Every week, NESN Fuel partner iRacing, the world’s premier online racing simulation service, recaps a race from one of its top series. This week, iRacing recapped the second round of the NASCAR iRacing Pro Series, which determines the second half of the qualifiers for the 2017 NASCAR PEAK Antifreeze Series. Read more about iRacing here.
Ryan Luza turned in a dominating performance at Phoenix International Raceway on Tuesday night, leading 146 of 156 laps to win his second straight NASCAR iRacing Pro Series event. Luza started on pole and was the class of the field throughout the night and was never passed for the lead except due to differing pit strategies.
Nevertheless, the race came down to a five-lap shootout between Luza and Jeremy Allen, who had hung around the front for most of the race. On the restart, Luza broke away from Allen and had a comfortable lead with three laps to go when a crash at the back of the field brought out the 11th and final caution of the race, freezing the field and securing Luza’s victory.
Allen came home second followed by Bobby Zalenski, who backed up his strong run at Texas Motor Speedway with another podium finish, as Jarl Teien finished fourth and Jimmy Mullis capped a strong run with a fifth-place result.
After starting from the pole Luza quickly built a lead over Keegan Leahy as the race started with a long run. By Lap 50, the Texas winner had a lead of more than half the front straightaway but pit stops were approaching and the tricky pit entry at Phoenix has caught drivers by surprise in the past.
Luza had no such trouble with his pit stop, but a caution came out in the middle of the cycle, jumbling up the running order. Some of the leaders, Luza included, lucked out in that they were still on the lead lap and maintained their track position after the remainder of the field pitted under the caution.
When the green waved again on Lap 61, Luza went about his business, pulling away from the field and not showing any signs of slowing down as the tires wore over the 35-lap run. A caution on Lap 96 ended the run and saw the leaders head to the pits for tires and fuel once again. From that point forward the race took on a much different feel as nine cautions flew over the last 55 laps.
The short runs were just fine for Luza, as it took pit strategy out of the equation and allowed him to focus solely on consistent restarts and holding the rest of the field at bay — which he did without issue. Even after numerous restarts Luza had no trouble pulling away from the drop of the green, leaving the other sim racers to battle it out for second.
Luza’s dominance in the early part of the season has staked him to an early lead in the championship standings. He leads by 29 points over Zalenski and 58 over Teien after two of nine races. Allen is fourth, just nine points behind Teien while Brian Schoenburg rounds out the top five after rebounding for a ninth-place result at Phoenix after struggling early on.
Next week the series heads back to a 1.5-mile circuit as the drivers visit Homestead-Miami Speedway. Long runs and multiple grooves are typical of a sim race at Homestead, making passing easier than at some other similarly-sized tracks. Despite that fact, Luza will enter the race as the clear favorite no matter how easy overtaking may be on the south Florida oval. Can Luza start the season three-for-three, or can Zalenski, Teien, or another driver spoil the party? Find out next Tuesday on iRacingLive!
All photos via iRacing