BROWNSBURG, IND. – Ryan Libby couldn’t just let John Peters play catch-up.
A week after Peters matched Libby’s season win total at four a piece, the NEP SHIFT Marketing/Design Grand National Series points leader drove to a convincing victory at Lucas Oil Raceway in Thursday’s Kemba the Dog 75, leading every lap en route to his fifth win of the season.
A thrilling battle for second entertained fans through the middle stages of the race, but kept Peters from mounting a challenge for the win.
“Track position was gonna be key here,” Libby said in victory lane. “It’s really hard to pass, and even though it’s a really wide track, it’s probably one of the few one-lane tracks here.”
Libby started alongside Canadian Brent Roy and immediately pulled out to an advantage, as Roy battled Mainers Peters and Evan Beaulieu for the runner-up spot. Peters had the raw speed to challenge Libby, but the challenges of passing on the flat oval and the tight battle for second prevented Peters from breaking out and breaking away.
While it looked easy on camera, the driver of the #46 Phillips 66 entry maintained that it was anything but.
“You’ve got to be on your ‘A’-game every single lap,” Libby said of his NEP experience thus far. “It’s definitely not easy, even being out front. You’re constantly looking at your mirror, constantly looking at the relative, seeing where you’re gaining, where you’re losing . . . The main strategy tonight was just starting on the pole, lead every lap, and just bring it home, and that’s what we did tonight.”
Following a mid-race pit stop, Beaulieu got the best of the pack, slipping into second. But Beaulieu could not cut into Libby’s advantage, and a green-flag run to the finish deprived the Watkins Glen winner of an opportunity for a late-race move.
“We just got a good launch off of four there,” Beaulieu said of the surge to second. “I knew that was going to be critical. Had to stick on the outside. Once I got my fender in there, John almost had me cleared and he drove it in. I knew I had to stay on the outside of him, keep a fender up there.”
Beaulieu, who will be teamed with Peters in the upcoming iRacing 24 Hours of Daytona, was never concerned about the battle going sideways. “John always races me clean, and I would have done the same with him, you know?” said Beaulieu. “That’s how it goes here.”
Peters settled for a third-place finish, a solid night for most drivers, but not the run the reigning champion needed to close in on Libby.
“I felt like I was trying to make a pass on the bottom for 75 laps tonight, and at this track that’s about as fun as filing your taxes,” Peters admitted. “Just kind of got the short end of the stick on track position and found myself on the bottom, I think every single restart that we had tonight, which is really tough.”
Brent Roy avoided trouble to finish fourth, an NEP career best for the New Brunswick racer. Pennsylvanian Zane Ferrell rounded out the top five after starting sixth.
Cory Casagrande was sixth at the finish, with Dylan Kopec battling to a seventh-place run. Maine’s Jason Ricker and Wyatt Alexander were eighth and ninth.
Charles Lewandoski drove from eighteenth at the start to finish tenth, earning the RDA Trilogy Challenge honors for the second straight week. The three-race bonus program rewards the driver who gains the most positions from qualifying.
Title hopeful Kenny Kibbey spent time in the outside wall, managing a twelfth-place finish but losing ground to his closest competition in the championship battle.
With six races left in the season, Libby leads the standings by 22 markers over Peters, with Kibbey another 19 points back. Beaulieu’s recent performances have kept him fourth in points, with Cory Casagrande and Dylan Kopec tied for fifth in the season-long standings.
The next event on the NEP SHIFT Marketing/Design Grand National Series schedule is the Zanie Does Japan 65 at Twin Ring Motegi on January 21. The trip to the Japan oval marks the first NEP event outside of North America. Coverage will begin on Vidane TV at 8:15pm EST.