By: Tim Doyle
October 19, 2021
The final race of the 16 race season of the 2021 Coca Cola Bottling of Kokomo Indy Elite converged on Auto Club Speedway in California.
20 drivers signed in to compete for 200 laps around the two mile oval, with 19 of them taking the green.
In qualifying, Philip Kraus set the fastest lap for pole with a 31.899 over Andreas Eik (31.943).
Placing 3rd was Rob Powers (31.946) with Chris Stofer and Bryan Carey rounding out the top 5.
Eik jumped out to the early advantage at the start when Kraus got off to a bad start dropping to 4th by the end of the first lap. At the end of lap two it was Stofer out front over Eik, Henry Bennett, Kraus still in 4th and Adam Crane in 5th.
On Lap 6, Kraus would pull out on the front stretch and blast by the Top 3 cars to grab the lead. Andrew Wood drove his way to the lead on lap 11 after starting 10th.
One lap later Jason Brophy, who started 18th, rocketed to the lead before the race’s first yellow flew the next lap when the cars of Adam Blocker, Trevor Greenfield and AJ Musselman came together off turn 4 while being three wide. David Adams and Evan Adams were also involved with all but Adams done for the race.
Andrew Kinsella would stay out under yellow to assume the lead on the restart over Wood, Kraus, Bennett and Brophy. Bennett would move himself into the lead on lap 18 and swap it each lap with Kinsella.
With staying out on the first yellow it would mean Kinsella would have to pit off-cycle which he did on Lap 33, thus losing a lap. Scheduled pit stops started to occur on Lap 45 when Bennett pitted from the lead over Brophy, Wood, Kraus and Eik.
The rest of the pack would pit over the next few laps with the Top nine drivers all running together maintaining their gap over the rest of the field after completion of their pit stops. Pitting would start to occur again when Bennett would pit from the lead pack on lap 76 with some stretching their fuel to lap 84 when Eik and Robert Maleczka III finally pitted.
As the pit stops cycled through, it was Kraus with the lead over Crane, Brophy, Matt Hollibaugh and Eik back in 5th, just one second off the lead. After this round of stops the lead back was down to seven drivers currently within touch of the lead.
On Lap 109, Bennett would be the first to stop with Kraus, Crane and Hollibaugh pitting on Lap 113, rejoining just ahead of Bennett. Eik and Maleczka III would go further again before pitting on Lap 117. Brophy would suffer a speeding penalty when he pitted from 4th on Lap 112, dropping him a lap down.
Eik and Hollibaugh would take their turn at the front of the field after this round of pit stops, with now eight cars within 1.5 seconds of the lead and just nine cars on the lead lap. At the 300 mile mark (Lap 150), with the exception of the four drivers involved in the race’s first and only yellow on Lap 12, all cars that started the race were still running with nine cars on the lead lap (9) and another five cars one or more laps down.
Eik bailed on the long-run strategy leaving Maleczka III the remaining driver to stay out longer than others, finally pitting on Lap 151. Note- Stofer would lose control exiting the pits on lap 40 costing him valuable time and losing touch with the leaders.
Bennett and Carey also would lose time to the leaders during pitting placing them 3+ seconds off the five car lead pack lead by Kraus over Crane, Hollibaugh, Eik and Maleczka III setting up a critical final pit stop for a shootout at the end.
Kraus and Crane would be the first of the leaders to pit for their final stop on Lap 176, with Kraus slightly missing his stall costing him precious seconds, but able to maintain the gap behind Crane. Hollibaugh would be next on the following lap, nailing his lap in the process. Eik would pit in on Lap 180 and Maleczka III would pit on Lap 181.
With just 20 laps to go, all five drivers would resume their fight altogether once they were back up to speed, swapping positions every lap. The drivers kept this up down to the checkered flag where Maleczka III was able to fend off the challenges of Eik and Hollibaugh. Kraus and Crane would round out the Top 5.
With his 2nd place finish, Kraus would wrestle the lead away from Blocker and win the 2021 Coca Cola Bottling of Kokomo Indy Elite title, overcoming a five-point deficit entering the night. Eik would place 3rd in the season standings while Bennett and Kinsella round out the top 5.
Lead Changes- 57
Fastest: 31.758 (Matt Hollibaugh)
Cars on the lead lap- 7
Polesitter- Philip Kraus 31.899
Header Image By Tim Doyle/iRacing.com