PJ Stergios (ineX Racing) won his third NASCAR PEAK Antifreeze Series race of the 2016 season, beating Slip Angle Motorsports' driver Ray Alfalla at Chicagoland Speedway. The two were the class of the field in the series' first race after the summer break, but Stergios pulled-off the victory with better long-run speed and a superior pit strategy.
Alfalla settled for second, 2.2 seconds behind the winner after starting from the pole and leading a race-high 90 of 167 laps. Chris Overland was third, more than seven seconds behind Stergios.
Taylor Hurst and Justin Bolton rounded out the top five.
On the short runs Alfalla was in a class of his own, but the race came down to long-run speed with only one caution being thrown for Timmy Hill’s (Aftermath) spin entering pit road during the first round of stops. Alfalla, who was the leader at the time of the caution, led the field down pit road but lost the lead to Dylan Duval (The TEAM) on the pit exchange.
On the ensuing restart Duval held-off Alfalla for six laps before finally giving way as he simply could not match the speed of two time champion's Ford Fusion. However, as the run wore on Stergios began to reel Alfalla in. By the time green-flag pit stops were imminent, Stergios' Ford was right on Alfalla’s bumper and inherited the lead when Alfalla was the first to pit.
Due to pitting a lap sooner than Stergios, Alfalla returned with a sizable margin over his nearest competitor. Stergios almost immediately started cutting into the margin and by the time 25 laps had elapsed in the run he was within striking distance of the lead again. On Lap 98 Stergios made his move to the bottom in Turn Three in an attempt to take the lead but Alfalla hung tough on the outside to keep Stergios at bay.
Unable to clear Alfalla, Stergios devised a new plan to take the lead. On this run Stergios pitted a lap before Alfalla; this allowed him to take the lead and build a gap of nearly three seconds. With only one more pit stop needed before the finish, Alfalla was now chasing the lead for the first time all race.
On this run Alfalla had more speed and began to reel Stergios in despite a near disaster with Overland that saw Alfalla on the receiving end of an inadvertent tap from behind entering Turn One. The contact sent Alfalla into a slide but he masterfully recovered and continued his pursuit of Stergios.
Alfalla was only a couple car lengths behind Stergios when the final pit window opened and once again it was Stergios getting the jump on Alfalla on pit road. By pitting a lap earlier for the second run in a row, Stergios saw his lead grow to over four seconds. Alfalla started to close the gap again but stalled-out midway through the run and was unable to mount a challenge.
The win could prove critical for Stergios' championship hopes as he cut into Alfalla's points lead. Alfalla now leads by just 11 points as the top two continue pulling away from the rest of the field. Kenny Humpe retained third place in the standings but lost ground after a twenty-eighth place finish due to a blend line violation while leaving pit road. Humpe’s poor result allowed Jake Stergios to move into a tie for third in the standings despite finishing P14 in the Windy City. However, Humpe and Jake now sit a distant 85 points behind Alfalla. Overland bookends the top five, jumping in front of Corey Vincent and making for three ineX Racing drivers in the first five positions.
Week 10 of the 2016 NASCAR PEAK Antifreeze season takes the sim racers to another 1.5-mile track: Kentucky Speedway. While Chicagoland and Kentucky are equal in length, the similarities end there. Kentucky’s surface is very rough, flat, and wide making it a challenge to create an optimal setup. Will Stergios and Alfalla continue to duel for the victory or can Humpe or another driver spoil the party at the front? Be sure and catch all the sim racing action in two weeks on iRacingLive when the NASCAR PEAK Antifreeze Series drivers take on Kentucky!