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Ashton Crowder spoils playoff party, wins first career race at Darlington Raceway

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Ashton Crowder (77) holds off Zack Novak (6) to win at Darlington Raceway. Photo by Justin Melillo / TRE via iRacing.com.

It hasn’t been the easiest rookie campaign for Ashton Crowder so far in to the 2019 eNASCAR Peak Antifreeze iRacing Series season.

Well, it wasn’t, at least until he found victory lane on Tuesday night at the virtual Darlington Raceway.

In a 250 mile, 183 lap event that saw both long green flag runs and multiple multi-car incidents throughout, Crowder had the right strategy near the end of the event.

“Everybody at Burton-Kligerman eSports works so hard, and I’ve made so many mistakes this year, and I’ve been down on myself,” Crowder said post-race to RaceSpot TV. “I didn’t think that I was going to get any sort of good finish, really. I got an eighth place last week, and obviously a win this week, I just can’t believe it, honestly.”

The victory was the first for his team, Burton-Kligerman eSports, and team owner Parker Kligerman was excited after the race, to say the least.

“I’m so proud of Ashton, I know he pours his heart and soul into this series,” Kligerman told RaceSpot TV. “He spends so much time working on setups, trying to make those cars the best they can be, and I know he’s been through some rough patches this season, but we drafted him knowing he could pull off something like he did tonight.”

The race saw six caution flags for 26 laps.

Crowder led the last 33 laps straight en route to victory lane.

***

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Keegan Leahy (62) leads the field early at Darlington Raceway. Photo by Justin Melillo / TRE via iRacing.com.

Michael Conti led the field to the green flag of the event, and the start of the 2019 playoffs.

It didn’t take long, however, for Keegan Leahy to take over the top spot, as he drove around Conti before the end of the first lap.

Leahy was the class of the field the entire night. Leading 110 of the 183 laps, only losing the lead in the midst of pit cycles, it seemed that nobody could touch Leahy if it continued on without incident.

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Keegan Leahy at Darlington Raceway. Photo by Justin Melillo / TRE via iRacing.com.

On lap 147, Leahy was called to the pit from the lead, and a few laps later, Crowder took the top spot for the first time at lap 151.

Only a few laps later, with Crowder still on the track in the lead, the caution flag flew again, right in the middle of the final pit cycle of the day.

The jumbled order had Crowder first, Chris Overland second, and Benjamin W. Nelson in third, while Leahy would be mired back in seventh for the restart.

It all started to come apart for many of the championship hopefuls on the ensuing restart, on lap 160, with less than 25 laps to go.

First to take a hit was Jimmy Mullis, for Richmond Raceway eSports. Mullis slammed the inside wall on lap 161 and had to continue onward with heavy damage.

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Jimmy Mullis has heavy contact with the inside wall at Darlington Raceway. Photo by Justin Melillo / TRE via iRacing.com.

Next, it was calamity for three more playoff hopefuls on lap 166.

The “big one” struck the historic Darlington Raceway, and ended the hopes for regular season champion, Blake Reynolds, as well as Ryan Luza and Bobby Zalenski.

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The “big one” at Darlington Raceway. Photo by Justin Melillo / TRE via iRacing.com.

To this point, Garrett Lowe had already had his share of issues, and was already mired in the back.

This left three drivers without too much damage to continue forward, looking to secure a ticket straight to the championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Conti struggled from the drop of the green, and was relegated to an eleventh place finish.

It was up to the dominant Leahy or Zack Novak to find their way to victory lane.

Crowder, however, had other plans.

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Ashton Crowder (77), Chris Overland (16), and Benjamin W. Nelson (33) lead the field at Darlington Raceway. Photo by Justin Melillo / TRE via iRacing.com.

Overland and Nelson both made attempts at taking the lead away, but couldn’t get the grip to do so. Crowder started to pull away to over a full second advantage.

Meanwhile, Novak worked over Leahy to take over as the leading playoff driver, and the march was on from there.

In the closing laps, Novak made his way up to second place, and was closing on Crowder, but time ran out, and it was Crowder celebrating his first career victory.

No playoff driver would punch their ticket to the championship on this day.

***

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Zach Novak at Darlington Raceway. Photo by Justin Melillo / TRE via iRacing.com.

Leaving Darlington, and heading towards Indianapolis, Novak has taken over the points lead, and has a 24 point lead over the cutoff.

Leahy, Conti, and Luza all sit above that cut line as well, while Lowe, Zalenski, Mullis, and Reynolds all have work to do to make it in via points.

Of course, a win would be an automatic berth, and would be the easiest path for any of these eight playoff hopefuls.

The series will take a week off following Labor Day, and will return on September 10th for the second race of the playoffs, at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

SOURCES:
iRacing
RaceSpot TV
NASCAR

RACE RESULTS:

  1. 77 – Ashton Crowder – Burton Kligerman eSports
  2. 6 – Zack Novak – Roush Fenway Racing
  3. 33 – Benjamin W. Nelson – Team Dillon eSports
  4. 20 – Jake Nichols – Joe Gibbs Racing
  5. 62 – Keegan Leahy – G2 eSports
  6. 16 – Chris Overland – Wood Brothers Racing
  7. 27 – Corey Vincent – Renegades
  8. 5 – Matt Bussa – Williams eSports
  9. 99 – Logan Clampitt – Burton Kligerman eSports
  10. 51 – Eric J. Smith – Jim Beaver eSports
  11. 8 – Michael Conti – JR Motorsports
  12. 75 – Philip Diaz – Mode Motorsports
  13. 47 – Nick Ottinger – JTG Daugherty Racing
  14. 14 – Casey Kirwan – Clint Bowyer Racing
  15. 2 – Caine Cook – Independent
  16. 37 – Christian Challiner – JTG Daugherty Racing
  17. 19 – Casey Tucker – Independent
  18. 7 – Ryan Lowe – Independent
  19. 83 – Adam Benefiel – Independent
  20. 28 – Garrett Lowe – Renegades
  21. 18 – Bobby Zalenski – Joe Gibbs Racing
  22. 66 – Jarl Teien – G2 eSports
  23. 53 – Ryan Michael Luza – FlipSid3 Tactics
  24. 30 – Blake Reynolds – Team Dillon eSports
  25. 4 – Nathan Lyon – Letarte eSports
  26. 46 – Jimmy Mullis – Richmond Raceway eSports
  27. 42 – Dylan Duval – Independent
  28. 74 – Taylor Hurst – Independent
  29. 15 – Michael Guariglia – Jim Beaver eSports
  30. 88 – Brad Davies – JR Motorsports
  31. 24 – Cody Byus – Mode Motorsports
  32. 17 – Michael Guest – Roush Fenway Racing
  33. 31 – Logan Kress – Independent
  34. 79 – Nickolas Shelton – Clint Bowyer Racing
  35. 36 – Chris Shearburn – Letarte eSports
  36. 21 – Ray Alfalla – Wood Brothers Racing
  37. 55 – Brian Schoenburg – Williams eSports
  38. 80 – Brandon Hayse Kettelle – Independent
  39. 90 – Malik Ray – Richmond Raceway eSports
  40. 63 – Timmy Hill – FlipSid3 Tactics

Justin Melillo View All

Columnist / Reporter / Photographer / Webmaster for TheRacingExperts.com

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