THE VIRTUAL DARLINGTON, S.C. — The extended weekend for Labor Day added an extra night to the holiday weekend, as the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series virtually wrapped up Darlington Raceway’s throwback event on Tuesday night.
Keegan Leahy took control of the race after an early pit stop moved him ahead of the pole sitter, Michael Conti. With how powerful the virtual clean air was, Conti was never able to get back around into the lead. Leahy never faltered once during the green flag stints, and that led to the No. 32’s third win on the 2020 season.
If there were virtual crown jewels, Leahy would have made it 3-for-4 on the 2020 season, winning at Daytona International Speedway in the first race of the season as well as at Indianapolis Motor Speedway a few months later. The only one Leahy missed out on was at Charlotte Motor Speedway, where he wound up placing fifth.
Now with 14 races in the books, six remaining on the calendar, and only two until the playoffs, both the playoff picture and Top 20 picture are becoming clearer as the 2020 season begins to wind towards a close.
Inside the Chase for the Championship
For the most part, the 2020 season has been dominated by three drivers in victory lane – Leahy (Denny Hamlin Racing), Ryan Michael Luza (Williams Esports) and points leader Bobby Zalenski (Virtual Racing School). Those three have combined for eight of the 14 race victories this season, and sit in three of the Top 5 positions in the Driver’s Standings.
For Zalenski and Leahy, they can both lock in to the playoffs easily with a decent finish at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Luza doesn’t quite have the same luxury, but has enough points and pace that he shouldn’t have to worry.
Both Nick Ottinger (WIlliam Byron eSports) and Ray Alfalla (Virtual Racing School) were able to find victory lane on one occasion apiece as well, with Ottinger taking the checkers at Dover International Speedway, and Alfalla winning once more at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Both drivers sit inside the Top 8 with two races remaining until the playoffs, but victories don’t guarantee playoff eligibility. In the last handful of races, both drivers have found their fair share of misfortune, with Ottinger catching air at Michigan International Speedway and Alfalla soaring through the corner at Daytona.
Finally, there’s Conti (JR Motorsports), as well as Garrett Lowe (Wood Brothers Gaming) and Logan Clampitt (Burton Kligerman eSports) all sitting on the positive side of the playoff cut.
The trio of drivers are all winless in 2020, but their consistency has them all inside the Top 8, and as much as they all would do anything to get into the virtual victory lane, scoring points has to be their main focus at Las Vegas in two weeks, as well at in the wildcard finale at Talladega Superspeedway.
Outside the Playoffs, looking in
On the flip side of the cutoff, after Alfalla’s 17th place finish on Tuesday night, the cut line is much thinner than it was entering Darlington.
Brad Davies (JR Motorsports) is the closest to the cut, only 20 points behind Alfalla. Davies spent a good majority of the season inside the cut, but before last night’s finish of eighth place, had six straight finishes outside of the Top 10, including two finishes of 30th or worse.
Corey Vincent (Renegades) has been quietly sneaking into the playoff conversation these last few weeks. Last night, Vincent wound up just outside of the Top 10, finishing 11th, but his four prior races have all been inside of the Top 10. At Daytona two weeks ago, Vincent scored his best finish of the season, a fourth place effort. With two races remaining, he’s 22 points outside of the cut.
The rookie, Graham A. Bowlin (Joe Gibbs Racing), was almost an eNASCAR Pro Series Champion at the end of last year, finishing runner up to Alfalla for that title. Nine months later, and Bowlin has an outside shot of making the playoffs in his first attempt at it, only 24 points below the cut. A 25th place finish at Darlington wasn’t what he needed to close that gap. Since his fourth place finish at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Bowlin has been involved in some sort of incident now in four straight races, unable to place inside of the Top 10.
Finally, Jimmy Mullis (Richmond Raceway eSports) sits in the 12th position in the points, 27 points below the cut. 27 points is a lot, especially when each place on the track is worth a single point, but Mullis found victory lane at New Hampshire, and if his luck can stay more consistently positive, he could have the best shot to make the playoffs out of anyone on the outside. In his last five races, he has a win and a runner-up, but also has three finishes of 20th or worse.
Stay in the Top 20, keep your license
For some drivers, a playoff push might not be feasible anymore, so staying within the Top 20 and competing for wins is the strategy for the final six races of the 2020 season.
Both Chris Shearburn (LETARTE eSports) and Jake Nichols (Mode Motorsports) are 38 and 47 points below the cut line, respectively, and likely have an outside shot to make the playoffs with great luck… however, the gap to the other cutoff, the Top 20 cutoff, is 51 points for Shearburn, and 42 points for Nichols, and lately, they’ve been losing ground as opposed to gaining.
Both drivers were in playoff contention, sitting in the Top 8 at one point or another, but haven’t had the luck in the recent events to keep them in the conversation.
