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Newcomer Kollin Keister bests the rest for first career victory at Charlotte

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Kollin Keister crossed the line to win the Coca-Cola 300 at the virtual Charlotte Motor Speedway on Tuesday, March 12th, 2020. Photo by Justin Melillo / TRE via iRacing.com.

THE VIRTUAL CONCORD, N.C. –– Coming into the seventh race of the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series, Tuesday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway, a stat that was tossed around was that there had never been a repeat winner in all eleven previous races at the track.

Keegan Leahy (Denny Hamlin Racing) won it last year, Brad Davies (JR Motorsports) was a winner in the inaugural season, the winner two weeks ago at Dover, Nick Ottinger (William Byron eSports), has his name on the winner’s list from 2012, and the Four-Time Series Champion, Ray Alfalla (Virtual Racing School), took home a win in 2017.

With those four entered, it seemed possible that the streak could be broken, but at the end of the day, none of those veterans were even in the conversation.

Kollin Keister, the rookie driver for Roush Fenway Racing, took the checkers on Tuesday night in only his sixth career start in the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series.

It was a tale of two strategies as the race played out green for 190 straight laps of green flag racing.

There were some who opted to split the race into quarters, pitting every 45 to 50 laps, having the freshest tires more than the rest.

Others opted to split the race into thirds, pitting every 60 to 70 laps, and having one less pit stop to make.

The latter of the two strategies paid off, and it was Keister who led the charge the majority of the time.

“That was our plan, before the race started, if it went green the whole way, we were going to do the two stop strategy,” Keister said post-race in the virtual victory lane. “We figured that would be faster.”

Keister held off a charge on the final run from Ryan Luza (Williams Esports), and maintained a gap enough to keep second place finisher, Garrett Lowe (Wood Brothers Racing), well behind as he crossed the line for his first career win in the series, the most recent rookie since Ashton Crowder at Darlington Raceway in 2019 to win at the top level.

“I thought (Luza) was saving tires there, behind me, but I was able to pull away there at the end,” Keister said. “We were really close for a while, but I was able to drive away with about 30 to go, and just kept on going.”

***

Graham Bowlin (Joe Gibbs Racing) was the fastest in practice, but Keegan Leahy (Denny Hamlin Racing) outdid Bowlin by 0.003 seconds for the pole position, and led the field to the green on Tuesday evening.

Only seven laps in, the caution had flown. Phil Diaz (Mode Motorsports) got turned after contact with Dylan Duval (Stewart-Haas Racing), and Steve Sheehan (Bryant-Sheehan eSports) couldn’t avoid the spinning No. 75 car.

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Phil Diaz (75) spins after contact with Dylan Duval (41) on lap 7 at the virtual Charlotte Motor Speedway on Tuesday, March 12th, 2020. Photo by Justin Melillo / TRE via iRacing.com.

The restart, and final restart at that, came at lap 11. Leahy continued to lead, but Michael Conti (JR Motorsports) was closing in fast. Conti made the move to the top spot at lap 20, and looked to have one of the fastest cars in the field.

At lap 57, the strategies began to split up. Conti, along with a handful of others, opted to pit early for fresher tires sooner.

That handed the lead back to Leahy, but it wasn’t long before Leahy handed it over to Ryan Luza (Williams Esports). Luza stayed out as long as he could, pitting at lap 76. Brandon Hayse Kettelle led a lap, and then the lead cycled back to Conti.

Through the pit cycles, it seemed that Kollin Keister (Roush Fenway Racing) had managed to put himself in a prime position should the race stay green to the end. Keister started eighth, and moved up into fourth before the original pit cycle began. When it cycled through, he was ahead of the rest of the drivers on his strategy, and closing in quick on the four who were on the alternate strategy.

As the laps continued on, it became apparent that without a caution at the right time, the three-stop strategy played by Conti and the others wasn’t going to be the winning play, and that the battle between Keister, Luza, Garrett Lowe, Brad Davies, Bowlin, and Leahy was going to be the battle for the victory.

