A first time winner in the brand new racing package emerged at Auto Club Speedway on Tuesday night.
Eric J. Smith, who races the No. 51 Camaro independently in the eNASCAR iRacing Peak Antifreeze Series, held off Keegan Leahy in a photo-finish.
The victory came at the expense of veteran driver Corey Vincent, who made contact with Ryan Michael Luza and Nick Ottinger off of Turn 2 on the final lap.
The skirmish allowed Smith to take the lead racing back to the checkers, as he collected his first career eNiPAS victory in just his third start in the series.
“Man, I don’t know how to explain it, it was insane,” Smith said to RaceSpot TV in victory lane. “Man, it dug on the top coming to the checkers. That was insane.
“Everybody was super aggressive. I saw that tires meant a ton, especially early on in the run when I went from 31st to whatever. The hole just opened up out of (Turn) 2, I was really hoping that they would get loose on the bottom, and I just took that and ran all the way through (Turn) 4, and it was just a great battle to the line, coming out of (Turn) 4, 300 feet before the line, I knew I had it.”
Michael Conti started on the pole for the evening, and battled with Ottinger early for the top spot.
On lap 18, Conti spun on the frontstretch, into the trioval grass. The damage was minimal, but the caution did not fly, and mired the No. 8 in the back of the field.
Ottinger, Zack Novak, and Luza were the three to beat early, but as the race transitioned into night, the field began to mix it up.
Luza took the lead after pits cycled between laps 30 and 40, as he led Novak and Vincent up until a caution flew at lap 44 when Brandon Hayse Kettelle spun off the nose of Ottinger’s No. 47 Camaro.
The majority of the field came back down pit road for fresh tires and fuel, but Conti took the opportunity to stay out, and retook the lead for the restart at lap 48.
Conti swapped the lead with Novak for a few laps before Novak took full control at lap 55.
The caution flew again at lap 66, when Taylor Hurst and Chris Overland made contact, sending Overland’s No. 16 Fusion spinning in the middle of the pack.
The caution flag set up the field for their final pit stops of the day, and it was an important one for Vincent, as he beat Novak to the pit line to win the battle off of pit road.
Vincent took the restart at lap 70, and then led the field to the restart five more times after that, as cautions would breed more cautions, mainly in the back of the pack.
On the final restart at lap 98, Vincent led over Ottinger and Luza. As they came around and took the white flag, Ottinger made his move to the inside, setting up the trio for a three-wide battle into Turn 1.
As they exited Turn 2, Vincent slid up and Luza went to the middle. Contact was made between Luza and Vincent that sent Vincent into Ottinger, and brought Smith into the picture.
Smith made the move up high to miss the melee, as Leahy also made it through and around. Luza slowed significantly, but filed back in line in third.
Off of Turn 4, Leahy looked low on Smith, but it was Smith across the line first for his first career victory in the series.
WE DID IT BABY! Win number ONE! I can’t thank @iRacing and @NASCAR enough for giving us a platform to show off our grit and talent. I’ve respected these drivers for years and to go toe to toe and win this way – wow! https://t.co/uGB59zBkfo
— Eric J Smith (@EJDig51) March 13, 2019
Smith is an eNiPAS rookie in 2019, and although he has been a sim racer for 14 years, it is his first at the highest level of sim racing today.
Smith joins Novak and Luza as the winners so far in the 2019 season. In two weeks, the series heads to Texas Motor Speedway.
AUTO CLUB RESULTS
- 51 – Eric J. Smith – Independent
- 62 – Keegan Leahy – G2 eSports
- 53 – Ryan Michael Luza – FlipSid3 Tactics
- 18 – Bobby Zalenski – Joe Gibbs Racing
- 5 – Matt Bussa – Williams eSports
- 6 – Zack Novak – Roush Fenway Racing
- 21 – Ray Alfalla – Wood Brothers Racing
- 8 – Michael Conti – JR Motorsports
- 46 – Jimmy Mullis – Richmond Raceway eSports
- 2 – Caine Cook – Independent
- 79 – Nickolas Shelton – Clint Bowyer Racing
- 20 – Jake Nichols – Joe Gibbs Racing
- 1 – Blake Reynolds – Independent
- 99 – Logan Clampitt – Burton Kligerman eSports
- 90 – Malik Ray – Richmond Raceway eSports
- 66 – Jarl Teien – G2 eSports
- 28 – Garrett Lowe – Renegades
- 4 – Nathan Lyon – Independent
- 77 – Ashton Crowder – Burton Kligerman eSports
- 48 – Benjamin W. Nelson – Independent
- 7 – Ryan Lowe – Independent
- 47 – Nick Ottinger – JTG Daugherty Racing
- 14 – Casey Kirwan – Clint Bowyer Racing
- 42 – Dylan Duval – Independent
- 30 – Logan Kress – Independent
- 74 – Taylor Hurst – Independent
- 55 – Brian Schoenburg – Williams eSports
- 63 – Timmy Hill – FlipSid3 Tactics
- 36 – Chris Shearburn – Independent
- 19 – Casey Tucker – Independent
- 83 – Adam Benefiel – Independent
- 3 – Michael Guariglia – Independent
- 27 – Corey Vincent – Renegades
- 17 – Michael Guest – Roush Fenway Racing
- 37 – Christian Challiner – Independent
- 75 – Philip Diaz – Mode Motorsports
- 16 – Chris Overland – Wood Brothers Racing
- 88 – Brad Davies – JR Motorsports
- 24 – Cody Byus – Mode Motorsports
- 80 – Brandon Hayse Kettelle – Independent
Columnist / Reporter / Photographer / Webmaster for TheRacingExperts.com