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Michael Conti advances to Championship 4 with walk-off win at Texas

Ryan Luza squeaks in on points, both Luza and Conti will join Bobby Zalenski and Nick Ottinger in title bout at Homestead-Miami Speedway next Monday

(VIRTUAL) FORT WORTH, Texas – It’s been 37 races, and more than two full years, but finally, the 2014 eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series Champion was able to find his way back into victory lane.

Michael Conti claimed his first career Texas Motor Speedway victory when it mattered most on Tuesday night, and that means he’ll fight for the series title in 2020.

Conti entered the penultimate race of the 2020 eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series with a 43-point deficit to the fourth and final spot for the Championship 4 cutoff. He left virtual Texas with a trophy and a ticket to the title fight.

“I can’t believe this actually happened,” Conti said to Evan Posocco post race on the iRacing eSports Network. “This is just crazy. I have never been that excited to win a race before. I mean, I won a championship and I was monotone. This was crazy. This was the most intense season, by far.”

Conti survived a handful of restarts in the final 25 laps, including one in eNASCAR Overtime, and led JR Motorsports in the team’s first 1-2 finish in the series, as teammate Brad Davies survived the ending to finish in second.

Texas becomes Conti’s 10th career victory in the series in his 153rd start. It’s Conti’s first win of 2020, and first win as an official driver for JR Motorsports.

“To be in the spot we were in after the ROVAL, where I had a money shift at a really bad time… to be in that spot and almost have it last week, to have it ripped away… It took two years to get a win, but we did it at the right time.”

“You couldn’t script it any better than this”

A blown engine at the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL, and a last lap incident at Kansas Speedway put Conti in this predicament, contrasting from a regular season of consistency that placed him in the playoff picture.

Mathematically, unless other contenders didn’t show up at Texas, it would be impossible for Conti to point his way in. Down, but not out, Conti’s only path to the title race at Homestead-Miami Speedway would be to win.

Conti started from the 12th starting position, not moving up too far from that spot. An early caution in the first 20 laps allowed for a split decision on pit strategy, and Conti was one who took advantage.

Teams were allowed four extra sets of virtual tires, and by eliminating a set so early, a race full of caution flags would likely be tough later down the road for the teams with one less set.

The cautions seemed to fall perfectly for Conti, as opposed to his playoff competition. Ryan Luza, Jimmy Mullis, Keegan Leahy, and Garrett Lowe opted to stay out and save their tires, while Conti and a handful of others pulled away from the field on the fresh set.

Towards the end of the first cycle of green flag pit stops, Conti, Logan Clampitt, and Ray Alfalla had yet to pit. Alfalla made the move to pit, but Luza, on fresh tires, didn’t see it, and ran into the back of the four-time champion.

Luza slid up and into Jarl Teien, and the caution flew. The damage was enough to take Luza out of the conversation for the final playoff spot, but he kept going, riding around in the 33rd position, hoping for a miracle.

The caution trapped more than 30 cars a lap down, many of which took the wave around, but would restart on older tires. Conti, Clampitt, Alfalla, and the lucky dog, Kollin Keister, would start up front, all with the newest tires.

Keister was Conti’s biggest threat towards the second half of the race, taking the lead from the No. 8 at lap 97. Alfalla took the undercut on the pit, hoping for a caution at the right time to keep him ahead.

Keister pitted 20 laps after taking the lead, and the Conti / Clampitt duo held out for three more laps. The fewer laps of tire wear allowed Conti take control again at lap 132, and he never relinquished for the remainder of the race.

It came down to an eNASCAR Overtime finish after a slew of late race yellows kept bunching up the field for continuing chaos.

On the second-to-last yellow flag, Conti lined up alongside Clampitt. Clampitt was willing to defend his position behind Conti, but Keister was not having it. With five laps to go, Keister bumped Clampitt into Turn 1, and Clampitt had to check up to save the car. Keister got to his inside, which got Clampitt more loose. Clampitt saved it, but the field wrecked behind.

It was calamity for three of the drivers battling for the final transfer spot. Alfalla got hit into the inside wall by a spinning Justin Bolton, and then came up the track into Mullis. Lowe got tapped and spun into the fray, and the three drivers were all scrambling to figure out how to continue.

Alfalla’s day was done, having a smoking virtual ending, and he would retire before the final green flag.

Lowe had the least amount of damage, and was able to finish 22nd of the group. Mullis was missing multiple pieces of his car, and he struggled back to finish 31st.

As Conti crossed the line to take the victory, more calamity ensued. Leahy was in the fourth position coming off of Turn 4.

With where his other four competitors were, all he had to do was cross the line with a Top 5 finish, and he would advance to the title bout. Instead, Keister and pole sitter Graham A. Bowlin bounced off of one another racing for second, and collected Leahy in the melee.

Leahy wound up in 11th, and it wouldn’t be enough to advance. Instead, Luza’s miracle came true, as he avoided the rest of the mayhem to finish in the 25th position. That gave him three points on Mullis, five points on Leahy, six points on Lowe, and 32 points over Alfalla.

Luza on points, and Conti with the walk-off win, will both race for a title on Monday night at Homestead-Miami Speedway against the Charlotte ROVAL winner Bobby Zalenski and the Kansas winner Nick Ottinger.

