Michael Conti will face Bobby Zalenski, Nick Ottinger, and Ryan Luza in the Championship 4 round at Homestead-Miami Speedway
(VIRTUAL) HOMESTEAD-MIAMI, Fla. – The biggest prize yet is on the line for four drivers; $100,000 goes to the winner of the 2020 eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series championship, the best finisher among the four contenders at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
On Friday, I spoke with each driver competing for the 2020 title. Part one of four in the TReSports Championship 4 ePreview Series is Michael Conti, driver of the No. 8 WR1 Chassis Chevrolet for JR Motorsports.
In the 2020, Conti collected one victory, at Texas Motor Speedway last week, which solidified his place in the Championship 4.
In the 19 races on the season, Conti has seven Top 5 finishes, and 10 Top 10’s, citing consistency as his key to making the playoffs. To finally win a race, for the first time since 2018, was a huge sigh of relief for the JR Motorsports driver. Conti knows that winning might be the only path to the title on Monday night.
“You need to win to be something in this series. Nobody really cares about the guy that finishes Top 5 every week, like we seem to do most of this season. We’ve been consistent, but nobody talks about that. You want to win.”-Michael Conti
Conti enters the title bout as one of two past champions looking to double up their championship trophy collection, the other being the 2017 champion, Ryan Luza.
When Conti won the title in 2014, there was no playoff, nor was there as much stress to perform at this level. The eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series has more eyes on it than ever in 2020, between the new sponsorships and involvement from the real teams, and added benefits from the COVID–19 pandemic break when eNASCAR came to the forefront of NASCAR entertainment.
On Monday night, Conti hopes to solidify his place among the greats in the series, as he looks to become only the second multi-time champion in series history.
Here is what Conti had to say on a multitude of topics.
ON MAKING THE CHAMPIONSHIP 4 – “It was definitely as much a mental game as it was just making sure we had a really good race car that could put us in contention to do what we did. We talk about winless streaks, if you go back to another period of my career from 2014 to 2017, I had not won a race. It was a three year winless streak, and I was able to break that. I knew that, although it had been a while since we won, it had been over two years, I knew that I had gone longer before, and found the way to snap it and win a race. I believed in myself enough and knew I had the capabilities of doing it, but knew that we were going to need a fast car, which we brought, and we were going to need good strategy, which we had, and some good luck, which we also had a lot of as well to put ourselves into contention.
“If you look at how Tuesday went, we qualified decent, rode around 12th or so on the first run. That first caution, where most of the field stayed out, we decided to take tires. That set the tone for the rest of the race. That move right there put us in a position to stay out longer on that following run, catch the yellow, and catch pretty much the whole field a lap down. We were aggressive with our strategy, we were aggressive with our moves, we were aggressive with some of the things we did with the car throughout the week to prepare it, and we were able to be that aggressive because of the position that we were in after the ROVAL. We couldn’t point our way in, we didn’t have to play it safe, we could just go for it. After playing it safe the whole year, and pointing our way into the playoffs, it was a good position to be in. I think we capitalized on what we needed to do, and I think the victory proves it.”
WINNING THE TITLE IN 2014 VERSUS MAKING THE 2020 CHAMPIONSHIP 4 – “I think you have to look at the position I was in six years ago versus now. You have to look at everything involved. I had won three races that year (in 2014), we were the favorite going into Homestead, we had a comfortable lead going in to Homestead. Basically, all we had to do that night was just not royally screw up, have a decent finish, and we would come away as the champion. Crossing the start-finish line there, it wasn’t so much a sigh of relief as far as ‘ahh, we did it’, it was more of a ‘OK, well, we did what we had to do, we made it happen, that’s cool’. I was obviously very happy, but there wasn’t as much build up to it as there was Tuesday night.
“Tuesday night was two weeks worth of build up. It was two weeks of ups and downs. We had Kansas where we were coming off Turn 4 with one lap to go with a run on the leader and got crashed. We had the ROVAL where we were running solidly in the Top 10 and blew up. Then you have Texas where we feel like everything is going really well, we’ve got a two second lead over the field with (Logan) Clampitt in tow, and a caution comes out, and then there’s a slew of cautions after that. Tuesday was extremely stressful. These last two or three weeks have been stressful.
