In a season full of parody and close racing, there was little doubt who the dominant driver was on Wednesday night. Dan Geren led 80 laps from the pole to win the Utility Equipment Company 200 at Atlanta Motor Speedway, his second win of the Lionheart IndyCar Series presented by first Medical Equipment season.
“This race meant a lot for me tonight,” an emotional Geren said after the race. “I’m going to dedicate this to my mother-in-law who passed away from cancer earlier this year. Today would’ve been her sixty-first birthday. This one’s for her.”
Geren took the lead for good, passing newcomer Justin Weaver on a restart with 28 laps remaining, and held on until the final caution flew with three laps to go.
“I was very worried,” Geren said. “I haven’t raced (Weaver) very much; I know he’s a good driver, but I didn’t know if he could get to me.”
The win propelled Geren to within seven points of two-time defending series champion Jake Wright.
“Everybody kept it clean tonight,” Geren said. “It’s going to be a battle for Jake and I. I told him last year I was coming for him.”
Weaver was thrilled with the podium in his league debut, leading 38 laps with the help of solid strategy and proving he is a contender.
“I was just hoping to get a podium finish and just kinda ran my race, trying to stay out of trouble,” Weaver said. “Just tried to keep it between the lines and just made my way up there, and luckily the pit strategy played out for me and I was able to get up there.”
During a race where the prevailing strategy was to short-pit for tires and makeup time, Weaver chose instead to run his car on fumes, and it paid off. On lap 76, Adam Blocker crashed in turn three, bringing out the first caution of the event. Weaver and Patrick Taylor were the only two cars who had not made a stop, and cycled to the front of the pack, where they remained for most of the race.
Michael Goodman made a furious charge back through the field to finish third. It was a solid run for the ever-improving Goodman, who recruited Weaver to Lionheart.
“Everything lined up perfectly tonight, except the win,” Goodman said. “The strategy didn’t work out on the first stop, but I decided I was staying out and that’s all you can say. It worked.”
The second caution on lap 100 turned the race on its lid. Pierre Daigle, one of at least a dozen who had hit the pits, spun on the exit of turn two while trying to merge, bringing out the caution and trapping several cars a lap down.
Jason Galvin, Big Joe Hassert, Ryan Otis, Brian Yaczik, Chris Stofer and others who appeared set for a big night were all left trapped mid-pack for the remainder of the race.
Joe Branch used pit strategy to work from 21st to fourth, with James Krahula fifth and Wright sixth. Bob Mikes, Scott Bolster, Ron Hacker and Taylor rounded out the top ten.
The final caution ended the race when Ed Tutwiler ran into Pete Edwins on the front straight with two laps remaining. The duo were racing for 23rd at the time.
Wright and Geren distanced themselves from Andrew Kinsella, who finished 28th after issues on pit road. The Canadian is a full 100 points back of the points lead, after dominating the early parts of the season. Goodman moved up two spots to fourth, with Krahula fifth.
The Lionheart IndyCar Series presented by First Medical Equipment takes a week off before heading down under, for the RaceCentre 100 at Phillip Island. That race can be seen live on the Global SimRacing Channel at 10:40 p.m. EST on Wednesday, August 16.
For more information on the Lionheart IndyCar Series presented by First Medical Equipment, visit www.LionheartRacingSeries.com.