Dylan Duval (The TEAM) scored his first career victory in the NASCAR PEAK Antifreeze Series by turning a pit mistake into the race lead and holding off PJ Stergios (ineX Racing) and Ray Alfalla (Slip Angle Motorsports) on two late-race restarts to win at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Duval had run in the top 10 for much of the event before a strange turn of events saw him capture the lead with nine laps remaining. As the laps ticked down, Duval had miscalculated the amount of fuel needed to finish the race and had to pit under green with 15 laps to go. After the stop, Duval was 33rd in the running order with seemingly no chance at earning a solid finish.
However, the caution flew two laps later with Duval still on the lead lap. Nearly every lead lap car pitted for tires, leaving Duval to restart in second position, with fresh tires, alongside Trey Eidson's (Aftermath Motorsports) damaged car. On the ensuing restart, Duval quickly overhauled Eidson, who dropped back before being involved in a crash off Turn 2. The caution was a blessing for Duval, who was trying to hold off the two most dominant drivers in the field -- Stergios and Alfalla, but four more potential green flag laps still stood between him and the checkered flag.
When the green flew again, Duval jumped out front after a great restart, but Stergios quickly erased the small margin and was hot on the leader's tail as they headed down the backstretch. Although he was close, Stergios was not quite in position to challenge for the lead and elected to ride in line as Duval passed under the start-finish line marking three laps to go. As he did on the prior lap, Stergios got a run off Turn 2 and this time Duval blocked the bottom line. Instead of forcing the issue, Stergios took the high side, attempting to set up a pass off Turn 4. He never had the opportunity, as a crash back in the field triggered another caution, ending the race with Duval the improbable victor.
Stergios was second while Alfalla finished third after leading a race-high 56 of 100 laps. Justin Bolton came home fourth and Mitchell Hunt (High Performance Motorsports) rounded out the top five.
As has been the case for much of the season, Stergios and Alfalla had the cars to beat, leading a combined 79 laps. Stergios had the first crack at the lead after Kenny Humpe's connection trouble allowed Stergios to inherit the pole. It was Alfalla, though, who had the most speed on the long runs, but eight cautions broke up the race into relatively short sprints.
Even with the race not playing to his strength, Alfalla held the lead after passing Stergios with 17 laps to go, and looked poised to take his second win of the season before Duval's unlikely strategy was made possible by a timely yellow.
With Stergios (454) finishing just ahead of Alfalla (467), and Alfalla earning the bonus point for most laps led, the championship picture remains unchanged at a 13-point margin after Indy. Jake Stergios is third, 98 points back of the lead and nine in front of Chris Overland. Humpe (350) fell to fifth after a 40th-place result due to a crash after his connection issues put him back in the sim racing traffic, while Duval's win propelled him to sixth in the standings with 347 points.
Only five races remain in the 2016 NASCAR PEAK Antifreeze Series, all on unique tracks. Next up is the lone road course date on the calendar, Watkins Glen International. The 2.45-mile road course features high speeds, tight racing, and a chance for some unexpected faces to shine at the front of the field.
Alfalla, Humpe, and the Stergios brothers have been strong on road courses in the past but look for sim racers such as Michael Conti and Nick Ottinger to be contenders as well.
Can Alfalla keep his points lead after an unpredictable race or will PJ Stergios use his extensive road racing experience to close the gap? Catch all the action on iRacingLive in two weeks' time to find out!