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Rookie Ryan Luza continued his hot start to the 2017 NASCAR PEAK Antifreeze Series, finding Victory Lane for the second-straight week, this time at Auto Club Speedway. Luza started on the pole and led 61 of 125 laps, but the race came down to a green-white-checkered finish after a crash with seven laps to go.
Luza, along with second-place driver Logan Clampitt and 14 other sim racers, chose to stay out on worn tires for the final two laps, but Michael Conti, who was third at the time, led a group of cars into the pits for fresh rubber. Conti would restart 17th with two laps remaining.
On the restart, Luza jumped out in front of Clampitt by two car lengths as Kenny Humpe and Christian Challiner battled side-by-side for third through Turns 1 and 2. Farther back, Conti was on the move after a great restart and used his fresh tires to blow past three competitors by Turn 1. However, Luza's victory was secured -- and Conti's charge halted -- by a crash off Turn 2 when Jimmy Mullis and David Rattler hit the wall and caused the cars behind them to stack up. The crash brought out the evening's sixth yellow flag, ending the race under caution.
Clampitt followed Luza across the line to finish second, his third top-five finish in three races. Challiner just edged Humpe for third at the time of caution and Bobby Zalenski came home fifth.
Luza opened the race by leading the first 11 laps before Zack Novak and Corey Vincent beat him out of the pit lane under the first caution. Novak led until Luza reclaimed the point on Lap 20. However, it was Clampitt with the best long run car early as he ran down and passed Luza on Lap 38, just a few laps before the leaders began green flag pit stops.
Clampitt pitted a lap later than Luza and lost the lead by doing so thanks to Luza's extra lap on fresh tires. The two continued running nose-to-tail, but a caution cut their battle short on Lap 51. The caution also helped the lead-lap cars, which pitted late in the cycle, as they stayed out on their barely used tires, relegating Luza to ninth after he pitted for fresh rubber under caution.
With still half the laps remaining, Luza methodically worked his way back towards the front and took the lead away from Zalenski on Lap 76 to regain control of the race. From there Luza was unchallenged the rest of the way, though Alex Bergeron did lead some laps by playing an alternate pit strategy.
Luza and his No. 1 Ford Fusion are clearly the combination to beat early in the 2017 season, but it probably should not come as a total surprise considering his dominant NASCAR iRacing Pro Series season over the past winter. He will try to keep the momentum going in two weeks when the NASCAR PEAK Antifreeze Series visits Texas Motor Speedway for Week Four of the sim racing schedule.
Last year, PJ Stergios and Ray Alfalla waged a heated battle in the Lone Star State with Stergios getting the best of Alfalla in the end. Look for that duo to be strong once again this year with each of them looking to find the winner's circle for the first time in 2017. Can the rookie make it three in a row, or will a veteran get the best of him? Find out in two weeks' time on iRacing Live!
Tune into www.iracing.com/live at 8:45 p.m. ET on April 4 to catch the action live!