Finally, finally, finally got one for @DaleJr, @JRMotorsports, @chadwheeler88 and everyone else that has supported us over the years. A 2yr winless streak snapped with not any win, but a win THIS big. Unbelievable. https://t.co/LuS9XdIVm2— MikeConti5 (@MikeConti5) October 28, 2020
“There’s been a lot of pressure on me to get that win, too. JR Motorsports fields cars not to finish second on back. They field cars to win. You need to win to be something in this series. Nobody really cares about the guy that finishes Top 5 every week, like we seem to do most of this season. We’ve been consistent, but nobody talks about that. You want to win. For us to finally be able to do that, I was happier than I’ve probably ever been after Tuesday night. It was a great feeling to have, I’m still riding that high. It was great coming into work the next day and talking to everybody about it. Now, our focus shifts to Homestead. We need to put the past behind us, understand that we’ve got some really stiff competition going into Monday night, and we’re going to have to work just as hard as we did on Texas for Homestead, and hope that a lot of that luck goes our way again. Hopefully we have a fast car, and I just hope that we’re in contention come the end of it.”
LEADING UP TO THE FINALE ON MONDAY NIGHT – “I think we did about 1500 laps for practice, just me personally, for Texas, in pretty much a four day span. That is the most I’ve ever done for any race. This whole week, I’ve looked like a truck hit me, with bags under my eyes… I look like I’ve had a long night, if you know what I mean. All I’ve been doing is staring at a computer and not sleeping very much. We started working on Homestead on Wednesday night for a couple of hours. I got on last night (Thursday) for a couple of hours again. As I was practicing last night, I finally had to say that ‘I need to stop and just go to sleep’, because I’m not doing myself any good if I just practice all hours of the night, and I’m not mentally there. I’m not going to get anywhere. We’re going to hit it hard again this weekend. I got some good sleep last night, so I’m feeling much better after that.”
THE COMPETITION – “As far as the competition goes, the way I see it… Nick (Ottinger) and I work together, so we’re on a Team Chevy alliance. We want to see Chevrolet as the manufacturer do well. He and I have worked together for years, and we’ve continued that even through the new era of the real teams coming in. We’ve always worked together, and we make the cars go fast together. Whatever I’ve got, he’ll have something basically the same. I think our talent level is basically the same. When you look at it on paper, we’re basically going to be the same, is what I’m trying to say. That’s going to be a tough one to beat.
“You’ve got (Ryan) Luza who has been up and down this year. He started off really good, he kind of fell off in the middle of the year, but I think he had a lot of speed on Tuesday night at Texas, but wasn’t able to show it because of some circumstances. I would expect to see him up front. Then there is (Bobby) Zalenski. He’s an unknown, because he’s had most of his success, basically all of his success on the road courses. He’s the best road course racer in the series, by far. None of that is going to matter because we’re at Homestead. I know he’s going to have a good car, he’s going to probably have something Keegan (Leahy) has had a hand in, so clearly the car is going to be good. I think the question is, can Zalenski rise to the occasion and find that little bit of extra speed that he’s been missing on the ovals to get those oval wins?
“All four, myself included, all have different strengths, all have different weaknesses, and I think, as we’ve seen the last couple of years in our series, and the last several years in the Cup Series, the final four always find a way to rise to the occasion at Homestead. They always all run up front and run near each other, so I wouldn’t expect anything differently come Monday night.”
ON POSSIBLY WINNING THE $100,000 CHAMPIONSHIP PRIZE – “This is going to be a pretty adult thing of me to say… At 23 years old, I’ve got a pretty decent job, and I’m in a pretty decent spot in life. I think the biggest thing I’m missing out on right now is buying a house. I think that would be a good investment, especially down here in the South, where homes are relatively cheap. I plan on definitely using some of that money toward putting a down payment on a house, and put myself in a good financial situation.
“I would definitely have a little bit of fun with the money, maybe go racing a little bit with it, I don’t know, maybe a couple of one-offs in a legends car next year, that’d be fun. My mindset, at this point in my life, is to be smart with my money so I don’t have to work as hard later on. Buying a house or investing that money would definitely be at the top of the list.”
At Homestead-Miami Speedway, Conti’s best finish is third place on multiple occasions, having done so in 2014, 2017, and 2018. The series visited Homestead-Miami earlier this season, where Conti finished 11th.
Tune in for a special Monday night broadcast of the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series where the champion will be decided after 134 laps at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
The action starts at 8:00 pm ET on eNASCAR.com/live.
Columnist / Reporter / Photographer / Webmaster for TheRacingExperts.com