Only one word can describe what happened in Wednesday night’s Speed51 Elite Rich Mar Florist 200 at Daytona International Speedway – insanity.
A wild 80-lap affair that saw drivers representing IndyCar, NASCAR, and even the NHL leading the race culminated on the final lap when the entire eight-car lead pack got together and wrecked on the backstretch. Despite being involved in the incident, Chip Ganassi Racing IndyCar driver Marcus Ericsson was able to keep his car going through the infield and back onto the track, holding off a furious charge from a second pack led by Spencer Boyd to score the win without part of the front wing present.
The wild finish left even Ericsson himself wondering what had just happened.
“I’m not sure, that was a big mess,” Ericsson said on the live Speed51 broadcast. “We played it great, my engineer Brad (Goldberg) was with me tonight and he really helped me out with when to go for it and when not to go for it. We had a good run there on the last lap but then things went crazy on the backstretch. I managed to keep the car going in the right direction and get the checkered flag, it was awesome.”
After being involved in early wrecks, Ericsson and real-life race engineer Brad Goldberg decided to play it safe through the middle stages to have something at the end. The Swedish driver made his presence felt in the final 10 laps.
“We were waiting for the last 15 laps so I was hanging back there. I was out of fast repairs after the big wrecks in the beginning of the race. My engineer made the strategy and basically said we’re just going to hold back and stay out of trouble and then go and race the last 10, 15 laps. We were just waiting and then I think with four to go, we went for it and tried to make the passes. I had a good run on the outside and I maybe could have won it without the crashes.”
Having spent five years in Formula 1 and last year in IndyCar, his experience on ovals has been limited, let alone an oval with the kind of racing Daytona produces.
“I felt like a NASCAR driver more than an IndyCar driver tonight. It was completely new to me, it was completely different compared to all the other ovals I’ve been racing in real-life and on iRacing.”
Former IndyCar Series champion and Indianapolis 500 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay had the lead on the backstretch on the final lap, but the incident left him less than half a lap short of his first iRacing victory after leading the most laps.
“I had a lot of fun tonight with the Elite Racing League, I appreciate the invite. Led the most laps tonight and was two corners away from my first iRacing win but someone from behind cleared the whole lead pack out,” Hunter-Reay said. “Hopefully I’ll be back with the group soon.”
Former NASCAR Truck Series winner Spencer Boyd finished second after dodging the last-lap carnage. Jason White, two-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Kyle Busch, and Simon Sikes rounded out the top-five.
-Story by: Koty Geyer, Speed51 National Correspondent – Twitter: @kgeyer3