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Nick Ottinger takes 2020 eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series championship

Late race incident takes out Luza, sets up Ottinger to pass Zalenski for the title coming to white flag

(VIRTUAL) HOMESTEAD-MIAMI, Fla. — A race for the ages, a race for $100,000, and the race to become the 2020 eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series champion all came down to the final laps at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Monday night.

When the smoke cleared, Nick Ottinger stood on the top of the mountain, finally a series champion after nine seasons and 150 races. After taking fresh tires late, Ottinger made the move around Bobby Zalenski coming to the white flag, after three attempts at eNASCAR overtime, having saved an extra virtual set of tires for such an instance earlier in the event.

“I’m obviously overwhelmed with emotion,” Ottinger said with overwhelming emotion to Steve Letarte on the iRacing eSports Network, moments after winning the title. “It’s just great to have a good team behind me, man. We were on the outside looking in, for sure. We got bit by the tire strategy a little bit, but we had to try something. We were the third best car, probably. I couldn’t have predicted that, man. All that hard work this year… it’s surreal.”

The circumstances ultimately leading up to the pass for the lead couldn’t have been scripted any better.

The late-race battle for the title

With four laps to go in regulation, Ryan Luza made the move to the lead of the race, and to the lead of the championship around Zalenski. Before that, both Luza and Zalenski took tires for the restart with 25 laps to go, while Ottinger and Michael Conti opted to save their last set of tires.

With the championship on the line, Zalenski fought to hold on. Luza had the better long run car throughout the event, but if Zalenski could keep him at bay, it could have set up to be a repeat of the 2019 title fight between Zack Novak and Keegan Leahy.

Instead, disaster struck for the No. 53 team. As the two title fighters entered Turn 3, Zalenski saw an opportunity to try and cut under Luza. Luza had just taken the defensive line down the backstretch, and if he could keep Zalenski out of the groove, he’d be able to clear in the center of the corner, and cruise to victory.

Zalenski misjudged, and ended up catching Luza’s right rear, which sent the 2017 champion into the outside wall, and out of contention. Luza wound up finishing fourth in the title race, and 31st overall.

On the resulting caution period, Ottinger and Conti took advantage to take their final set of virtual tires. It would be a tough hill to climb – Conti would restart 16th, while Ottinger would have to come from 18th – with only two laps in an overtime attempt, they likely would need multiple overtime restarts.

Immediately, they both got their wish. Zalenski held serve in the lead, but Ottinger was able to move up to 12th, and Conti up to 13th before Justin Bolton, Jarl Teien, Kollin Keister, and more wadded it up in Turn 4, just feet away from the race taking the white flag.

A second overtime restart, and another large incident, this time for Brandon Kettelle, Dylan Duval, Matt Bussa, and others, all fighting to stay above the relegation line, crashing big in Turn 3.

On that second restart, Ottinger took the high line to get up to eighth before the caution. Conti, meanwhile, ended up catching a little nose damage on the restart, and stayed mired back in 13th. It wouldn’t be in the cards for Conti in 2020, after a magical walk-off at Texas Motor Speedway last week, as he would finish third in the standings, and 10th in the race.

The third and final restart would be the last. Either the field would make it to the white flag and they would get to race it out to the end under green, or the next caution would freeze the field and end the season. It stayed green, and Ottinger had the restart of his life.

As Zalenski began to fade backwards on the older tires, Ottinger made it up to his back bumper in Turn 3. Ottinger cut low, three wide between Zalenski and Eric J Smith, and by Turn 1, he was gone. Zalenski had nothing left, fading back to finish in seventh, second of the Championship 4, while Ottinger would come across the line in fourth place, and would take the 2020 championship.

A new winner in the series

While the title fight raged on in his mirror, Chris Shearburn was pulling away towards his first career checkered flag.

A man who made his stake in the heyday of NASCAR Racing 2003 Season, Shearburn finally made his way to the Coca-Cola iRacing Series in 2017.

In 2019, Shearburn signed with Steve Letarte to drive the No. 36 Chevrolet. After 71 races, he can finally call himself a winner in the series, as he also utilized late race tire strategy to make his way to the top of the board. Shearburn held off the other Chris in the series, Chris Overland, to win the race and solidify his place above the Top 20 relegation line.

Who is locked in, and who is relegated to the Pro Series?

Besides the title fight, the other fight on Monday night was to stay in the Top 20 in the standings.

15 drivers were locked in already by the points they accumulated in the first 19 races. The final five spots would mathematically be between 15 drivers on Monday night. The bottom eight drivers in the standings were already relegated to the Pro Series, not mathematically able to break into the Top 20 in points in the final event.