Bob Bryant (Burton Kligerman eSports), Caine Cook (Renegades). Blake Reynolds (Team Dillon eSports), Matt Bussa (Williams Esports), Casey Kirwan (Denny Hamlin Racing), and the defending champion, Zack Novak (Richmond Raceway eSports) round out the Top 20 as of now, but all six drivers have been straddling the Top 20 cutoff all season, and have plenty to worry about on the other side of the cutoff in the final stretch.
Objective: Avoid being relegated to the Pro Series
Well, for Ray Alfalla, being demoted to the Pro Series last year may have revitalized his eCareer, but for most, having to worry about fighting for your DWC license all over again is not the most pleasant feeling.
As it stands, there are 13 drivers within 52 points of the Top 20 cutoff, and a handful of good finishes for any of these drivers in the final six races could do wonders, and completely shake up who makes it back and who has to go to the 2020 Pro Series.
- John Gorlinsky (William Byron eSports) -1
- Michael Guest (Team Dillon eSports) -2
- Christian Challiner (JTG Daugherty Racing) -12
- Malik Ray (Joe Gibbs Racing) -18
- Dylan Duval (Stewart-Haas eSports) -19
- Justin Bolton (Stewart-Haas eSports) -21
- Alex McCollum (G2 Esports) -24
- Chris Overland (Wood Brothers Gaming) -25
- Nathan Lyon (Roush Fenway Racing) -32
- Eric J. Smith (Jim Beaver eSports) -33
- Kollin Keister (Roush Fenway Racing) -34
- Michael Guariglia (Jim Beaver eSports) -40
- Jarl Teien (G2 Esports) -52
It’s hard to say, at this point, if anyone could fight their way back into the Top 20 in the final six races, but if I’ve learned anything in covering Motor-eSports in the last few years, it’s that anything is possible and probably will happen eventually… or not.
Start practicing those ‘B’ cars
Sometimes, it’s just not your year.
For Brandon Kettelle (Clint Bowyer Racing), Phil Diaz (Mode Motorsports), Santi Tirres (LETARTE eSports), Steve Sheehan (JTG Daugherty Racing), and Brian Schoenburg (Clint Bowyer Racing), 2020 has been a pretty forgettable season.
Unless some miracles start happening, these five drivers won’t likely make the Top 20 overall, and will have to fight back to get on to the 2021 roster in via the Pro Series.
Looking at the 2020 Road to Pro, they’ll have some stiff competition against drivers such as Allen Boes, Eddie Kerner, Mitchell deJong, among other hopefuls, but they’ve all had to already go through that ringer once before, and will likely be up for the challenge.
DARLINGTON RACEWAY RESULTS
- 32 – Keegan Leahy – Denny Hamlin Racing
- 8 – Michael Conti – JR Motorsports
- 25 – Nick Ottinger – William Byron eSports
- 99 – Logan Clampitt – Burton Kligerman eSports
- 51 – Malik Ray – Joe Gibbs Racing
- 55 – Caine Cook – Renegades
- 53 – Ryan Michael Luza – Williams Esports
- 88 – Brad Davies – JR Motorsports
- 17 – Kollin Keister – Roush Fenway Racing
- 24 – Jake Nichols – Mode Motorsports
- 27 – Corey Vincent – Renegades
- 16 – Chris Overland – Wood Brothers Gaming
- 4 – Santiago Tirres – LETARTE eSports
- 10 – Justin Bolton – Stewart-Haas eSports
- 21 – Garrett Lowe – Wood Brothers Gaming
- 41 – Dylan Duval – Stewart-Haas eSports
- 2 – Ray Alfalla – Virtual Racing School
- 15 – Michael Guariglia – Jim Beaver eSports
- 6 – Nathan Lyon – Roush Fenway Racing
- 3 – Blake Reynolds – Team Dillon eSports
- 36 – Chris Shearburn – LETARTE eSports
- 83 – Bobby Zalenski – Virtual Racing School
- 37 – Christian Challiner – JTG Daugherty Racing
- 75 – Phillip Diaz – Mode Motorsports
- 18 – Graham A. Bowlin – Joe Gibbs Racing
- 46 – Jimmy Mullis – Richmond Raceway eSports
- 97 – John Gorlinsky – William Byron eSports
- 9 – Eric J. Smith – Jim Beaver eSports
- 77 – Bob Bryant – Burton Kligerman eSports
- 14 – Brandon Hayse Kettelle – Clint Bowyer Racing
- 66 – Jarl Teien – G2 eSports
- 23 – Casey Kirwan – Denny Hamlin Racing
- 33 – Michael Guest – Team Dillon eSports
- 90 – Zack Novak – Richmond Raceway eSports
- 54 – Alex McCollum – G2 eSports
- 79 – Brian Schoenburg – Clint Bowyer Racing
- 5 – Matt Bussa – Williams Esports
DNS: 47 – Steve Sheehan – JTG Daugherty Racing
DISCLAIMER: Opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.
Check out the photo gallery from Tuesday night’s eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series event at Darlington Raceway! Photos by Justin Melillo / TRE via iRacing.com.
Columnist / Reporter / Photographer / Webmaster for TheRacingExperts.com