(The Virtual) Kansas City, Kan. – Everything was looking to be in Keegan Leahy’s favor on Tuesday night at Kansas Speedway.
A late race caution upended Leahy’s dominant lead. A differing strategy placed Leahy out of the lead, and contact with eventual race winner, Nick Ottinger, put Leahy in a dire points situation with only one race left to decide the 2020 eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series Championship 4.
Ottinger survived the chaos, making his way back to the lead at the white flag, and holding on for his second victory of the season, and what might be the most important one of his career so far. The win on Tuesday night will give Ottinger a chance to race for the championship against Bobby Zalenski and two other drivers yet to be determined.
“To get to the Final Four… it’s tough this year,” Ottinger said to Parker Kligerman on the iRacing eSports Network after the race. “It’s the toughest it’s been for me, and I think we’ve been rising to the occasion and bringing really good cars… at the end of the day, the job’s not finished… we’ve got to go to Homestead.”
Ottinger started on the pole and led a total of 14 laps out of 144 completed. The race went into double eNASCAR Overtime after a trio of incidents slowed the final handful of laps in the event. Before the 128th lap, the race had been caution free to that point, and the scheduled distance was only 134 laps.
Right before the race-changing yellow on lap 128, Ottinger had just caught Leahy, but realized that he might be short on gas, and began to backpedal to save a Top 5 finish. At the same time that Leahy began to extend his lead again, a near miss with lapped traffic foreshadowed an ominous fate for the No. 32.
The caution finally flew after Justin Bolton and Brandon Hayse Kettelle got together racing for 28th position. The restacking of the field allowed for alternative strategies to be attempted by Michael Guariglia, Phillip Diaz, and Jarl Teien, who had all pitted with just under 20 laps to go in regulation.
The reshuffling placed Leahy in fourth, Michael Conti in fifth, Chris Shearburn in sixth, and Ottinger in seventh.
Immediately, another caution flew as Bob Bryant, Corey Vincent, and Graham A. Bowlin collided entering Turn 1, collecting a few more cars. This incident sent the race into it’s first overtime attempt, and that’s when Leahy met his doom.
On lap 138, still yet to reach the white flag, Leahy bobbled as he attempted to navigate the cars ahead on older tires. Ottinger was low, and the two made contact, effectively ending Leahy’s chance at a win, and chance to advance to the Championship 4 on points easily.
“I had two seconds on Ottinger, I was winning that race until the caution came out… that’s how it goes,” Leahy said to Evan Posocco under the caution period right after his incident. “It happened a few times last year too. I’ll just have to go to Texas and win it.”
“I don’t want to wreck a playoff driver, nonetheless Keegan, because he’s actually really clean,” Ottinger responded when asked by Kligerman. “I just don’t know what happened… I’d have to go back and watch it after this.”
On the final restart, Ottinger found the grip he needed, and coming to the white flag, he had cleared Guariglia for the lead by a few car lengths. The rest of the field fanned out, and then compressed, and the mayhem was on.
Of the six playoff drivers between Ottinger and Leahy, only Conti seemed to get the worst of all of the contact, going from a chance at victory to hanging on to a 12th place finish in a tore up virtual racecar.
Bobby Zalenski, who won and clinched his place in the Championship 4 last week at the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL, squeaked into a third place effort, while Ryan Luza, who struggled for a majority of the race, managed a fourth place finish. Jimmy Mullis finished sixth, Ray Alfalla finished seventh, and Garrett Lowe ended up eighth. Finally, Leahy was able to limp it back to finish in 32nd position.
With Zalenski and Ottinger claiming two of the four spots at the Championship 4 table, the remaining two will be decided next week at Texas Motor Speedway.
Mullis has a 12 point advantage over the cut line, while Luza sits in the final transfer spot by eight points. Lowe is the first man out, but could still manage to point his way in with some luck next week.
It’s not mathematically impossible, but essentially, Leahy, Alfalla, and definitely Conti, will need to get the Texas win to guarantee a place in the title battle at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
KANSAS SPEEDWAY RESULTS
- 25 – Nick Ottinger – William Byron eSports
- 99 – Logan Clampitt – Burton Kligerman eSports
- 83 – Bobby Zalenski – Virtual Racing School
- 53 – Ryan Michael Luza – Williams Esports
- 15 – Michael Guariglia – Jim Beaver eSports
- 46 – Jimmy Mullis – Richmond Raceway eSports
- 2 – Ray Alfalla – Virtual Racing School
- 21 – Garrett Lowe – Wood Brothers Gaming
- 6 – Nathan Lyon – Roush Fenway Racing
- 51 – Malik Ray – Joe Gibbs Racing
- 4 – Santiago Tirres – LETARTE eSports
- 8 – Michael Conti – JR Motorsports
- 37 – Christian Challiner – JTG Daugherty Racing
- 79 – Brian Schoenburg – Clint Bowyer Racing
- 47 – Steve Sheehan – JTG Daugherty Racing
- 27 – Corey Vincent – Renegades
- 14 – Brandon Hayse Kettelle – Clint Bowyer Racing
- 10 – Justin Bolton – Stewart-Haas eSports
- 18 – Graham A. Bowlin – Joe Gibbs Racing
- 9 – Eric J. Smith – Jim Beaver eSports
- 97 – John Gorlinsky – William Byron eSports
- 55 – Caine Cook – Renegades
- 3 – Blake Reynolds – Team Dillon eSports
- 41 – Dylan Duval – Stewart-Haas eSports
- 66 – Jarl Teien – G2 eSports
- 77 – Bob Bryant – Burton Kligerman eSports
- 16 – Chris Overland – Wood Brothers Gaming
- 5 – Matt Bussa – Williams Esports
- 24 – Jake Nichols – Mode Motorsports
- 33 – Michael Guest – Team Dillon eSports
- 75 – Phillip Diaz – Mode Motorsports
- 32 – Keegan Leahy – Denny Hamlin Racing
- 90 – Zack Novak – Richmond Raceway eSports
- 36 – Chris Shearburn – LETARTE eSports
- 88 – Brad Davies – JR Motorsports
- 23 – Casey Kirwan – Denny Hamlin Racing
- 17 – Kollin Keister – Roush Fenway Racing
- 54 – Alex McCollum – G2 eSports
Playoff Standings after Kansas:
- 83 – Bobby Zalenski – ADVANCED
- 25 – Nick Ottinger – ADVANCED
- 46 – Jimmy Mullis +12
- 53 – Ryan Michael Luza +8
- 21 – Garrett Lowe -8
- 32 – Keegan Leahy -19
- 2 – Ray Alfalla -21
- 8 – Michael Conti – 43
TOP 20 Battle after Kansas:
17. 36 – Chris Shearburn +35
18. 23 – Casey Kirwan +7
19. 97 – John Gorlinsky +6
20. 90 – Zack Novak +4
21. 37 – Christian Challiner -4
22. 5 – Matt Bussa -4
23. 6 – Nathan Lyon -8
24. 41 – Dylan Duval -9
25. 33 – Michael Guest -11
26. 9 – Eric J. Smith -17
Check out the photo gallery from Tuesday night’s eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series event at Kansas Speedway! Photos by Justin Melillo / TRE via iRacing.com.
Columnist / Reporter / Photographer / Webmaster for TheRacingExperts.com