The fifth round of NASCAR Heat Pro League was a fusion of trucks, twists and turns as the series took the eNASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series pickups to the virtual Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course (May 21).
Mid-Ohio also marked the first race after the points reset for the second segment in the championship race chase.
The night belonged to Germain Gaming as its drivers Daniel Buttafuoco and Kyle Arnold claimed commanding victories. The duo led 39 of the 40 laps between the two events, both of which were caution free.
For Buttafuoco, it was unequivocal domination.
The first event of the night saw the Germain driver score the win by a commanding 26.392 seconds after leading all 20 laps. Buttafuoco never faced a challenge throughout the entire event, good enough to claim his second victory on a road course this season following his win at Watkins Glen International.
“Overall, I didn’t expect that at all, it was great,” Buttafuoco said. “We had a really strong truck. I’m so proud. I really wanted to get Germain a win, for the team, for the sponsor. I really wanted to prove that the first win was not a fluke, and hopefully we did that tonight. Hopefully we can keep raking up wins.”
Only 13 competitors took the green flag at Mid-Ohio, as Justin Brooks of JTG Daugherty Throttlers was suspended for one race after violating the league’s code of conduct policy.
Polesitter Buttafuoco jumped to the lead in his Germain Gaming No. 13 Chevrolet Silverado and had rapidly built up nearly a four-second lead after three laps. While the polesitter cruised, it was a different story behind him as Nick Walker, Matthew Selby, Luis Zaiter and Tyler Dohar engaged in a fierce battle throughout the race.
Drama occurred early as Zaiter, who started on the outside pole, got off course early event and fell to sixth. While Zaiter engaged in a furious charge to rebound, Walker finagled his way into second, breaking away from the cluster of others. Zaiter managed to get to third, while Selby and Brian Tedeschi rounded out the top five.
While the Xbox One contest saw one driver control the event, the PlayStation 4 race proved to be the opposite.
After Arnold easily held the lead throughout the race, it came down to a thrilling two-driver scrap between the Georgia driver and Chip Ganassi Gaming competitor Maxwell Castro. After the two drivers proved to be the class of the field, Arnold was able to keep Castro at bay for the majority of the event before Castro used a fresh pair of tires on the last cycle of pit stops to slowly reel the leader in.
Castro finally caught Arnold with a lap to go, evoking a dramatic display of defensive driving be Arnold. After contact in the final corner, Arnold was able to keep his Chevrolet righted while Castro ducked off course, scooting across the line to claim the victory by just 0.232 seconds.
“Max was coming,” Arnold said. “We had been neck-and-neck all week. Hats off to him, though. He knew what I was doing. I gave him the outside if he wanted it just in case I needed to hip-check him. But it was a great race there at the end.
Like Buttafuoco from the previous contest, Arnold refused to give up the lead throughout the entire race. Despite the close finish, Arnold ultimately led 19 of the 20 contested laps, only relinquishing the lead to Jason Mitchell during a green-flag pit stop cycle.
While polesitter Arnold went forward, the same could not be said for outside pole sitter Brandon Hanna. After a promising qualifying effort, Hanna rapidly dropped down the leaderboard, emerging in the back half of the top 10 after the first round of pit stops on lap five. Hanna was then involved in a lap eight dust-up with Mike Braas, was penalized with a stop and go penalty on lap 10, and ran out of fuel on lap 11. The Roush Fenway Gaming drivers finished last, two laps down.
The closest competitor to Arnold and Castro was Josh Harbin, who finished a whopping 15.491 seconds behind in third. Brandyn Gritton and Joey Stone round out the top five.
The NASCAR Heat Pro League returns to action next Thursday, May 25 at the virtual Talladega Superspeedway.