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.
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.
OMG WE ARE CHAMPIONS!!! So overwhelmed with emotion still. Worked so hard this year with my @WBeSports_ team to get to this opportunity and we never quit after being on the outside looking in. Was some of the best restarts I have had in my sim-racing career late tonight!— Nick Ottinger (@NickOttinger) November 3, 2020
Runner up in the championship this year. Feels as crappy as you'd think being the first loser. Gave it my all out there and maybe a little too much at times. Was the 2nd fastest car over the race so guess we deserve 2nd. Sucks being that close, but we had a really great year pic.twitter.com/r10Qml07AF— Bobby Zalenski (@bobbyzalenski) November 3, 2020
That was madness! Didn't pan out for us, but so happy for my buddy, @NickOttinger. He's on it every year and finally pulled it off! We went out swinging and were one or two good restarts away from a title.— MikeConti5 (@MikeConti5) November 3, 2020
Thanks to @DaleJr, @JRMotorsports, & @chadwheeler88 for a great 2020! pic.twitter.com/okI1ZG6tg0
Heartbreak. Had the race won until the caution with 40 to go. Drove from 23rd to the lead and literally got dumped after getting blocked and not touching him. Notice how his entry changes 1 lap later.— Ryan Luza (@RyanLuza) November 3, 2020
We will be back next year. Yet another @iRacing championship stripped away. pic.twitter.com/zyHTxGNWWj
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
- 36 – Chris Shearburn – LETARTE eSports
- 16 – Chris Overland – Wood Brothers Gaming
- 9 – Eric J. Smith – Jim Beaver eSports
- 25 – Nick Ottinger – William Byron eSports
- 55 – Caine Cook – Renegades
- 37 – Christian Challiner – JTG Daugherty Racing
- 83 – Bobby Zalenski – Virtual Racing School
- 33 – Michael Guest – Team Dillon eSports
- 23 – Casey Kirwan – Denny Hamlin Racing
- 8 – Michael Conti – JR Motorsports
- 46 – Jimmy Mullis – Richmond Raceway eSports
- 32 – Keegan Leahy – Denny Hamlin Racing
- 21 – Garrett Lowe – Wood Brothers Gaming
- 3 – Blake Reynolds – Team Dillon eSports
- 2 – Ray Alfalla – Virtual Racing School
- 77 – Bob Bryant – Burton Kligerman eSports
- 79 – Brian Schoenburg – Clint Bowyer Racing
- 27 – Corey Vincent – Renegades
- 88 – Brad Davies – JR Motorsports
- 90 – Zack Novak – Richmond Raceway eSports
- 18 – Graham A. Bowlin – Joe Gibbs Racing
- 54 – Alex McCollum – G2 eSports
- 6 – Nathan Lyon – Roush Fenway Racing
- 75 – Phillip Diaz – Mode Motorsports
- 5 – Matt Bussa – Williams Esports
- 97 – John Gorlinsky – William Byron eSports
- 24 – Jake Nichols – Mode Motorsports
- 41 – Dylan Duval – Stewart-Haas eSports
- 10 – Justin Bolton – Stewart-Haas eSports
- 47 – Steve Sheehan – JTG Daugherty Racing
- 53 – Ryan Michael Luza – Williams Esports
- 17 – Kollin Keister – Roush Fenway Racing
- 51 – Malik Ray – Joe Gibbs Racing
- 14 – Brandon Hayse Kettelle – Clint Bowyer Racing
- 66 – Jarl Teien – G2 eSports
- 4 – Santiago Tirres – LETARTE eSports
- 15 – Michael Guariglia – Jim Beaver eSports
Did not race: 99 – Logan Clampitt – Burton Kligerman eSports
FINAL eNASCAR COCA-COLA iRACING SERIES STANDINGS
- Nick Ottinger
- Bobby Zalenski
- Michael Conti
- Ryan Michael Luza
- Jimmy Mullis
- Keegan Leahy
- Garrett Lowe
- Ray Alfalla
- Corey Vincent
- Logan Clampitt
- Graham A. Bowlin
- Brad Davies
- Chris Shearburn
- Blake Reynolds
- Bob Bryant
- Caine Cook
- Jake Nichols
- Christian Challiner
- Casey Kirwan
- John Gorlinsky
- Zack Novak
- Nathan Lyon
- Dylan Duval
- Matt Bussa
- Michael Guest
- Eric J. Smith
- Chris Overland
- Kollin Keister
- Brandon Hayse Kettelle
- Michael Guariglia
- Justin Bolton
- Malik Ray
- Phillip Diaz
- Alex McCollum
- Jarl Teien
- Steve Sheehan
- Santiago Tirres
- Brian Schoenburg
- Ashton Crowder
- 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.
Columnist / Reporter / Photographer / Webmaster for TheRacingExperts.com