February 26, 2014 — story and audio by Managing Editor Jacob Seelman for Speed77 Radio and Race Chaser Online — iRacing.com photo — DAYTONA BEACH, FL — When heroes come to Daytona, all it takes is an instant for a race and a driver’s career to change forever.
Kenny Humpe can’t speak for the latter just yet, but he certainly experienced every bit of his race changing when the caution flew coming to the white flag of Tuesday night’s season-opening NASCAR PEAK Antifreeze Series powered by iRacing.com (NPAS) season-opening Daytona 250, handing him the victory in his debut start in NASCAR’s only officially-sanctioned online racing series.
Humpe, who led the field to a frantic two-lap sprint to the finish, was out in front of NPAS veteran Brandon Kettelle as a huge crash erupted behind him in Turn 3, sparked when the No. 53 of Brandon Hauck and the No. 30 of Robert Hall made contact in the middle of a four-wide battle for position, sending the Hall machine careening into the pack and wadding up roughly half the field when the smoke settled.
The crash forced NPAS officials to end the event under the caution flag, as no provisions currently exist for a green-white-checkered rule on the iRacing service.
“I don’t even know what to say right now,” said an elated Humpe in Victory Lane following the conclusion of the event. “This is a dream come true for me, it really is. I knew coming off four we had a good shot to win if we were out front, and then when my spotter Mike Skinner as the guys were wrecking behind me and the caution came out, then it was real.”
“Once the second pit stop was over, I was able to choose the right line at the right time and found myself leading the front pack.”
Humpe finished third in the 2013 NASCAR iRacing.com Pro Series (the undercard series to the NPAS) championship to qualify for this year’s NPAS field after winning four of the ten races in that series.
“Last year, we almost won the Pro Series championship and came on real strong, so I knew if we could carry some positive momentum into this season, that we could make some noise before it was over. I just never expected it would be at Daytona. To win in my first start, at the biggest track of them all? That’s special right there.”
“It doesn’t matter if it’s the virtual Daytona or the real Daytona, it’s still Daytona. Even (Dale Earnhardt) Junior won here back in 2009, the very first series race, and he just won the 500 again on Sunday so you know, to be associated with some of the best guys in motorsports, it’s amazing.”
Behind Humpe, Kettelle was scored second at the finish, with Danny Hansen from JScho Motorsports coming home third and notching his best career Daytona and series finish in his second NPAS start at the World Center of Racing.
“Man, if that thing would have went green I think I could have won it, but it could have gone far worse, you can’t complain about third,” said Hansen following the checkered flag.
Thomas Lewandowski, who has competed in NASCAR PEAK Antifreeze Series since its inception in 2010, finished the night in the fourth spot and Brian Schoenburg, teammate to Danny Hansen, completed the top five.
Bryan Blackford, Brian Day, Michael Conti, Brad Mahar and Kevin King were the remainder of the top ten in a very uncharacteristic Daytona showdown that featured a wealth of green flag action.
Series veteran Brad Davies qualified on the pole and led the field to the green flag in what many drivers expected to be a rough-and-tussle, old-school Daytona event with several crashes like plagued the 2013 edition of this race. Instead, the race itself was anything but what the 43-car field expected.
From the drop of the first green flag, drivers were treated to a 93-lap stretch of green flag racing in which pit strategy was king in deciding the players who would be around at the end. Early players in the lead battle included Cody Byus, Chris Overland, Adam Gilliland and impressive rookie Mitchell Hunt, taking to the high banks for his first series start and leading laps early.
After 12 lead changes in the first 19 laps of the event, the field began to settle down a little bit, with Gilliland, the defending Daytona winner looking to make it two in a row, holding steady among the top two or three players throughout the first third of the event. The pair of Chris Overland, the defending NASCAR iRacing Pro Series champion and Cody Byus led the field for a large portion of the first half of the race, but they would be victims of the unpredictability of the Daytona draft as well.