On the final stop, Lowe managed to get out of the pits ahead of the other five, but Bowlin soon passed him, the fight for the win, but truly, it was for fifth at the time. It wasn’t long before Keister made his move back out in front, but Luza was right behind, and ready to strike at the first mistake.

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Kollin Keister leads Ryan Luza in the closing laps at the virtual Charlotte Motor Speedway on Tuesday, March 12th, 2020. Photo by Justin Melillo / TRE via iRacing.com.

The mistake never came. Keister painted the lines, and eventually, pulled away from Luza and the rest. Lowe managed to sneak by Luza at the end, but it was Keister who was victorious.

***

Two weeks ago, Keister was among three drivers who did not participate at Dover International Speedway. This dropped him down to 32nd in the points standings, and a long way from even making the Top 20.

After his victory on Tuesday, he’s gained back up to 24th in the standings, 62 points behind eighth place Nick Ottinger, with nine races until the playoffs are set.

Luza continues to lead the points standings by 20 points over now second place Leahy. Bobby Zalenski (Virtual Racing School) falls back to third, while Lowe, Davies, Conti, Bowlin, and Ottinger round out the Top 8.

In two weeks, the series will return to race at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The last time the series visited Atlanta was in 2018 in the playoffs, and Matt Bussa was the winner.

 

SOURCES:
iRacing
eNASCAR

COCA-COLA 300 RESULTS:

  1. 17 – Kollin Keister – Roush Fenway Racing
  2. 21 – Garrett Lowe – Wood Brothers Racing
  3. 53 – Ryan Michael Luza – Williams eSports
  4. 18 – Graham A. Bowlin – Joe Gibbs Racing
  5. 32 – Keegan Leahy – Denny Hamlin Racing
  6. 27 – Corey Vincent – Renegades
  7. 88 – Brad Davies – JR Motorsports
  8. 9 – Eric J. Smith – Jim Beaver eSports
  9. 10 – Justin Bolton – Stewart-Haas eSports
  10. 23 – Casey Kirwan – Denny Hamlin Racing
  11. 51 – Malik Ray – Joe Gibbs Racing
  12. 83 – Bobby Zalenski – Virtual Racing School
  13. 15 – Michael Guariglia – Jim Beaver eSports
  14. 24 – Jake Nichols – Mode Motorsports
  15. 2 – Ray Alfalla – Virtual Racing School
  16. 8 – Michael Conti – JR Motorsports
  17. 46 – Jimmy Mullis – Richmond Raceway eSports
  18. 6 – Nathan Lyon – Roush Fenway Racing
  19. 97 – John Gorlinsky – William Byron eSports
  20. 99 – Logan Clampitt – Burton Kligerman eSports
  21. 42 – Bob Bryant – Bryant Sheehan eSports
  22. 55 – Caine Cook – Renegades
  23. 36 – Chris Shearburn – Letarte eSports
  24. 33 – Michael Guest – Team Dillon eSports
  25. 66 – Jarl Teien – G2 eSports
  26. 77 – Ashton Crowder – Burton Kligerman eSports
  27. 14 – Brandon Hayse Kettelle – Clint Bowyer Racing
  28. 1 – Steve Sheehan – Bryant Sheehan eSports
  29. 37 – Christian Challiner – JTG Daugherty Racing
  30. 47 – Jeremy R Allen – JTG Daugherty Racing
  31. 54 – Alex McCollum – G2 eSports
  32. 3 – Blake Reynolds – Team Dillon eSports
  33. 41 – Dylan Duval – Stewart-Haas eSports
  34. 5 – Matt Bussa – Williams eSports
  35. 90 – Zack Novak – Richmond Raceway eSports
  36. 16 – Chris Overland – Wood Brothers Racing
  37. 75 – Phillip Diaz – Mode Motorsports
  38. 4 – Santiago Tirres – Letarte eSports
  39. 25 – Nick Ottinger – Williams Byron eSports
  40. 79 – Brian Schoenburg – Clint Bowyer Racing

Check out the TReSports Photo Gallery from Race #7 at Charlotte Motor Speedway! All Photos by Justin Melillo via iRacing.com.

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Justin Melillo View All

Columnist / Reporter / Photographer / Webmaster for TheRacingExperts.com

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