March 12, 2014 — story and audio by Managing Editor Jacob Seelman for Speed77 Radio and Race Chaser Online — iRacing.com photo — LAS VEGAS, NV — Is the second verse sweeter than the first?
Jake Stergios would answer that with a resounding “yes”.
Stergios put his race on the line with a risky fuel strategy play Tuesday night during Round 2 of the NASCAR PEAK Antifreeze Series (NPAS) powered by iRacing.com, attempting to stretch his tank 60 laps on the final green flag run of the night to steal the checkered flag away from the front-runners.
Ultimately, the New Hampshire native played his cards to perfection, running dry as he crossed the finish line to notch his second career NPAS victory and second win in Sin City.
“(I) still can’t believe it,” said Stergios in Victory Lane. “Even if it was on fuel strategy again it is amazing to pick up another win in this series.”
“I love Las Vegas, and I guess now you can say I have a lot of luck here,” Stergios added with a chuckle. “It’s not like we weren’t competitive, we ran in the top ten most of the race. I knew the numbers, and the strategy played out to perfection.”
Stergios only led 14 of the race’s 167 laps, but made the winning move with 116 laps to go when he switched over to a fuel conservation strategy in hopes of making it to the end on one stop as opposed to two if the race went green.
Peter Bennett, Stergios’ teammate at Last Row Motorsports, also stretched his fuel to come home in the runner-up spot, 11.018 seconds behind at the checkered flag.
“I was really happy with second place but I feel like I could have competed with Jake for the win if I had restarted closer to him,” said Bennett following the event.
Thomas Lewandowski and Chris Overland finished third and fourth respectfully, also playing the fuel mileage game, with defending NPAS champion Tyler Hudson completing the top five as the first driver to have pitted twice in the race’s final 120 laps. Overland’s fourth-place finish came despite a pit-road speeding penalty during his final green-flag pit stop.
Daytona winner Kenny Humpe, also on a two-stop final run strategy, came home in seventh.
At the start of the event, it was all Cody Byus Racing on the front row, as Alex Warren earned the pole with a fast lap of 28.706 seconds and his teammate and boss Cody Byus started alongside. The CBR stranglehold on the front positions would not last long, however, as Kenny Humpe surged around Byus on Lap 15 and Warren lost his connection to the iRacing servers two laps later after leading the first 8 laps of the event. Warren ultimately finished 3 laps down in 40th.
The race’s first caution flew on Lap 22 after Ray Alfalla and P.J. Stergios made slight contact coming off of Turn Four and into the dogleg. Stergios then shot up the racetrack and hard into the outside wall, collecting the No. 7 of Ashley Miller and ultimately retiring both cars from the event.
On the ensuing restart, Byus got a jump on the No. 58 of Humpe and took off to the point, but his stint out front under green would be short-lived, as the race’s second caution flew at Lap 30 after Michael Johnson made contact with the 11 of Brad Davies and slapped the outside wall in Turn 3, bringing many of the leaders onto pit road for service and adjustments.
When the green flag flew again on Lap 35, it was Kenny Humpe who repaid the restart favor to Cody Byus, snatching the top spot back and setting sail out front as the racing behind him was fast and furious. Two and three-wide action allowed the best of the best to start making their way forward, with drivers like Ray Alfalla, Tyler Hudson and Michael Conti beginning methodical marches to the front of the field.
In the midst of this multi-groove action, however, catastrophe struck on Lap 46 when the field stacked up in Turn 2 behind a slowing Kevin King, who had smacked the wall about a half lap earlier on the frontstretch. The accordion-effect of the stack-up caused Byron Daley to spin down low on the backstretch and forced several other cars to spin in an effort to avoid further damage. Remarkably, everyone was able to drive their cars away from the accident scene with no major issues.
This caution, the race’s third and final one of the evening, was the caution that set up the strategy game to the finish, as multiple drivers came down to fill their gas tanks full of fuel and start praying they could conserve enough precious drops to creep home to the checkered flag.
After the green flag flew again, two of the series’ finest, Nick Ottinger, a six-time winner in 2013, and defending champ Tyler Hudson began charging their way towards the top of the scoring pylon, with Ottinger moving from a dismal 29th starting spot up to 12th by Lap 60 and Hudson advancing from 17th to 2nd by Lap 76, showing the service his title a season ago was no fluke.
Hudson finally took the lead from Kenny Humpe on Lap 87 before the first green flag pit cycle jumbled the running order, and retook the point after Jake Stergios ended the cycle with his money stop on Lap 108.
In the end, though, drivers began realizing that their fuel was not going to stretch the distance and began dropping one by one, with Humpe (Lap 135), Hudson (Lap 140), Chad Laughton (Lap 144) and Nick Ottinger (Lap 149) all giving up the lead over the race’s final run to come down for a splash of fuel and tires.
At Lap 159, when Josh Laughton finally yielded on his fuel and came to pit road, the lead cycled around to Stergios and the die was cast.
Next up for the NASCAR PEAK Antifreeze Series is the tour’s inaugural visit to Auto Club Speedway for Round Three of the 2014 season. With the unknown of a new racetrack to combat, who will rise to the occasion in Fontana? Will it be Tyler Hudson finally closing the deal on his first win of 2014? Will it be two-time champion Ray Alfalla, looking to rebound after a tough start to the season? Or can Jake Stergios hit the jackpot for back-to-back wins on the West Coast?
Find out at 9 PM Eastern on March 25th during the iRacing Auto Club 250 with exclusive content and coverage on iRacing.com, PSRTV, MRN Radio and Race Chaser Online!
Audio with winner Jake Stergios: