This MNR Review is presented by Monday Night Racing.
On Monday, Jan. 16, The Interstate Batteries Monday Night Racing Pro Series continued its season six playoffs with the Next Level Racing 225 in the ARCA cars at Daytona International Speedway. Defending series champion Presley Sorah edged his way past runner-up D.J. Cummings and third-place finisher Justin Melillo to take the checkered flag and book his ticket to the Round of 8. Joey Padgett finished fourth while George Balfanz Jr. rounded out the top five.
Check out the race recap from Frontstretch’s Joy Tomlinson here. You can also view the full race broadcast, along with the Frontstretch post-race show featuring Brandon Hauff and Michael Massie, on the Frontstretch YouTube Channel. Here are five key points coming out of Daytona:
Read more on his run:https://t.co/TaWWCWWU1c
— Frontstretch (@Frontstretch) January 17, 2023
1) Sorah’s Title Defense Moves Forward
Coming into Daytona, Sorah had something to prove being nine point below the cutline following a last-lap accident at Richmond. Once the green flag dropped, Sorah showed the field why he is the reigning MNR champion by becoming the second multi-race winner of the season, joining last week’s winner Chase Cabre.
Sorah established himself as a contender from the drop of the green flag, starting in fourth position and staying in the top five throughout the whole opening green flag run. However, he would experience some adversity on the first round of green flag pit stops, spinning on pit road and missing his stall due to a technical glitch, pushing him towards the rear of the field.
“At the green flag pit stop, I couldn’t see my pit stall,” Sorah recalled after the race. “I slid through and lost like 30 spots. I’m glad we overcame that.”
Through a combination of attrition and smart driving, Sorah would find his way back in contention for the final restart with three laps remaining. Sorah then maneuvered his way to the middle of a three-wide situation and with the help of a push from Melillo, he edged his bumper just in front of the rest of the field to claim the win. It was a monumental victory for Sorah, especially considering his spot in the playoff standings.
“It’s really big because last week, I got put in a big points hole,” Sorah said. “I’m not the greatest road course racer in the world and we go to a road course next week, so I knew tonight was really important.”
I was a little excited https://t.co/uMLnYtnLl6
— Presley Sorah (@PresleySorah) January 17, 2023
2) Who Turned Off The Cautions?
The trend in MNR this season has been chaotic racing with a fair share of crashes and caution flags. With the track/car combination of ARCA cars at Daytona, more of the same was expected this week.
In reality, the Next Level Racing 225 would prove to be one of the cleanest—if not the cleanest—races of MNR season six, with only four cautions flags and no overtime. By comparsion, the previous race at Richmond saw 11 yellow flags and two overtime periods. The regular season finale at Talladega included seven caution periods and three overtimes, and the race before that at Auto Club saw 10 yellow flags and required three overtimes to reach its conclusion.
The downward trend in cautions can likely be attributed to the new rule implemented by MNR race control last week that took away drivers’ one fast repair per race. The loss of fast repairs has led to more conservative and careful driving in the early stages of races, as no one wants to get caught up in an early wreck that they cannot bounce back from without lengthy repairs. In last week’s column, I predicted that the no fast repair rule would not significantly change the style of racing, but I will admit that I was wrong.
In his post-race interview, Melillo was quick to praise the racing by all drivers at Daytona.
“Tonight is what MNR is really about,” Meilllo said. “It’s about good, fun, clean, hard, awesome racing and that is why I keep showing up every week. It was amazing to be a part of it.”
Runner-up Cummings also chimed in on the surprisingly clean racing and the change to no fast repairs.
“That was probably the cleanest MNR superspeedway race that we’ve ever had,” Cummings told Hauff and Massie on the Frontstretch post-race show. “Taking away fast repairs will actually calm some people down. They’re always those folks who want to run a little more aggressively with that quick repair in their back pocket.”
When I'm able to put myself in the position I want to be in at the end, anything could have happened.
Unfortunately, I was two spots short of glory… but hey, P3 is the best I've finished all season. Just needed a push more. Nothing to be down on. That's the MNR I know and love! pic.twitter.com/vnfLwk3Hkq
— Justin Melillo (@justinmelillo) January 17, 2023
3) The Perils of Pit Road
Although the drivers kept it mostly clean on the track, pit road was a different story altogether.
When the first green flag stops began on lap 32, all of the top four drivers, including early favorites Anthony Alfredo and Michael Fisher, got nabbed for speeding on pit road, along with spins and crashes getting to their stalls. The next lap, eventual winner Sorah spun and missed his stall. Then, on lap 34, playoff drivers Adam Cabot and Garrett Smithley made contact on pit road, an incident that also involved polesitter Gary Sexton.
So, why were there so many issues with green flag pit stops? This may be traced back to the abundance of cautions throughout the season, which means that drivers are probably accustomed to pitting under yellow and have not necessarily had a lot of practice performing green flag pit stops.
With races potentially trending towards fewer cautions, pitting under the green flag could become a bigger factor in determining the outcome of races and the season six championship.
4) Olsen and Fern Falter
As the dust settled at Daytona, the cream of MNR ultimately rose to the top. In total, six of the 12 playoff drivers finished in the top 10, and 10 of the 12 playoff participants placed in the top 20.
Fern’s troubles began at the drop of the green flag. Fern opted to start the race from the pits to avoid a potential early wreck. Just like with David Schildhouse last week, Fern’s strategy call did not pan out as the race stayed green for the first 53 laps out of 90. Fern would find himself as many two laps down to the leaders, and though he bounced back a little bit, he would still have to settle for a 26th-place finish.
Olsen, on the other hand, had to cope with getting caught up in multiple wrecks. Olsen would find himself embroiled in the second caution of the day when he became a part of a large wreck on the backstretch. Only five laps later, Olsen’s No. 24 would incur damage once again after involved in a turn four accident with Reid Wilson and Rajah Caruth. Olsen would ultimately wind up 32nd in the final running order.
Fern and Olsen will both go into the final race of the Round of 12 below the cutline. Can they win or get enough points to grab a Round of 8 spot?
Doesn’t matter where you run. Trouble will find you. Chaos will find you. P32.
— Nick Olsen (@NickOlsen_) January 17, 2023
5) Next Up: Porsche 911s at Watkins Glen
Next week, MNR wraps up the Round of 12 with a never-before-seen track and car combination when the drivers pilot Porsche 911s around the boot layout at Watkins Glen International.
With a lot of unknowns, it will be interesting to see which drivers will adjust the best to the different car and layout. Pit strategy and keeping the car on the track will almost certainly be key factors towards determining not only who wins the race, but which eight drivers advanced in the MNR playoffs and which four will be eliminated.
About the author
Andrew Stoddard joined Frontstretch in May of 2022 as an iRacing contributor. He is a graduate of Hampden-Sydney College, the University of Richmond, and VCU. He has a new day job as an athletic communications specialist at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Va.
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