|SCREENSHOT: FS1, iRacing|
Alfredo’s lone start across NASCAR’s top three series came last month at Fontana, where he climbed aboard Richard Childress Racing’s #21 Chevrolet, qualified 13th, and finished a strong 6th. After the subsequent postponements, he next arrived in last week’s Pro Invitational opener at Homestead, where his most recent Truck Series start ended with a blown engine shortly after the command, leaving him last. Alfredo qualified for the landmark sim race, overcoming an accident in practice, but finished just 32nd after another pair of incidents in the race itself.
This time around, Alfredo would once again have to race his way into the main event through the Last Chance Qualifier. The Texas round would prove especially challenging as the 30-lap affair would not be slowed by any cautions, and 31 other drivers would join him to contest the final four transfer spots into the Pro Invitational. Alfredo qualified a strong 5th and contended for the lead nearly the entire race. He was still leading at the white flag before Alex Labbe completed the pass just past the stripe. Alfredo hounded Labbe to the finish line, both of them transferring to the main along with third-place Ty Majeski and fourth-place Ruben Garcia, Jr.
Incidentally, the Last Chance Qualifier also saw a competitive battle for last place. The 32nd-place starter was Scott Stenzel, who carried the same #63 and Personal Comfort sponsorship from his most recent Truck Series start for D.J. Copp last year in Las Vegas. Stenzel was the only driver to not turn in a qualifying lap. After four laps, Stenzel had climbed past J.J. Yeley, who took over the spot in his #85. Yeley returned the favor by Lap 7, and Stenzel held the spot until the day’s first incident. Coming down the backstretch, Kyle Weatherman’s #54 Jacob Companies Ford threw a block on the #7 Brandt Agriculture Chevrolet of Justin Allgaier. The two collided and swept up the track, collecting several other cars. Weatherman took over last by Lap 10 and would remain there the rest of the race.
Meanwhile, Alfredo qualified 23rd for the 35-car main event. Taking the last spot was a returning Greg Biffle, who was back in his familiar #16 Ford for the first time since 2016, and back at the digitally-rendered version of the track where he won last year’s Truck Series race for Kyle Busch Motorsports. Biffle didn’t take a qualifying time along with transfer driver Ty Majeski, whose #45 CMR Chevrolet suffered minor damage in the qualifier. Turning in the slowest lap of the qualifying session was Ross Chastain, whose #6 Ford clocked in at 29.867 seconds.
Following an extra lap at pace car speed, the race went green on Lap 2. Three circuits later, the last spot had fallen to last week’s winner Denny Hamlin in the #11 FedEx Toyota. According to Clint Bowyer, who joined Hamlin in the back of the field, both had dropped back deliberately to wait out the race’s accidents. But the opening laps were run surprisingly clean, and Hamlin dropped Bowyer to last on Lap 8. It wasn’t until around Lap 22 that the first pileup was triggered by Ryan Blaney and Kyle Busch heading into Turn 3. The wreck, which didn’t immediately draw a caution, dropped Blaney to last place by Lap 25 in his #12 Menards Ford. At that point, Blaney was already three laps down. The caution fell two circuits later on Lap 27.
On Lap 39, Alfredo had already used one of his "Fast Repairs," but worked his way up to 9th, holding the spot in a single-file line, following Timmy Hill in 8th. Coming down the backstretch, Matt DiBenedetto’s #21 Motorcraft Ford pulled low and Alfredo threw the block. DiBenedetto then lined up behind the #33 and pushed Alfredo into the corner. Moments after the camera cut away, Alfredo was shown spinning in the outside lane of Turn 3, collecting the #3 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet of Austin Dillon. The in-car cam revealed Alfredo was still running the low line entering Turn 3 when his car hooked abruptly to the right and smashed the wall head-on. Alfredo took the last spot from Blaney by Lap 45, when the #33 was shown six laps down.
Finishing 34th was Christopher Bell, whose #95 Rheem Toyota was involved in at least one of the race’s early accidents, and was shown running off the pace under the Lap 27 caution. The 33rd spot went to Daniel Suarez, who suffered damage in his #96 Toyota, then was parked after he attempted to deliberately wreck Ty Dillon under caution entering Turn 3. The attempt failed, and after Suarez crashed, he became the first Pro Invitational driver parked by iRacing. Rounding out the Bottom Five were Biffle and Garcia, who both finished under power, laps down to the leaders.
Taking the victory was Timmy Hill, who followed-up his strong performance in last week’s Homestead opener with a thrilling victory. Hill nudged race leader William Byron out of the inside lane in Turn 1 and survived a green-white-checkered restart to take the win, holding off a fast-charging Ryan Preece in 2nd spot. Hill, a prolific iRacer with hundreds of victories, won with his preferred setup – a simple Logitech steering wheel and pedal assembly plugged into a single computer screen.
Garrett Smithley and Landon Cassill, two other underdog stars from last week’s Homestead race, also backed-up their strong runs by finishing 3rd and 4th, respectively. Smithley overcame significant damage to the rear bumper of his car and remained in contention for much of the day. Cassill qualified 5th and dropped as far as 20th at one point before marching back up to the leaders.
John Hunter Nemechek also enjoyed a fine run, leading 10 laps in the #38 ROMCO Equipment Ford. The aggressive Nemechek ran 2nd for much of the opening laps, throwing several aggressive blocks into the corners to defend his position. It wasn’t until a late-race incident entering the quad-oval that he slipped out of the Top Five.
*The #33 had scored its most recent Cup Series last-place finish at Texas on April 9, 2017, when Jeffrey Earnhardt’s turn for The Motorsports Group ended with a crash after just 9 laps. Earnhardt was himself one of the contenders in Sunday’s Last Chance Qualifier, but missed the cut in his #50.
THE BOTTOM FIVE
35) #33-Anthony Alfredo / 39 laps / disconnected
34) #95-Christopher Bell / 88 laps / disconnected
33) #96-Daniel Suarez / 110 laps / disqualified
32) #16-Greg Biffle / 121 laps / running
31) #27-Ruben Garcia / 122 laps / running