Ryan Luza won the 2017 NASCAR PEAK Antifreeze Series championship, outlasting his three rivals in the winner-take-all season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The race, and championship, came down to a late duel between Luza and Logan Clampitt as the two restarted from the front row with five laps remaining. Luza had the lead and with it, control of the restart, and he rocketed out to a lead at the drop of the green. Clampitt was able to quickly clear Michael Conti to settle into second, but Luza’s speed was too much as he pulled away on his way to Victory Lane.
Clampitt finished runner-up, 0.7 seconds behind, while Conti wrapped up a solid season with a third-place effort. Brad Davies was fourth and championship contender Bobby Zalenski rounded out the top five.
Notably missing from the front of the field at the end was three-time NPAS champion Ray Alfalla. Alfalla started fourth and looked to be a contender early on. That all changed on Lap 92 when Alfalla was caught up in a crash and sustained heavy damage to his right front. The repairs cost him three laps and relegated him to a disappointing 30th-place finish.
Luza and Clampitt started the race much like they finished — on the front row. Luza started on pole and sprinted out to an early lead as the first 73 laps ran without a caution flag. The first round of green-flag pit stops briefly cost Luza the lead but by Lap 50 he had reclaimed the top spot as Alfalla moved into second. While Alfalla could occasionally match Luza’s pace, the leader had more consistent lap times as he slowly built the gap as the second round of stops approached.
The two leaders pitted together on Lap 67 with Alfalla unwilling to give up ground on old tires. However, the race was turned upside-down on Lap 74 when a caution flew in the middle of green-flag stops. The caution was costly for Luza, Alfalla, and Zalenski, as all three had pitted before the caution and were trapped outside the top 15. On the other hand, Clampitt had yet to pit and was the leader, which put him in the driver’s seat for the championship as the race approached halfway.
Clampitt would restart second after losing a spot on pit road to Kenny Humpe while his closest competitor for the title, Luza, was way back in 18th. As the three tried to battle back to the front, disaster struck for Alfalla on Lap 92 headed to Turn 1. Matt Bussa got turned around by Taylor Hurst, which sparked a melee. Alfalla was running right behind the incident and had no time to avoid the several spinning cars in front.
With Alfalla eliminated, the attention turned to Luza and the frequent cautions were helping him regain his lost track position. By Lap 100 he was already up to eighth and with fresher tires than the cars in front. Five laps later he was in second with Clampitt in his sights. Clampitt’s lead quickly evaporated, and on Lap 110 Luza cleared him coming off Turn 2 to regain the lead.
After taking the lead, Luza drove away from the rest of the field and would have cruised to a comfortable victory over Conti if not for a flurry of late-race cautions. Luza never faltered on the restarts, though, and held on to win the $10,000 champion’s prize.
Luza’s fifth win of 2017 capped off a dominant campaign as the Texan also sat on three poles and earned 10 top-five finishes.
With 2017 in the books, all eyes look toward the NASCAR iRacing Pro Series where the future talent of the NPAS is groomed. It was not that long ago when Luza, Clampitt, and Zalenski cut their teeth on the junior circuit going to show that talent can develop quickly. Assuming the NPAS championship format remains for 2018, the final four would have to be the odds-on favorites. They clearly had the strongest performance all season with 11 of 16 wins and 31 top 10s coming from the finalists. However, the field is stacked with talent and potentially could receive 10 newcomers depending on the results of the NiPS.
As the NPAS heads into a five-month offseason, we hope you join us again in March at Daytona.
Congratulations to Ryan Luza on his first NPAS championship!