The relegation cut heating up, and for some, eyes now officially set on the Pro Series

Besides the championship battle, the Top 20 relegation is intense as well. Only the Top 20 drivers will guarantee their place in the series for 2021, and the rest will need to fight back in through the iRacing Pro Series.

15 drivers are locked in to the Top 20 – they mathematically can’t fall out no matter what – and can race at Homestead-Miami with less stress on their minds. Those drivers are:

  • Bobby Zalenski (Championship 4)
  • Nick Ottinger (Championship 4)
  • Michael Conti (Championship 4)
  • Ryan Michael Luza (Championship 4)
  • Jimmy Mullis (Playoffs)
  • Keegan Leahy (Playoffs)
  • Garrett Lowe (Playoffs)
  • Ray Alfalla (Playoffs)
  • Logan Clampitt (+150)
  • Corey Vincent (+106)
  • Graham A. Bowlin (+94)
  • Brad Davies (+86)
  • Blake Reynolds (+50)
  • Jake Nichols (+47)
  • Bob Bryant (+45)

The race for 20th is tight between about seven drivers. Realistically, there are five spots left to fill, and 15 drivers that could make it in. Here’s how those standings stack up entering the finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway:

16. Chris Shearburn (+40)
17. Caine Cook (+34)
18. John Gorlinsky (+14)
19. Dylan Duval (+3)
20. Matt Bussa (+0) – Has tie breaker with better finish in 2020 (2nd at NHMS)
——————–
21. Nathan Lyon (-0) – (Best finish: 3rd at Richmond)
22. Christian Challiner (-2)
23. Casey Kirwan (-3)
24. Zack Novak (-3)
25. Kollin Keister (-8)
26. Brandon Hayse Kettelle (-20)
27. Michael Guest (-23)
28. Eric J. Smith (-33)
29. Michael Guariglia (-35)
30. Chris Overland (-36)

Likely, both Shearburn and Cook are safe with an average race at Homestead, with Gorlinsky through Keister on the hot seat for the final three spots. Kettelle on back will need a lot to happen to make it happen for them to make the Top 20.

With all of that determined, it’s also official that the following drivers will have to race in the 2020 iRacing Pro Series to reclaim a license to be on the 2021 Premier Series roster:

  • Justin Bolton
  • Malik Ray
  • Phillip Diaz
  • Jarl Teien
  • Alex McCollum
  • Steve Sheehan
  • Santiago Tirres
  • Brian Schoenburg

It’s unknown if the Pro Series invitation will be extended to former Burton Kligerman eSports driver Ashton Crowder or to former JTG Daugherty Racing driver Jeremy R Allen.

TEXAS MOTOR SPEEDWAY RESULTS

  1. 8 – Michael Conti – JR Motorsports
  2. 88 – Brad Davies – JR Motorsports
  3. 83 – Bobby Zalenski – Virtual Racing School
  4. 99 – Logan Clampitt – Burton Kligerman eSports
  5. 17 – Kollin Keister – Roush Fenway Racing
  6. 27 – Corey Vincent – Renegades
  7. 25 – Nick Ottinger – William Byron eSports
  8. 14 – Brandon Hayse Kettelle – Clint Bowyer Racing
  9. 41 – Dylan Duval – Stewart-Haas eSports
  10. 97 – John Gorlinsky – William Byron eSports
  11. 32 – Keegan Leahy – Denny Hamlin Racing
  12. 36 – Chris Shearburn – LETARTE eSports
  13. 6 – Nathan Lyon – Roush Fenway Racing
  14. 3 – Blake Reynolds – Team Dillon eSports
  15. 18 – Graham A. Bowlin – Joe Gibbs Racing
  16. 47 – Steve Sheehan – JTG Daugherty Racing
  17. 5 – Matt Bussa – Williams Esports
  18. 24 – Jake Nichols – Mode Motorsports
  19. 37 – Christian Challiner – JTG Daugherty Racing
  20. 16 – Chris Overland – Wood Brothers Gaming
  21. 4 – Santiago Tirres – LETARTE eSports
  22. 21 – Garrett Lowe – Wood Brothers Gaming
  23. 75 – Phillip Diaz – Mode Motorsports
  24. 90 – Zack Novak – Richmond Raceway eSports
  25. 53 – Ryan Michael Luza – Williams Esports
  26. 54 – Alex McCollum – G2 eSports
  27. 15 – Michael Guariglia – Jim Beaver eSports
  28. 23 – Casey Kirwan – Denny Hamlin Racing
  29. 55 – Caine Cook – Renegades
  30. 10 – Justin Bolton – Stewart-Haas eSports
  31. 46 – Jimmy Mullis – Richmond Raceway eSports
  32. 77 – Bob Bryant – Burton Kligerman eSports
  33. 79 – Brian Schoenburg – Clint Bowyer Racing
  34. 33 – Michael Guest – Team Dillon eSports
  35. 2 – Ray Alfalla – Virtual Racing School
  36. 51 – Malik Ray – Joe Gibbs Racing
  37. 9 – Eric J. Smith – Jim Beaver eSports
  38. 66 – Jarl Teien – G2 eSports

Check out the photo gallery from Tuesday night’s eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series event at Texas Motor Speedway! Photos by Justin Melillo / TRE via iRacing.com.

Justin Melillo View All

Columnist / Reporter / Photographer / Webmaster for TheRacingExperts.com

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