So nearly a week after the Daytona 500 via iRacing, I have finally calmed down enough to put my thoughts on a post. For those asking, yes the race was in fact 500 miles and I spent a good three weeks prepairing for NASCAR’s crown jewel event. This particular event was not as easy as one would think. While we are turning left and the draft effects the way you drive, the setup is crucial.
I started with picking a setup off of the iRacing forum and giving it a go. The setup was originally put together as a qualification setup, but I quickly found that even in a race tape configuration that the machine was bad fast. A great qualification time was in the neighborhood of a 47.0…give or take a tenth or two. I for the life of me could not get it below a 47.7. I tried new lines into the corner and everything, but the car was way too loose with the tape and presented some unique issues. I didn’t worry much about the qualifying and focused most of my time in a race configuration and my draft craft as I called it.
One of the things that became very apparent was the car did not like running behind the others. It almost seemed as though the car was made to lead the field. I worked hard lifting slightly and nearly perfected the bump draft tactic. We have to remember that on iRacing, we did not have the new smooth surface like the real deal. I wanted to push as much as I could and at the cost of a car, saw how far I could push or how close I could get in the corners. I still apologize to the guy I sent into the wall over that “test”. The car worked best in a larger draft as you would imagine. No 2X2 drafting in this event. My fastest practice time ended up being a 46.6 and I was shocked. I did not make any adjustments to the setup as I felt it had superior handling in the corners and was only a mile or two an hour down on the fastest straight speeds. I was willing to make that trade given the bumpy nature of the track and how close cars would get in the corner. I need to handle the machine so it does not slide up and hit a fellow competitor. So after three weeks of drafting, it was time to race…or so I thought.
The countdown ticked down to eight seconds on the screen and I was ready to join. That is until the iRacing servers crashed. Last count saw 1,698 racers ready to participate. Huge numbers and even more than the Rolex 2.4. Why not? It was a high speed oval that everyone wanted to drive and win. I guess we all thought we had a chance at victory for this one, myself included. After two hours of server issues the race was a go. Many thanks to the iRacing staff that worked hard to bring it all back on line. One still has to question how the company could not have expected this to happen given the problems of last year. Regardless, the crew made it right by awarding us $5 precious dollars in credit and we still got to race that night.
Once into the race session, I instantly started talking to people. After all, draft racing is all about your friends. Who can you convince to dance at the right moment and who can you rely on for the final 50 miles. I was able to convince a few cars to miss the grid and start in the pits with me. I felt this strategy was sound as there was certainly going to be a wreck within the first 20 laps. A four car draft would survive missing the green with help from a yellow, we would be right back in it. I took the lead position as I explained to the other drivers in my drafting group that my car was a better lead. Sure enough, we were yellow on the second lap. That kept us out of trouble and allowed us to catch up to the back of the pack. I originally was slated to start 12th, but was willing to sacrifice for my percived brilliant strategy. I was in like 33rd after the first caution and when we went green I was cautious to make my move just yet. Cautions would hit lap after lap as competitors failed to realize the race was in fact 200 laps. I made my fist pit stop on lap 20 and was back in about 23rd place. We would hit another yellow around lap 35 and I would find myself in P3. The Suave Men’s Chevrolet was running like a dream. Controlled in the corners and bad fast in the draft. Then came my 15 laps of fame.
After the restart, I decided to play it cool behind the two lead cars and settle in for a longer stint. I had about 25 laps of gas and really felt that I could hold out for another caution and pit without losing my track position. Coming back around on the first restart lap, the two leaders got side by side and touched. The lead car would hit the apron and begin to come back up into the racing line. he just touched me and I was able to keep the car straight. The yellow would fly and I was P1! Leading the event after starting nearly last. To this point I had not pushed, but was ready to make my charge. I skipped the pits yet again as it was still a bit too soon. I was curious about the restart as I had never led after a caution period with the safety car. I got to the first white line after the safety car hit the pits and once on that line, I hit the gas and did not look bad. I took the field by surprise and opened up a slight gap. Here is where I started feeling good, the car was in the open air cooling down and I was gapping the drafting pack! The third place competitor said over the voice input that he was stunned at the speed the car had (yay me!). It would all come tumbling down about 10 laps later when the field got close and then the connection gummed up. The second place car made what I thought at the time as an overly aggressive move. He touched my left rear panel going into T3 and sent me hard into the outside wall. Furious, I began questioning his move and he explained I had simply vanished. I understood this was probably due to the connection issues and was quick to apologize for my outburst (all was good).
After using my one reset, I was 19th position one lap down. No sweat. I could make up a lap and I was one of the first lapped cars, so I could get around the field given my cars performance. Wrong. The restart on lap 64 happened and instantly I knew I was in trouble. A fellow from the Mid-South club had been driving VERY aggressivley in front of me. When I finally committed to getting around him, he did the unthinkable. A rapid lane change on the front stretch going into T1 tagged the guy in front of him. I had committed to getting around the potential disaster, but instead was collected every so slightly. A gentle touch turned the car and shot me into the outside wall in T1. Race was over at that point. Silly drivers making very silly mistakes
Overall the race was an absolute blast. I am not the biggest NASCAR fan on the planet, but that was just fun! The drafting and speed around the legendary facility is something that had my heart racing a million miles an hour. I did not want to be the one that caused the big one, and somehow I still was. All be it unintentionally. The race has been the highlight of my 2011 campaign of the two thus far. Simply put, I had the fastest car and I led laps. What more could you ask for? Ok, don’t answer that.