It only took one lap to change the entire outcome of the Speed51 Elite Homeplace Beer Series race at USA International Speedway on Tuesday night.
Just after taking the lead with 25 laps to go, Ryan Lutz made contact with Vincent Isabella on the backstretch, sending both into the wall and down the track. Third-place runner Brad Robbin was an innocent bystander, also getting caught up and knocked out of contention.
That would give the lead to Tyler Foti, who held on to the lead through more yellows late in the going. However, the final run to the checkered saw Ethan Birrel take the lead with seven to go and take the win in a wild race.
Even Birrel himself was caught up in an incident early on in the event, using pit strategy to work his way back to the front.
“It gave me a reason to come in and get some fresh tires. I wasn’t trying to think too far ahead, I was just trying to stay in the moment,” Birrel said on the broadcast. “I started picking some guys off and was thinking if this keeps on going, we get at least four or five laps before any of the yellows we have a shot to get up front. Especially after the wreck with the top three, I started feeling good about our chances there.”
Birrel had perhaps the best long-run car in the field, but was unable to show it off until the end due to multiple yellows that flew throughout the event. The short runs made him use patience to work back through the field as other competitors took themselves out of contention.
“It was tough, all of us struggled in the middle of the race keeping off each other. I knew what kind of pace I had but it was so hard with everyone boxed in, it’s just so hard not to send it into the back bumper in front of you,” he said. “The patience paid off, thankfully. I was picking off one or two and the guys up front crashed and opened up the door for me.”
Foti saw himself on the receiving end of lady luck when the top three took each other out late, giving him the lead with a shot to win. While he gave it all he had to hold Birrel off, he had to settle for second, giving him his second podium finish in as many races.
“I tell you what, I had just been riding the whole race and slowly but surely, they were all taking themselves out. That had to be the closest one, when all three got together,” Foti said. “The seas parted for me I guess and I shot on through.”
“Everything I did there was about all I had there. I knew he was faster, he had me driving into every single corner looking back at him,” he added. I just didn’t want us to both wreck when we got together there, once he went on by I was surprised to find myself sitting there in second and keeping the distance to third. It was good, clean short track racing in those final laps there.”
Former NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champion Justin Bonsignore score an Elite Racing-best third place finish, while Andrew Rucker and Tyler Riggs rounded out the top five.
The Speed51 Elite Homeplace Beer Series heads to the virtual Texas Motor Speedway next week. To view a replay of Monday night’s race, click here.
-Story by: Koty Geyer, Speed51.com National Correspondent – Twitter: @kgeyer3