By Justin Prince
After a late-race crash collected a majority of the field, Caleb Benci was able to avoid the incident to win his first race in the Lionheart Speedway Series Presented by The DMLC Racing Channel.
With 10 laps to go in the GRAAFix Esports 175 at Iowa Presented by Midwest Simulations, Jorge Anzaldo and Tony Showen had been fighting hard for the lead when Anazldo was nudged in the left rear tire while entering Turn 3.
The contact from Showen sent the Synergy Motorsports Blue driver sliding up the track into the outside SAFER barrier. As Anzaldo slammed the wall, Showen spun in front of the pack, blocking half the track. Robert Maleczka III, Nick DeGroot, Alexander van de Sandt and Mike Rigney all locked up their brakes, sending them sliding into Showen.
Out of the cars who were in the lead pack, only Benci and Joe Branch were able to drive by the incident safely.
After the final restart, Benci was able to break away from Charles Teed, Trevor Malone, Samuel Reiman and Branch to give Team Raceverse Orange its first victory as a group this season.
“It’s pretty incredible (to win),” said Benci from HyperX Victory Lane. “Coming in, this is just my second race in the series. It’s a pretty big deal. I couldn’t be more happy for sure.”
Just nine cars finished the race on the lead lap after several major incidents.
Championship points leader Barrett Rolph triggered the first of eight cautions on Lap 9 after spinning across the bumps coming out of Turn 2. He had been trying to charge his way through the pack after starting 16th prior to the crash. Paul Jenkins hit Rolph with the edge of his front wing, sending Rolph’s car sliding into the outside wall.
Rolph went on to finish 177 laps down in 25th place.
On Lap 22, Chris Fowler made a similar mistake to Rolph in Turn 2. He also slapped loose going across the bumps on corner exit, kicking his car sideways in front of a pack of cars. DeGroot and Dean Moll both made contact with Fowler, launching Fowler’s car into the fencing atop the wall down the backstretch. Fowler flipped over four times to the inside wall, ending his race early.
The main championship contenders continued to get tangled up into incidents on Lap 47 when Alexis Newsome was rammed from behind by Chris Stofer entering Turn 1. Newsome drifted down a lane into the path of Ken Hacker, sending Hacker into the wall.
After the ensuing restart, the focus started turning towards NEKI Racing Team driver Luis Gonzalez Nuñez. Nuñez, who restarted inside the back half of the Top 10, quickly passed Rigney, Matt Taylor and Anzaldo to get to fifth position. After swap-drafting with Anzaldo for several laps, they were able to catch up to the lead pack of van de Sandt, Jenkins, Branch and Showen.
Within three laps, Nuñez was able to drive past all of them to lead his first laps since the season opener in March.
Then, Nuñez had his luck run out.
As he was exiting Turn 2 on Lap 73, Nuñez spun across the same bumps that had caused two previous crashes. Showen hit his left front wing in the process. The spin relegated Nuñez back to 21st place.
During that caution period, rookie Dakota DeMaegd decided to stay out for track position, giving him his first led laps in the series.
The Team Raceverse Orange car stayed in the lead until the edge of his fuel window on Lap 109, when DeMaegd spun through Turn 3. DeMaegd’s second race ended when he then slammed into the outside wall, destroying his car.
Nuñez rejoined the race conversation again on Lap 147, but not for good reasons.
After spinning out on his own on Lap 99 and pitting for significant damage as well as being hit by Newsome under caution, Nuñez spun out again coming out of Turn 2. Nuñez’s car stayed at the top of the track right at the edge of the racing line on corner exit, causing chaos.
Taylor, who was battling for fifth position, clipped the edge of Nuñez, sending him sliding sideways in front of Jenkins. Jenkins’s Aero-X car was sent spinning into the inside wall, immediately crushing his suspension. As cars were checking up for Taylor, Alex Guyon was rammed by Ron Hacker, pinballing Guyon to the inside wall as well. Ron was also hit by Branch in the incident.
Nuñez was parked for the rest of the race as a result for his third crash.
Taylor attempted to continue running with his damaged car the following restart before spinning on his own as well. His spin triggered the caution as a result.
In the end, just six drivers did not get an in-sim incident point - Teed, Malone, Branch, Matt Huston and Gary Godsoe.
Next up, the Lionheart Speedway Series Presented by The DMLC Racing Channel goes back racing at the bigger tracks for the KARNOX Charlotte 200 Presented by Chris Fowler Racing at iRacing’s virtual Charlotte Motor Speedway. Coverage will begin at 10:35 p.m. ET on RaceSpot TV and can be watched on tape delay on ESTV on Oct. 4.