The sights, the sounds, the beer, all were present as NASCAR kicked off its 2019 season in its the biggest race of the year, the Daytona 500.
iRacing is no different. The NASCAR iRacing Series is a year long series that goes hand in hand with the real life NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series following the season along on its 36 week schedule. Most races in the series are 50% distance of real life; however, key events, like the Daytona 500 are full distance races.
Team Oppo brought their white and orange Camaro to the garage area in eager angst to get the season started. Outlooks from the field of competitors were fairly low as preseason testing showed that the passing was difficult and single file low line drafting was the key to maintaining connection with the lead pack. Lose that draft and your chances of winning flew off into the sunset like the field in your windshield.
No matter the pessimism, excitement was still in the air to start the first race of the NASCAR iRacing Series Season (NiS). The Team Oppo car was slated to start 32nd in the 36 car grid presenting a day long challenge for the team. The plan was simple. Work our way from the back of the pack to the rear of the lead group; then sit. Once the race got to about 40 laps to go, we can start parsing our way to the front.
The green flag came out and the race was on. It wasn’t long before trouble was a foot. A large multi-car incident took place on Lap 4 taking out many of the good, yet impatient cars. Fortunately, I was able to check up in time and received no damage from the incident.
The incident let me gain several spots, and the plan I had drawn up earlier seemed to be working like a charm. Once attached to the rear of the lead pack, the racing panned out as expected: single file, around the bottom, no passing, what most would call “boring.”
As we rounded the corner completing our 40th lap of follow the leader, it came to be that the car had no more gas. Green flag pit stops at Daytona have been the bane of my super speedway racing. For some reason, I do something wrong. Most of the time I come in too slow or I overshoot my box like an idiot. This time I set out to be different from status quo...
...And I was wrong. Not in the way that I had thought where I would screw up the pit entry, but exit is where it all went south. I entered the pits by myself because no one else came with me. Upon exiting I was again alone, the leaders were coming upon me and much to my surprise they were 2 and 3 wide. Being much slower at the moment and with them catching me very quickly, the only reasonable solution at the time was to dive to the apron and get out of the way instead of getting plowed over. Unfortunately, this meant that I lost the draft and thus time was ticking before they caught me again.
The drafting game at Daytona (in this current software build) is stupid. I was fortunate to find a small pack of 3 or 4 cars to run with, but no matter how hard we tried, there was no catching the leaders. The mission now was to not go 1 lap down.
That mission eventually failed. After several laps and a pit stop later, the Team Oppo car found itself a lap down to the leaders and trying to make its way back up to be the lucky dog. Then a break...
A questionable decision resulted in a car smashing itself into the wall sending some other cars spinning. The yellow flag came out and since I was not the free pass car (get a lap back), it was up to the leaders to determine if I were to get back on the lead lap. Having pitted for fuel a handful of laps earlier, I was staying out; however, most of the leaders were in the same boat. Low and behold the leaders pit cramming some more fuel in hopes to make it to the end. This allowed us to take the wave by on 1 to go to get back to the leaders.
As part of the wave by cars, we must assemble at the tail end of the line: behind the leaders, the slow cars, the lappers, and the damaged cars. In order to fully take advantage of the wave around, I could not get stuck behind the damaged cars. So I played some games...
Having a general idea of when the leaders restarted the race I could position myself to get a running start at the pack. Is it the most ethical thing to do? - No. But this move got us past a majority of the damaged cars and I was able to cling onto the lead pack once again.
Fast forwarding toward the end of the race. A few yellow flag periods occurred and on each ensuing restart, I was able to gain some positions. Leading up to this point, I had tried a couple runs toward the front only to stall out well before I reached the lead. As the sun set on this 500, I was sitting in 4th position, the highest I had been all race.
With 10 laps to go and riding between 2 cars the eagerly wanted to pass the leader, I made a move to the outside. Hoping the cars would go with me and surge to the front. Unfortunately the car behind me hesitated and left me on the high side alone - to the back of the pack I went.
That was only the start. As I am trying to push a car toward the front, we come upon a lapped car on the high side of the track. My brain really wanted to avoid the lapped car and thought I was going to until - CRUNCH!
The collision destroyed the right front of the car and did significant damage. It was a pretty low moment for me. It wasn’t the lapped car coming down, I went up and hit him. I target fixated. I was so focused on not hitting him, that all my focus went to that car and not gap to the left of it. As they say, “Look where you want to go.” I didn’t do that and killed the car.
Fortunately, this didn’t hurt the end result that much. I was able to limp the car to the 500 mile mark because there were not many laps left in the race. In the end, I brought it home in 13th position with both the car and my pride damaged.
However, let’s look at the positives, after starting in 32nd position, I was able to drag the car all the way up to 4th near the end of the race. Doing so required overcoming a pit miscue, clawing back from a lap behind, and playing a few games along the way. I was a non-factor through a majority of this race, riding around in the second pack several seconds behind, and was able to turn it around to be competitive at the end. However, that would not have been possible without the Team Oppo virtual pit crew who were on it the whole day with blistering stops that gained multiple positions at a time. In the end it stings that I messed up and threw away a really good finish, but the fact that I was even able to compete for that good finish given the performance during most of the race... I cannot complain too much, but it still does suck.
If you want to see the full race from my prospective, watch the video below...