By Seth Eggert, Staff Writer
An epic battle for the win saw Graham Bowlin overcome the pressure to take his first career eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series victory.
Bowlin turned heads after he out-qualified pre-race favorites Mitchell deJong and Bobby Zalenski. The Stewart-Haas eSports driver had to win in order to make the eNASCAR playoffs. Although he entered Watkins Glen Int’l second in the overall points, with 10 spots and 11 winners he was the first driver on the outside looking in.
The driver of the virtual No. 10 Go Bowling Ford Mustang dominated much of the 50-lap race. Bowlin led 42 laps with Zalenski and deJong on his tail throughout much of the race. In the closing laps, deJong turned up the wick in his virtual No. 23 Logitech Toyota Camry. Zalenski relented, giving his backend Coanda Simsport teammate a chance to battle for the win.
Battle for the Win
deJong charged forward. With three laps to go he was on the bumper of Bowlin’s Mustang. However, on the fast and narrow 2.450-mile road course, the 23XI Racing driver struggled to find a way by. Exiting the bus stop, deJong put the bumper to Bowlin in the carousel. The virtual Ford Performance driver broke loose but recovered just in time to keep deJong at bay.
In the penultimate corner, deJong tried to pass once again. That prompted Bowlin to take a defensive line in the final corner. As deJong jumped to his outside, the duo collided. Bowlin cruised to victory as deJong bounced off the tire barrier. Zalenski snuck by for second, 0.754 seconds behind Bowlin. Steven Wilson and Nick Ottinger completed the top-five.
“It feels awesome, with all the hard work that goes into this, I’m sweating out here,” admitted Bowlin. “It was a really hard race. The pressure was on the whole race, I couldn’t slow my pace and risk someone getting a run on me. The first lap was crazy. I didn’t expect it to be that low grip into Turn 1. I was just defensive driving after that the whole first lap.
“It was crazy because (deJong) was three tenths faster than us. Bobby was putting the pressure on, so I pushed and killed my tires a little bit. It was like [deJong] flipped the switch the last run. I’m shocked I held him off. It was a little dirty on the last corner but I wasn’t going to take the chance of getting side drafted down the straightaway.
Logan Clampitt, Garrett Manes, Vicente Salas, Michael Conti, and Corey Vincent rounded out the top-10. Outside of Bowlin, only three other drivers led laps, Zalenski, Ottinger, and Ashton Crowder. All during the pit cycle. Crowder led the second most laps, five.
Bowlin’s win was also the first for Stewart-Haas eSports, which joined the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series grid in 2020. The win shook up the playoff grid. Chris Shearburn was bumped outside of the playoff grid and outside the top-20 in points.
Bowlin, Conti, deJong, Keegan Leahy, and Zalenski are all locked into the playoffs. Salas is 24-points above the cutline with Clampitt 20 about the cutoff line. Ryan Luza sits on the cutoff line, 33-points ahead of Shearburn. Also currently in are Bob Bryant and Jimmy Mullis.
Only one more race remains before the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series playoffs. Five drivers, Michael Guest, Casey Kirwan, defending eNASCAR champion Nick Ottinger, Vincent, and Wilson need to win at the Logitech G Challenge 100 at the virtual Michigan International Speedway to make the playoffs. Other drivers need to win and hope others struggle to get in.
Ottinger’s lack of a win puts him in danger of repeating Ray Alfalla’s 2019 eNASCAR season. That year Alfalla was the defending champion and failed to make the playoffs. Once again, the four-time champion is in danger of missing the playoffs.
1. 10-Graham Bowlin , 2. 83-Bobby Zalenski , 3. 23-Mitchell deJong , 4. 17-Steven Wilson , 5. 25-Nick Ottinger , 6. 97-Logan Clampitt , 7. 2-Garrett Manes , 8. 55-Vicente Salas , 9. 8-Michael Conti , 10. 3-Corey Vincent , 11. 32-Keegan Leahy , 12. 4-Ryan Luza , 13. 46-Jimmy Mullis , 14. 41-Dylan Duval , 15. 38-Casey Kirwan , 16. 66-Blake Reynolds , 17. 21-Garrett Lowe , 18. 90-Zack Novak , 19. 1-Ashton Crowder , 20. 44-Anthony Burroughs , 21. 24-Jake Nichols , 22. 75-Matt Bussa , 23. 67-Allen Boes , 24. 9-Michael Guest , 25. 51-Ray Alfalla , 26. 77-Bob Bryant , 27. 88-Brad Davies , 28. 36-Chris Shearburn , 29. 18-Femi Olat , 30. 15-Caine Cook , 31. 79-Ryan Doucette , 32. 14-Blade Whitt , 33. 11-Malik Ray , 34. 29-Zack Nichols , 35. 37-Derek Justis , 36. 47-Brian Schoenburg , 37. 6-Nathan Lyon , 38. 52-Jake Matheson , 39. 16-John Gorlinsky .
Lead Changes: Four among four drivers.
Lap Leader(s): Graham Bowlin 1-19, Bobby Zalenski 20, Nick Ottinger 21-22, Ashton Crowder 23-27, Graham Bowlin 28-50.
Laps Led: Graham Bowlin 42, Ashton Crowder 5, Nick Ottinger 2, Bobby Zalenski 1.
Hard Charger(s): 8-Michael Conti (+12).
Rookie of the Race: 23-Mitchell deJong, third, 23 XI Racing.
Caution Flags: None.
Margin of Victory: 0.754 seconds.
Time of Race: One hour, 30.577 seconds.
Average Speed: 121.468 MPH.
Pole Winner: 10-Graham Bowlin, One minute, 10.077 seconds (125.987 MPH).
Fastest Lap: 83-Bobby Zalenski, One minute, 10.401 seconds (125.282 MPH).
Featured Photo Credit: Photo by Justin Melillo