March 26, 2014 — Audio and recap by Jacob Seelman for Speed77 Radio and Race Chaser Online — iRacing.com photo — FONTANA, CA — Sometimes the strong win the war, and other times the survivors claim the battlefield.
Tuesday night during Round 3 of the NASCAR PEAK Antifreeze Series (NPAS) at Auto Club Speedway, Nick Ottinger fit both categories to perfection.
Ottinger, driving the #05 Rheem Chevrolet, survived a rash of cautions and held off fellow NPAS veterans Danny Hansen and two-time series champion Ray Alfalla on a late-race restart as a multi-car crash erupted behind them to claim his first victory of 2014 in the series’ debut visit to the wide-open 2-mile oval.
Officially, the race ended under caution after a crash on Lap 123 collected Byron Daley and Kwame Adjei in Turn 2, forcing series officials to call the eighth and final yellow of the night.
The triumph was Ottinger’s ninth career series victory and came on the heels of the North Carolinian’s six-win campaign in 2013.
“Man, I’ll tell you what, it feels really good to get this kind of a start going to the season after we struggled during this stretch last year,” Ottinger said in Victory Lane following the event. Ottinger led 72 of the event’s 125 laps. “Can’t thank my guys enough; Gale Force Racing has just upped their program in such a huge way and I’m glad to be a part of it.”
“I’ll be honest, a part of me got nervous having to make all these restarts but we just said such a good launch (on the green flag) and good drive off the corners that we could just get away from everybody. And that was the difference.”
Hansen continued his masterful start to the season, following up his third place effort at Daytona with a career-best second place finish in Round Three of 2014, with Ray Alfalla finally getting his season onto the right foot with a third place run.
Defending champion Tyler Hudson, who led a handful of laps on the night, finished fourth and Brad Davies completed the top five at the checkered flag after coming all the way from 29th on the grid.
Hudson remarked after the race that his result was not indicative of how well he ran all race long.
“We definitely should have finished a lot better than where the sheet’s going to show us,” the 2013 champ expressed. “We had a car that could have easily contended for the win, we just kept having caution after caution there at the end and could never get a run long enough to wind her up and make a run at it.”
The race was a battle of survival despite a 50-lap green flag run to start the event. Alfalla led the grid to the green flag from the pole position after setting a fast lap in qualifying of 38.829 seconds (185.428 mph), and immediately set sail over outside pole-sitter Hansen.
The early stages of the event were punctuated by multiple lead changes among the front-runners, as Hansen plunged to the inside of Alfalla at Lap 10 before being overhauled two laps later by Nick Ottinger. Ottinger appeared to be battling the same connection issues that plagued him last season when he first took the lead but was as strong as anyone in the field all night.
A series of mishaps struck over the next 20 laps, but remarkably none drew a caution flag to slow the event. The 19 of Mitchell Hunt slowed on the backstretch on Lap 18, appearing to blow a motor, and was slammed from behind by the Ashley Miller machine, but both cars were able to limp back to pit road. A handful of laps later, at Lap 32, leader Nick Ottinger smacked the wall coming out of Turn 4 and handed the lead to Danny Hansen just before green flag pit stops.
The pit stop cycle began at lap 41 when Ray Alfalla hit the pit lane, and was spread out over the next seven laps as Hansen, Ottinger, Matt Bussa and Josh Berry all took turns at the point of the field during the exchange. When Berry ended the cycle at Lap 48 and handed the lead back to the #05 of Ottinger, he held a two-second lead over Danny Hansen and the rest of the field just before the first caution of the event flew at Lap 52 when Rich Dusett pounded the wall in Turn 4.
Young gun Matt Bussa inherited the lead by staying out as most of the leaders came in, and led the field back to green at Lap 55 as the action began heating up three and four-wide behind him. Both Byron Daley and Adam Gilliland tried to dive to the apron of the race track and got loose, losing multiple positions as grip was becoming harder and harder to find. By the time Danny Hansen reclaimed the lead from Bussa at Lap 58, it was an all-out scramble at the front.
After Ray Alfalla and Nick Ottinger flew around Hansen for the lead and then diced it out among themselves, it was Ottinger who emerged at the top of the board on Lap 61 once again. He began to pull away from the field and brought a new contender with him, as Tyler Hudson picked his way to second on Lap 74 after starting the evening’s action in 19th place.
Hudson would not be content to ride around forever though, as he surged by the #05 of Ottinger to lead at Lap 79 and took off while several of the drivers behind him short-pitted hoping to make up time. That would not be the case however, as a spin involving Thomas Lewandowski and Brandon Hauff drew the second caution of the night at Lap 90.
From there, the proverbial war began. Kenny Humpe used a two-tire strategy to grab the lead at the Lap 94 restart, but a multi-car crash on the frontstretch a lap later after Josh Berry got into the wall and spun down into traffic while running sixth decimated the midsection of the field. Involved in the incident were the #40 of Josh Laughton, Las Vegas winner Jake Stergios, Adam Gilliland, and Danny Hansen.
Robert Hall brought out the fourth caution of the night when he spun into the wall in Turn 2 and collected Alex Warren, but it was on the ensuing restart that the move of the race would occur.
On Lap 106, just after the restart, Nick Ottinger powered to the inside of Kenny Humpe in Turn 3 to take the lead officially, and moments later, the fifth caution of the night flew for a spin by Brian Schoenburg on the frontstretch, continuing a tough night for the JScho Motorsports camp, who also saw Michael Conti retire before halfway.
Ottinger would be credited with the lead at the moment of caution and from there, he would not give it up again despite two more restarts following cautions on Laps 113 and 117 for two separate crashes. The first swept up several cars in Turn 4 when Chad Laughton got loose and Josh Laughton spun trying to avoid the slowing #26 machine, and the second ended Chad Laughton’s night when he was bumped from behind and sent hard into the inside wall on the frontstretch.
That set up the final restart on Lap 121, and allowed Ottinger to power away from Hansen.
In all, the eight cautions slowed the field for 30 laps, and fifteen lead changes took place between seven different drivers. Kenny Humpe, who lead 14 laps on the night, extended his championship lead to eleven over Brandon Kettelle.
With three races in the books, the NASCAR PEAK Antifreeze Series heads to the Lone Star State and Texas Motor Speedway in two weeks time. They say “everything’s bigger in Texas”, but who will be bigger than all the rest? Will it be Ottinger, who won at Texas a year ago and is looking to go two-in-a-row in series action? Will it be Ray Alfalla, the 2011 and 2012 winner at Texas who is still hunting a return to winning form? Or will it be a fourth different winner in as many races that shakes up the championship picture even further?
Find out Tuesday, April 8th at 9 PM Eastern with exclusive content and coverage on iRacing.com, PSRTV, the Motor Racing Network and Race Chaser Online!
Audio with winner Nick Ottinger:
Audio with runner-up Danny Hansen: