CONCORD, N.C. — Audio and story by Managing Editor Jacob Seelman for Speed77 Radio and Race Chaser Online — iRacing.com photo — After several prior close calls and fast setups, Tuesday night’s NASCAR PEAK Antifreeze Series (NPAS) powered by iRacing.com event at Charlotte Motor Speedway finally fell into Danny Hansen’s lap.
Hansen darted away from his JScho Motorsports teammate Michael Conti on a green-white-checkered restart and then held off a last-gasp charge from Chad Laughton coming off of Turn 4 on the final lap to drive to victory lane in the PEAK Charlotte 300, notching his first series triumph in the series’ longest race.
“I don’t even know what to say right now,” a breathless Hansen said following his post-race celebration. “This is almost surreal; I’ve been doing this for a long time and to finally get one is amazing. Gotta thank Mike (Conti) for racing me clean, he gave me room and it was hard-fought. What a night.”
The win was made even more special as Hansen took the victory on the two-year anniversary of the formation of JScho Motorsports, a fact that was not lost on the veteran sim-racer.
“Two years tonight, and we’ve won the last two races in the series. That’s special, for us as a team, and for me as a driver to be able to win on the anniversary, my first win; it’s just all too good to be true.”
Behind Hansen, Laughton nipped Conti for second by inches at the line, with Brandon Schmidt surviving a late-race skirmish to come home fourth and Cody Byus completing the top five at the finish.
Ray Alfalla grabbed the pole for the event with a scorching lap of 26.517 seconds, clocking an average speed of 203.643 mph around the 1.5 mile quad-oval, and on the start it was Alfalla in his “Blue Ghost” Main Performance Sim Pedals No. 2 Ford snatching the lead over the first five circuits, but his foray at the front would be short-lived as defending “300” winner Joey Brown stormed to the inside in Turn 1 to take the top spot at Lap 6.
The field would quickly begin to settle out over the opening stint of the race, but carnage would erupt on Lap 20 with a multi-car crash in Turn 1 that swept up defending series champion Tyler Hudson, Peter Bennett and Brandon Hauff and Brandon Hauck in the melee to slow the field for the first time, bringing the leaders to pit road for their first service of the night.
On the restart, the leaders would settle out again, with Nick Ottinger making some moves within the top three but the biggest gainer would be Chad Laughton, as he found his way around Joey Brown for the race lead at Lap 33 going down into Turn 1. From there, Laughton powered away to a quick lead and maintained it as positions continued to shuffle behind him. By the time the second caution of the night flew at Lap 50 for contact between the 93 of Byron Daley and the 16 of Thomas Lewandowski resulting in a Daley spin on the backstretch, Conti had worked his way up to second behind leader Laughton.
Another restart that would shuffle Conti back to fifth after he restarted on the outside lane and the outside lane coming in characterized the second quarter of the race but Alex Scribner’s solo spin coming off of Turn 4 would slow the pace for the third time and shuffle the deck yet again. Laughton would continue to dominate the laps led column as he laid siege to the field, but the fourth caution of the night would shake things up even more as Texas winner Kevin King found his night over at Lap 85 after being turned by the 19 of Mitchell Hunt and collecting the 47 of Chris Overland and the 33 of Bryan Blackford in Turn 2.
Nick Ottinger would be the big winner on pit road that go-round, snatching the lead away after service and getting away to a big lead on the ensuing restart. After an accordion that started at the front of the field when Hansen got loose just in front of Alfalla and Brown, the caution flew a lap later for a crash on the front straightaway involving the 82 machine of Alex Warren.
Once the field went back racing, the event finally settled into a solid stretch of green-flag racing, and at halfway it was Ottinger leading Daytona winner Kenny Humpe and Joey Brown, but Humpe would make a big move in Turn 3 for the lead just two laps later and pull the field from there, leading the field by just over a second until disaster struck again on Lap 132.
Brown was attempting to make the peel to pit road but his slow-down was not caught in time by Brad Davies and Alfalla behind him, and the two former teammates were nearly part of a huge crash in Turn 4 as they could not avoid the slowing 12 machine in time, with both suffering fairly serious damage before the sixth caution flew a lap later for Chris Overland’s solo spin in Turn 4.
Yet again, a lightning-quick pit stop for Nick Ottinger would put him in front of the field for the restart, but the green would again be short-lived as caution flew for the seventh time on Lap 142 when the 4 of Brian Day went around on the backstretch and smacked the inside wall.
There was when the strategy plays began, as Joey Brown and Mitchell Hunt, among others, came down under caution with 55 laps to go and started to top off their fuel tanks in hopes that if the race went green to the end, they could make it to the finish without another pit stop.
However, that dream was not to be. Trey Eidson smacked the wall on Lap 148 and nearly brought out a caution, before righting his ship and continuing on despite heavy right-side damage. Chad Laughton reassumed the lead at Lap 153 ahead of Nick Ottinger and a charging Hansen before the eighth caution of the night flew for Kenny Humpe’s long slide through the grass and Adam Gilliland’s machine smacking the wall, slowing the field and ending the strategy gamble for the few hopefuls.
That caution also ended Ottinger’s quest for victory as he was coming down onto pit road just as the caution came out, being forced to drive through without service and come back through a second time, relegating him to the back of the pack. Justin Bolton used a two-tire call to grab the lead for the first time all night, but on the restart, Hansen proved his four-tire gamble was the right call, powering to the lead with 19 laps to go in Turn 1.
It was a lead he would not relinquish, despite three late-race cautions inside the final 20 laps. The first flew at Lap 183 when Matt Bussa made hard contact with the Turn 2 SAFER Barrier, while the second came six laps later after a quick restart and saw Joey Brown spin through the infield and collect Bussa, Chris Overland and Alex Scribner.
The final caution of the night was the toughest one, however, as with seven laps to go on a restart, the 3 of Brandon Schmidt made contact with the rear quarter-panel of the 55 of Brian Schoenburg, who was running fourth at the time. Schoenburg went spinning into the pack and the ensuing multi-car mess set up the final green-white-checkered sprint to the finish.
With six of sixteen rounds now complete, the question remains who the dominant driver is. Is it Chad Laughton, who carries a thirteen point lead over Michael Conti into the series’ next race at Dover? Is it one of the other five winners the series has seen so far in 2014? Or will it be someone else emerging from the battle to claim the series’ biggest prize? One thing is for sure, the NASCAR PEAK Antifreeze Series will be looking to extend their streak to seven different winners in seven races this season when they get back on track in two weeks’ time at Dover!
Catch all the action Tuesday, June 3rd at 9 PM Eastern with exclusive content and coverage on iRacing.com, PSRTV, the Motor Racing Network and Race Chaser Online!
Audio with race winner Danny Hansen:
Audio with 3rd-place Michael Conti:
Still to come…
Audio post-race with Brian Schoenburg:
Still to come…