Two-time champion Ray Alfalla (Slip Angle Motorsports) took his first checkered flag of the 2016 NASCAR PEAK Antifreeze Series in dominating fashion at Auto Club Speedway on March 29. Alfalla started on the outside pole and quickly asserted himself as the driver to beat by taking the lead on the opening lap from pole-sitter Cody Byus (The TEAM) and totaled a race-high 66 circuits at the front.
PJ Stergios (Last Row Motorsports) finished second, five seconds behind Alfalla at the checkers for his fourth top-five finish in as many races. Kenny Humpe was third, his second top-five finish of the season. Allen Boes (Deadzone) finished fourth and David Rattler (LockDown Racing) played an alternate pit strategy to earn a fifth-place result.
"This is one of my favorite tracks, and it feels nice to bring it home with the win," Alfalla said.
Two weeks after a caution-free event at Phoenix, the caution flew twice in the first nine laps for a pair of incidents. First, Timmy Hill was sent spinning after contact with Justin Bolton. Hill was able to continue to a mediocre 23rd-place finish. Just a few laps later, Dillon Raffurty veered hard into the outside wall on the restart after experiencing technical difficulties. The crash would collect nearly a dozen cars and end the race for five sim racers, including Raffurty, who was credited with 42nd-place.
After the two quick cautions, the rest of the 125-lap race was run caution-free, giving drivers with speed on the long run an advantage while also allowing varying pit strategies to play out. With tire wear once again a huge factor, drivers near the front chose to pit well before fuel became an issue.
On the first run Alfalla fired off quickly and built a gap to the rest of the field but slowly began losing his gap as the run wore on. Since Alfalla was on a three-stop strategy, his total time given up was quite minimal and after performing some adjustments to his car, his long run speed improved in later runs. Despite the early troubles on the long run, Alfalla was never seriously challenged on speed the rest of the race.
With the race seemingly in hand, other drivers lacking the outright speed to keep up with Alfalla tried a riskier two-stop pit strategy. Rattler and Andrew Fayash were two drivers willing to try the counter-strategy and Rattler in particular found success with it. Although his car was not as fast as the leaders, his long run speed was competitive and one less trip down pit road than the leaders saved him nearly 40 seconds on track.
Instead of being stuck mid-pack, Rattler wound up leading 34 laps and was leading as late as Lap 111 before Alfalla overtook him on fresher tires. Though he fell short on picking up his first NASCAR PEAK Antifreeze Series win, a top five was just what Rattler needed as he moved up to 12th in the series standings.
With a quarter of the 2016 season in the books, a quintet of drivers is in position to battle for the series title. PJ Stergios and Alfalla are tied for the points lead, 11 points ahead of Boes. Jake Stergios is another three points adrift, followed by Chris Overland, who sits four markers behind the second Stergios brother.
Consistent top-five finishes have separated the front five drivers from the pack. Nick Ottinger, who is sixth in the championship, is 25 points behind fifth and 48 points -- equal to a full race -- behind the leader.
In two weeks, the rest of the field will look to close in on the front five as the series heads to Texas Motor Speedway. The fast 1.5-mile track is aero-dependent and notoriously tough to pass on, making qualifying and pit strategy of high importance. Can past champions Humpe and Tyler Hudson spoil the fun of the top five, or will Texas see familiar faces at the front once again? Find out in two weeks' time when the NASCAR PEAK Antifreeze Series takes to the Texas high-banks on iRacingLive!