On Lap 38, Byus and Overland were leading the field down the Superstretch when Overland attempted to come down in front of the 27 of Byus after getting a run down the backstraight. However, the run stalled out and when Overland came down, he just barely came across the nose of Byus’ machine, sending himself spinning into the grass in Turn Three, while Byus got loose and spun as well, relegating the pair to the back of the field and out of the lead draft.
Due to the long run of green flag racing, a cycle of green flag pit stops began on Lap 42, with Carson McClelland the first driver to make the peel to pit road and bringing the rest of the field with him shortly after. Four laps later, once all the different strategies had sorted themselves out, the cream began to rise to the top, with the tandem of defending series champion Tyler Hudson and two-time champ Ray Alfalla out front and in position to challenge for their second wins each at the World Center of Racing.
Hudson led at halfway (Lap 50) before Alfalla took over the following lap, but with green conditions not looking to end any time soon, the field began to shift strategies for the closing stint of the event.
Humpe and Josh Berry, a former iRacing Pro Series champion, were the first to hit pit road as part of a short-pitting strategy to back their fuel up from the end, and as quickly as those two made their beds, most of the rest of the field followed. Tyler Hudson and others made a similar move on Lap 59 and gave up their top running positions to grab a splash of fuel and make their final adjustments for the ending stretch.
The biggest pit road miscue came on Lap 60, when Ray Alfalla hit pit road for his final stop and was tagged for speeding entering pit lane. That pass through penalty, combined with a slow stop on the No. 2 Main Performance PC Sim Pedals Ford, doomed Alfalla’s hopes of contending for a victory, as he ended up one lap down after the penalty.
As the leaders continued to dive for the pit lane, Jake Stergios inherited the lead hoping to make an economy run in his No. 41 machine and maybe steal a victory at Daytona International. Stergios paced the field for 34 laps while he hoped his strategy would be able to pay off, leading more circuits on the night than anyone else, but ultimately, his fuel gamble did not pay off, and Stergios hit the pit lane with 11 laps to go along with Byus and Overland, who had stayed out with him hoping for a stroke of luck.
With that gamble coming to an end, Brandon Kettelle inherited the lead at the head of a huge pack coming to the ten to go mark of the event. Less than a lap later, near-disaster hit in Turn Four as Alex Scribner nearly crashed into the inside SAFER Barrier after the 40 of Josh Laughton got loose and made contact with the 50. Somehow though, everyone was able to gather their cars up and keep the race under green conditions.
At this point, everyone was beginning to go for broke, as Michael Conti and Adam Gilliland had worked their way back into the lead draft, along with the pole-winning car of Davies and his teammate Thomas Lewandowski. And going for broke at Daytona ultimately spells disaster.
With seven laps to go, the Big One struck for the first time going down into Turn One, when Davies was hooked just slightly by his teammate, the 16 of Lewandowski. Davies spun up across the racetrack into the rear of the 5 of Mike Conti and ignited a massive crash at the front of the field, leaving few cars unscathed after the dust settled. Among the drivers involved were Adam Gilliland, Tyler Hudson, Nick Ottinger, a six-time race winner last year, Mitchell Hunt, and Richard Dusett.
Conti and Gilliland were able to continue in the top ten despite damage to their machines, but would be hard-pressed to have a shot at the win over the final sprint.
That crash set up the two lap dash and the scramble that ultimately handed the win to Humpe.
The NASCAR PEAK Antifreeze Series continues in two weeks’ time with Round 2 from the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Will Kenny Humpe be able to make it two wins in a row to start off the 2014 season, or will Ray Alfalla, Michael Conti and the rest of the field be able to mount a challenge? Find out at 9 PM Eastern on March 11th during the iRacing Sin City 250 with exclusive content and coverage on iRacing.com, PSRTV, MRN Radio and Race Chaser Online!
Audio with race winner Kenny Humpe:
Audio with second place Brandon Kettelle:
Audio with third place Danny Hansen:
Audio with eighth place Michael Conti: