leading the most laps while Stergios could manage only 34 circuits at the front of the field. If Stergios had led 17 more laps, he would have taken the championship on a tiebreaker.
The night started off with Alfalla starting on pole while Stergios rolled off 13th. Pole position gave Alfalla an immediate advantage in that he would have a very good chance at leading a lap early on and picking up an all-important bonus point. When the race went green, Alfalla did exactly that by jumping out to an early lead over Michael Conti and Justin Bolton.
As the first run wore on, Alfalla's lead stabilized at around 1.5 seconds over Brad Davies, who overhauled Conti for second on Lap 28. Further back, Stergios had moved into the top five. A few laps later sim racers started heading into the pits for tires, but the two championship contenders stayed on the track not wanting to get trapped a lap down in case a caution flew.
On Lap 41 the two pitted together with Alfalla winning the battle off pit road. However, due to running several additional laps Alfalla lost the lead to Conti with Nick Ottinger (Gale Force Sim Racing) in second.
The first caution flag flew on Lap 58 when Ottinger was battling Davies and Kenny Humpe (The TEAM) for second. Davies got loose under Ottinger coming off Turn 2, hit Ottinger, and spun down into Humpe. Humpe got the worst of it, smashing into the inside wall and ending his night. Ottinger continued without damage and won the race off pit road during the yellow, earning the race lead.
Alfalla did not wait long to reclaim the lead, doing so on a Lap 75 restart just before a massive crash happened behind him when Kevin King was hooked in front of the field. Nearly a dozen cars piled into the melee on the backstretch, but both Alfalla and Stergios were unscathed.
After trailing Alfalla for much of the race, Stergios made his move on the next round of green flag pit stops. Stergios pitted before Alfalla and jumped in front thanks to his fresher tires. When the field cycled through pit stops, Stergios held the lead with Conti leading Alfalla for second.
Stergios looked to be in prime position to threaten Alfalla's laps-led mark but another caution flew for a crash on the front stretch and bunched the field up again. Stergios hung on, though, winning the race off pit road and maintaining the lead on the restart only for the yellow light to flash again, forcing him and Alfalla to pit road again for another set of fresh tires.
With 17 laps to go, the race resumed, this time with Taylor Hurst in the lead courtesy of a two-tire pit stop. Stergios and Alfalla both looked to pounce on the restart with the fresh tires and the next 10 laps featured phenomenal sim racing among Hurst, Alfalla, Stergios and Ottinger. Stergios finally took the lead from Hurst with nine laps to go, but was unable to secure the bonus point for most laps led.
Alfalla also came through for second with Ottinger finishing third ahead of Cody Byus as Hurst slipped to fifth at the checkers.
Alfalla's third championship brings to six the number of consecutive top-two finishes in the NASCAR PEAK Antifreeze Series standings, dating back to 2011. Stergios, to his credit, had the second-best year ever in series history. Both drivers had an average finish of fourth to go along with 13 top-10s in 16 races, but Alfalla was more consistent and had a better average starting position (sixth versus 12th).
Jake Stergios won the battle for third in the standings, though he was well back of the top two. Chris Overland took fourth despite finishing 27th at Homestead as Dylan Duval also found trouble, finishing 31st, but taking fifth in the standings over Ottinger.
With another season in the books, the NASCAR PEAK Antifreeze Series enters into hibernation until March 2017. Alfalla will once again bask in the glow of being crowned the best oval sim racer in the world at Homestead-Miami Speedway during the Ford Championship Weekend (where he will collect a check for $10,000 prize and third NASCAR championship ring), while the rest of the field has to wonder what they can do to knock him off his perch. His success is truly unprecedented in a field that is loaded with talent and gets more competitive each year.
Congratulations to Ray Alfalla, 2016 NASCAR PEAK Antifreeze Series champion!
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