The eighth event of the sixth season The Monday Night Racing (MNR) League was held on Monday, January 2nd at Talladega Superspeedway using Next Generation NASCAR Cup Series cars.
The MNR schedule took us to Talladega for the second time in the sixth season and for the final race of the regular season. This race is known as one of the most exciting tracks in the world, and ranks high on my wildcard list for season 6. As much fun as it is to race packs, I don’t enjoy the Talladega race (or any super fast track) in a competitive manner, like MNR. With points and a regular season title on the line, any wrong move could spell disaster for a three-car group.
I usually have a hard time finding the pace in the Super Speed Qualifiers, but I managed to put down the fifth fastest time, which I was really excited about. Qualifying usually isn’t very important at Talladega, but it’s always nice to set a good time.
The mayhem of the actual race started right away, with very aggressive two and three moves wide across the field. Draft plays such a key role in the next generation that you can lead one course, and outside the top ten in the next. The name of the game was knowing when to take a run and defend it.
After only a few laps I made my way to the lead. I led several laps before I was back in the middle of the top 10 where I started. After several periods of discussion between the duo Robert Dorman and James Pike, our spotter/crew chief, myself and I decided to save the lead group. The leaders were racing hard enough that a crash was imminent, so we opted to play it safe for a while.
I ran the first third of the single race profile in the back end of the Top 30, waiting for the undeniable crash that was ever going to happen. We finally got a lead crash, and I managed to miss it by lying down.
Over 20 more spins happened, and the strategy was the same this time. This time, we found the downside of the pullback strategy. The pack I was in, which was about 10 cars deep, had lost its draft packet of lead. This caused super aggressive racing trying to react to the leaders and eventually caused a wreck even though we were running about 30. Luckily I made it past the crash but that was the end of me in that strategy for the night.
For the rest of the race I decided to just switch back to the lead pack and battle it out. I ran as I got it, while still playing it safe enough not to put myself in any immediate danger.
I managed to get into the top three and even the lead late in the second half of the race, before I had to go green on lap 74.
This was a scheduled stop, and my last scheduled stop for racing. iRacing has a voice chat in the sim that allows drivers to communicate with each other and take control of the race, and I used this to find other drivers who were handling the same lap as me. Prospecting alone in Talladega will waste time and ultimately the entire group project, so finding “friends” to excavate with is crucial.
I got back into the lead pack after the pit stop, which consisted of about 10-15 cars, many of which were lap downs. The slung cars began to fight to regain their lap, which brought a small crash and a caution with less than 10 laps to go.
Intensity increased tenfold with this caution because a lead pack of just 10-15 cars was now the entire field of 40 cars. If a new winner reaches victory lane, they will hole up their ticket to the MNR Playoffs. Even though I’m already locked in qualifying, most of the field had a clincher on the line during the restart on lap 96/100.
A series of rapid meltdowns sent us tripling over time. I misjudged the green-white’s second step, which held me back several situations. Even though I dropped a few points, I had a clean car and restart inside the top 10 in recent GWC, so I still had a chance to take the win.
The last reboot went as I expected, with everything on the line. I lined up in the bottom lane, which jumped in nicely from the initial start. Coming out of turn 2 with two laps to go, several of the leaders began to unravel. I found a hole in the middle of it and thought I had missed the wreck but unfortunately I was hit by a spinning car at the last second. The debris, which eventually wiped out almost the entire field, smashed the front right of my car pretty hard. I brought the car back to the checkered flag to finish outside the top twenty.
I was disappointed with the finish, considering I drove a good race and put myself in a prime position at the end, but this kind of finish is somewhat expected in a super sprint. I finished the regular season second in points, just as I did in the fifth season when I went on to win the championship. My points will give me several additional playoff spots, which will give me the No. 2 seed to start the first round of the playoffs next week. The Monday Night Racing League heads to Richmond Raceway with Super Late Models next Monday, January 9th at 7:45 PM EST.