By Justin Prince
Factory Backed driver Alexis Newsome has won her second straight race in the Lionheart Speedway Series Presented by The DMLC Racing Channel.
She won the HyperX 175 at Richmond on Oct. 25, growing her drivers standings lead to 18 points over Barrett Rolph.
Caleb Benci, Alexander van de Sandt, Trevor Malone and Tony Showen completed the top five.
“(This win) is really huge,” said Newsome from HyperX Victory Lane. “I was close to losing the championship lead here. I made a mistake in qualifying. I had to make a huge strategy call to make it up here.”
Newsome had started the race in the 15th position after hitting the inside wall while driving on the apron during her out lap in qualifying. Meanwhile, Iowa Speedway winner Caleb Benci started from the pole.
“I was definitely happy to get pole there,” said Team RaceVerse Orange driver Benci. “I thought I left a little something out there still.”
The 233-lap race featured the smallest-sized grid in the series this season. Twenty-one drivers made the start at The Action Track.
Among those who did not race was Robert Maleczka III. He missed the race after experiencing flight delay while trying to return from a vacation.
By the end of the night, the Factory Backed driver was 98 points behind the leader in the drivers standings.
For those who took the green flag, fuel strategy became important on Lap 11. Dean Moll spun out coming out of Turn 2, sending him sliding into the inside wall and triggering the first caution flag of the night. Several drivers elected to pit during the yellow, including Samuel Reiman, Matt Taylor, Craig Forsythe and Nick DeGroot.
Drivers had been estimated to make it up to 75 laps on fuel each run prior to the event.
Several drivers could not make it that long. Benci remained in the lead until Lap 73, when he came down pit road for his first green flag stop. That gave Taylor the lead until his scheduled service on Lap 90.
“I knew the windows were very fuzzy,” said van de Sandt. “The fuel burn was a little inconsistent and with how long you could go, that makes it a difference of five to eight laps. You may or may not be able to save that much. I just had to play it by ear.”
Most of the field had pitted by the time the next caution came out on Lap 92. DeGroot, who had just come out of the pits a lap prior, had been battling side-by-side with Forsythe when he spun coming out of Turn 2. The Factory Backed driver did a full 360-degree spin down the backstretch, triggering the second yellow flag of the night. Van de Sandt had cycled to the lead by the time of the caution with Rolph and Benci close behind.
That lead did not last long. Van de Sandt and Benci came down to the pit lane. Rolph, Chris Fowler, Vern Hawkins III, Newsome and several others decided to stay out during the caution for track position. Those drivers were all put into a two-stop situation while everyone else could make it to the end with only one pit service for fuel.
“I didn’t know why more people pit with me,” said van de Sandt. “I had Caleb on the same strategy as me, but a lot of those who pit early stayed out. I regretted that instantly.”
The next run turned out to be the longest of the night.
After the restart on Lap 99, much of the field remained patient. Rolph maintained a buffer for the lead with the help of a lapped car, Dean Moll, much of the run.
Behind him, van de Sandt and Benci were fighting hard for eighth place. After scraping the wall exiting Turn 4 on Lap 132, van de Sandt was immediately passed by Benci down the front straightaway. Van de Sandt then had to fend off Luis Gonzalez Nuñez before settling back into a rhythm.
“I lost a lot of time to the leader because I was just stuck in the traffic,” said van de Sandt.
Benci was also struggling in the traffic.
“Not having that experience in the dirty air there in that first stint took me a little while to get up to speed there when everyone else was,” said Benci.
Rolph soon gave up the lead to get fuel on Lap 150. The Ascari Autosport driver was still about eight laps outside the estimated fuel window to make it to the end. Newsome was able to stretch her fuel to Lap 158, putting her right at the edge of that mark.
Those stops cycled Taylor back to the lead with Showen, Benci and van de Sandt more than 10 car lengths behind.
Then, on Lap 164, van de Sandt made a late call to dive into the pit lane. The clean space allowed van de Sandt to cycle in front of everyone else by several seconds.
“Once they started cycling, I realized they weren’t going to have enough fuel to make it on one more stop and we had just enough,” said van de Sandt. “I timed my last stop perfectly to undercut Caleb and Tony to just be able to go to the end from there.
“Early on in that stint, it was feeling pretty bleak, but it ended up working out well eventually.”
Soon, van de Sandt had his sights focused on Newsome. The Team RaceVerse Black driver quickly dove to the bottom of the track underneath her on Lap 174. By the start of the next lap, van de Sandt was clear for the net race lead. Rolph maintained the overall top spot until his final pit stop on Lap 203.
Van de Sandt had driven away from the rest of the field by more than six seconds when trouble struck on Lap 221.
Taylor was running in fourth place when he was rammed from behind by Nuñez heading into Turn 1. The Team RaceVerse Red driver slid around the corner until the exit of Turn 2 along the top of the track. Taylor then slid back down the track into the sidepod of Joe Branch. The red car of Taylor then snapped around down the backstretch into the path of Fowler. Fowler then ricocheted into the path of Alex Guyon, slightly damaging his car.
The caution helped Newsome immensely.
“Before that last caution, I didn’t know if I was going to be able to stay in second place because I was so close on fuel,” said Newsome. “I was trying to run high and about 80 per cent throttle while holding off people … that caution really saved me.”
During the caution, van de Sandt decided to pit while Newsome stayed out.
The race ended under caution when Nuñez suffered technical issues in the middle of Turns 3 and 4. Nuñez’s connection caused his car to blink in and out on corner exit. He then slammed into the outside SAFER barrier coming out of Turn 4. Nuñez then turned across the front wing of Showen at the flagstand. The NEKI Racing Team driver then nearly flipped over as he spun into the grass.
In the end, nine of the 21 drivers who started the race finished on the lead lap.
Next time out, the Lionheart Speedway Series Presented by The DMLC Racing Channel heads to iRacing’s virtual Kansas Speedway for the Fisch Motors Kansas 200 Presented by Espo Designs. Coverage will begin at 10:35 p.m. ET on RaceSpot TV and can be watched on tape delay on ESTV on Nov. 15.