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PJ Stergios wins last-lap thriller at Watkins Glen

PJ Stergios (ineX Racing) came out on top at Watkins Glen in one of the most exciting NASCAR PEAK Antifreeze Series races in recent memory, passing both Michael Conti (Team Conti) and Nick Ottinger (Gale Force Racing) on the final lap to take his fourth win of the season.

Stergios took the white flag in third behind Conti and Ottinger but had fresher tires due to his pit strategy. He quickly closed on Ottinger heading up through the Esses and made his move exiting Turn 4 when Ottinger got loose and lost momentum, allowing Stergios to pass without a fight.

With Ottinger out of the way, Stergios set his sights on Conti as the two made their way around Turn 5. Like Ottinger, Conti got loose on exit, but was able to take a defensive line, giving him the preferred line into Turn 6. Conti held the lead through Turn 6 and again took a defensive line entering the final corner, Turn 7. This time, Stergios got into the back of Conti under braking, moving the No. 5 car up the track and into the outside wall, allowing Stergios to move past for the victory. Ottinger was second.

Conti had to settle for third after leading 23 laps and coming ever-so close to his first victory of 2016. Jake Stergios came home fourth ahead of Logan Clampitt (High Performance Motorsports) and erstwhile championship leader Ray Alfalla (Slip Angle Motorsports).

The thrilling finish was made possible in part by differing pit strategies among the leaders. The Stergios brothers chose to stop twice for tires while Conti, Ottinger, and much of the rest of the field opted for only a single pit stop.

Ottinger started on pole but was passed in Turn 1 by PJ Stergios, who then quickly moved away from the field during the opening laps. His gap was short-lived though as Conti had moved up from fourth on the grid to challenge for the race lead. The 2014 series champion looked to have the faster car but Stergios drove mistake-free before relinquishing his lead on Lap 16 to make his first pit stop.

Conti was not due to pit until Lap 22, and used the clean track in front of him to maintain his gap to Ottinger, who visited pit road on Lap 24 -- effectively splitting the race in half.

After completing their service, the two were once again chasing PJ Stergios, now joined by his brother Jake, who was on the same strategy. Conti quickly closed the gap thanks to his fresh tires -- and some nifty moves in traffic -- to draw alongside PJ Stergios into Turn 6 on Lap 33. Stergios did not put up a fight as he was due to pit.

The pass put Conti in the lead with 17 laps remaining; seven seconds clear of Ottinger and nearly 30 ahead of the Stergios duo. With their fresh tires, it was a foregone conclusion that PJ and Jake Stergios would start closing the gap, but time was not on their side. However, the Stergios brothers caught a break with six laps to go when Allen Boes and Clampitt made contact trying to pass in Turn 5. Their battle continued into Turn 6 and when the dust cleared, the brothers were clear of both Boes and Clampitt with nothing but clean air between themselves and Ottinger once The TEAM's Kenny Humpe dropped out with connection issues.

With the win, Stergios passed Alfalla in the series points standings and now leads by three points with four races to go. Jake Stergios is third, 67 points back, while Dylan Duval and Chris Overland, are tied for fourth, 24 points behind Jake Stergios.

Week 13 sees the NASCAR PEAK Antifreeze Series return to ovals with Michigan International Speedway the next stop on the schedule. The wide, two-mile oval offers room to pass and brings some interesting pit strategy into play should the race go green. With only three points separating the front two in the championship, look for Stergios and Alfalla to be strong once again. Can last year's Michigan winner Humpe spoil the party, or will Stergios and Alfalla be battling for the win once more? Find out in two weeks on iRacingLive when the NASCAR PEAK Antifreeze Series visits MIS.

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