By Justin Prince
After closing a two-second gap and passing Barrett Rolph with 11 laps to go, Robert Maleczka III has won The DMLC Racing Channel 200 at Atlanta.
Maleczka closed the gap by utilizing 10-lap fresher tires than Rolph’s for the final stint of the Lionheart Speedway Series Presented by The DMLC Racing Channel’s race at iRacing’s virtual Atlanta Motor Speedway.
The Factory Backed driver closed in on Rolph by up to 0.3 seconds a lap after his pit stop at some points. He was able to make the pass to the inside of Rolph while the Ascari Autosport driver was stuck in traffic.
Rolph attempted to take back the lead on the outside line for three laps before Maleczka cleared him.
Maleczka’s victory comes in his first start of the season in the series.
Alexander van de Sandt, Tony Showen and James Krahula rounded out the top five.
Maleczka did not think he had the race under his control until Rolph reached the traffic and he got in range of the draft.
“In my opinion, the setup was very good,” said Maleczka from HyperX Victory Lane. “If you could hook that white line on the bottom of Turns 3 and 4, the car was just a rocket ship passing people and made it pretty easy in traffic.”
Rolph said he thought at 20 laps to go, when Maleczka was still several seconds behind, it was his race to win.
“It’s just how the strategy played out at the end,” said Rolph. “I just didn’t have the tires at the end. A bit of a gut punch at the end, but I’m still super stoked to be on the podium.”
The tire and stint difference was sparked after a series of mid-race cautions mixed up the grid.
Caution 1 had come out after a crash during the first green flag pit stop cycle on Lap 44 when Alex Guyon and Eric Schaus collided coming out of Turn 4.
Guyon and Schaus were running side-by-side when Guyon’s car slid into the sidepod of Schaus. The two banged sidepods, picking Guyon’s car off the ground. Schaus then spun across the front wing of Guyon, who drove hard into the SAFER barrier down the frontstretch.
As Schaus went down the track, Adam Young launched off the front wing of his car and into the catchfence. Young rode upside down for several feet before coming to rest at the end of the front straightaway.
During the caution, Jason Galvin hit Jim Brooks, giving Galvin a black flag.
On the following restart, Galvin was then hit by Jeff Hysong while trying to come to the pit lane to serve the penalty, causing a second caution. The incident caused a wave of smoke to cover the exit of Turn 4. Christopher Kresge and Chris Lanini were also involved in the crash.
Overall, the race had four cautions in the span of about 30 laps.
While all the drivers could make it on one final pit stop with under 40 to go, many of the strategies were scattered as a result of the yellow flags. Maleczka had elected to come down under the third caution sequence while Rolph had stayed out during all the yellows.
“I knew because we were getting such short runs during the middle part of the race that we weren’t putting much wear through the tires and I was being mindful of that too,” said van de Sandt. “I just took the fuel when I was dead last and stayed out, got a couple spots from other people and made it to the end.”
Rolph, who went from the midpack to the front as a result of the first caution, was not expecting how the end of the race turned out.
“We got kind of lucky on that first yellow that came out. (It came out) right as we hit pit lane, which cycled us right up to the front,” said Rolph. “It kind of felt like we were on the same strategy the whole race until the end … It ended up being a huge factor.”
Next, the Lionheart Speedway Series Presented by The DMLC Racing Channel will be going short track racing at Phoenix Raceway for the ButtKicker Phoenix 175. It can be seen live on RaceSpot TV and ESTV on May 10th at 10:35 p.m. EST.