Shearburn, by virtue of his victory, was able to lock in and then some, moving up to finish 13th in the overall standings.

Caine Cook finished fifth in the finale, and wound up 15th overall in points, locked in for 2021. Both Cook and Shearburn were likely going to make it anyway, considering how many points they were above the relegation line, but the solid finishes gave them both better points finishes than they would have by just riding around.

The final three spots would be decided on the final restart. Christian Challiner hasn’t had the best luck in the 2020 season, but had it when it mattered most. Challiner arose to the occassion, with four straight Top 20 finishes to close out the season, including a sixth place effort in the finale.

Both John Gorlinsky and Casey Kirwan rounded out the Top 20, tying for 19th overall at the end of the season. Gorlinksy faded at the end of the race to finish 26th, but had just enough points entering the race that he could stay above relegation. Kirwan drove from 23rd to ninth on the final laps to get more than enough than he needed, finishing ahead of the cutoff line by 10 points.

On the other side of the relegation, some big names came up just short.

The 2019 champion, Zack Novak, was leading at Homestead late, opting to save a set of tires for the end. Had the race run out to the end, it’s likely that he would have finished high enough to stay above the cut. Instead, Novak was involved in another late race incident, falling back to finish 20th, as he missed the cut line by only 10 points.

Nathan Lyon, Dylan Duval, and Matt Bussa also slipped below the cut line towards the end, finishing 23rd, 28th, and 25th respectively in the race, and 22nd, 23rd, and 24th in the final standings.

Michael Guest, Eric J. Smith, and Chris Overland did everything they could in the final race to get the points they needed, finishing eighth, third, and second respectively, but they were too far behind they guys who did make it in on points entering, and will be relegated to the Pro Series again in 2020.

What’s next?

The Top 20 drivers will have a break until the next season, which is expected to start up again in February next year.

The bottom 18 drivers will break out their Class B vehicles for a short six race stint in the iRacing Pro Series, going against the Top 20 drivers from this year’s iRacing Road-to-Pro Series.

The Top 20 from the Pro Series will be invited to the 2021 roster. The Pro Series will start on November 17th at Daytona International Speedway.

Ottinger, as the 2020 champion, will receive a prize of over $100,000. Normally, the champion is invited to the NASCAR Championship, in past years being at Homestead-Miami Speedway. This year, the championship is at Phoenix Raceway, and it’s unlikely that, during COVID-19 times, that they would fly Ottinger out for the trophy and check ceremony.

The Virtual Racing School team of Zalenski and Ray Alfalla were the best team of the 2020 season. They collected four wins over the 20 race season, and both drivers advanced to the eight-man playoff. Conti and Brad Davies’ team, JR Motorsports, would finish second best, while Ottinger and Gorlinsky’s team, William Byron eSports, rounded out the podium.

After the Pro Series decides the 40-man roster for 2021, it’s expected there will be another free agency period similar to 2020. Six teams had both drivers stay above the cut, while eight other teams had at just one driver lock their spot for 2021.

Thank you to iRacing, NASCAR, all of the drivers, the teams, and everyone involved in an awesome 2020 eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series Season!

HOMESTEAD-MIAMI SPEEDWAY RESULTS

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

Did not race: 99 – Logan Clampitt – Burton Kligerman eSports

FINAL eNASCAR COCA-COLA iRACING SERIES STANDINGS

  1. Nick Ottinger
  2. Bobby Zalenski
  3. Michael Conti
  4. Ryan Michael Luza
  5. Jimmy Mullis
  6. Keegan Leahy
  7. Garrett Lowe
  8. Ray Alfalla
  9. Corey Vincent
  10. Logan Clampitt
  11. Graham A. Bowlin
  12. Brad Davies
  13. Chris Shearburn
  14. Blake Reynolds
  15. Bob Bryant
  16. Caine Cook
  17. Jake Nichols
  18. Christian Challiner
  19. Casey Kirwan
  20. John Gorlinsky
  21. Zack Novak
  22. Nathan Lyon
  23. Dylan Duval
  24. Matt Bussa
  25. Michael Guest
  26. Eric J. Smith
  27. Chris Overland
  28. Kollin Keister
  29. Brandon Hayse Kettelle
  30. Michael Guariglia
  31. Justin Bolton
  32. Malik Ray
  33. Phillip Diaz
  34. Alex McCollum
  35. Jarl Teien
  36. Steve Sheehan
  37. Santiago Tirres
  38. Brian Schoenburg
  39. Ashton Crowder
  40. Jeremy R Allen

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

Justin Melillo View All

Columnist / Reporter / Photographer / Webmaster for TheRacingExperts.com

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