By Seth Eggert, Staff Writer
Matt Bussa pulled off the ‘walk off for the ages,’ winning the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series regular season finale to make the playoffs.
A Must-Win Scenario
Just shy of three years to the day of his first eNASCAR victory, Bussa was once again facing elimination from a chance at the championship. While the race at the virtual Atlanta Motor Speedway that day was elimination from the playoffs, the Mode Media House driver pulled off the upset shaking up the playoffs at the virtual Michigan International Speedway.
Bussa first took the lead in the Logitech G Challenge 100 in the virtual No. 75 Mode Media House Ford Mustang just past halfway. Contact between Ray Alfalla and Dylan Duval on the restart sent the four-time eNASCAR champion spinning and left Duval with slight damage. Bussa took the top spot on the ensuing restart.
The veteran eNASCAR driver traded the lead with Casey Kirwan, Michael Conti, and Keegan Leahy over the next 25 laps. As repeated cautions bunched the field up, Bussa was never far from the lead. Needing to win and some help to make the playoffs, the final run to the finish proved to be just that.
The Final Battle
Bussa’s Mode Media House teammate Jake Nichols led the field to the green for the final restart. While Leahy and Jake Matheson battled for the top spot, Bussa rode in fifth. On the final lap, the 23XI Racing driver attempted to block and spun across the nose of Matheson’s car. Bussa took advantage with a push from Nichols and dove into turn three. He bumped Matheson up the track, taking the lead, and the victory by 0.173 seconds.
“I still can’t believe it,” admitted Bussa. “I knew there was a slim chance. Pack racing, the intensity of it, need a bit of luck in there, I just thought there was no way. Coming out of turn four (on the final lap), I kept telling my guys there’s just no way.
“Getting into turn one when I got to the outside of Jake Nichols there, my Mode teammate, I knew the chances were fairly well. I expected the front two to make some contact. The whole time my oil temps were over 290. We were pushing some steam out there but luckily the motor held on. Keegan got spun there. I knew the only chance was to send it into turn three.
“With this win and you’re in format, I hate making contact. I’m definitely not that kind of racer, but that’s what we were forced to do. Had to send it in there, give it our all, and hopefully get the win. Very slight contact was made. I appreciate Jake Matheson for racing me clean.”
Matheson edged out Nichols and Conti for second in a three-wide battle across the line. Zack Novak took the final spot in the top-five. Kirwan, Jimmy Mullis, Alfalla, Garrett Lowe, and Anthony Burroughs completed the top-five.
Playoff Grid Set
Bussa’s win makes him the 13th different winner in 14 races. Only 10 drivers make the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series playoffs with the ‘win and you’re in’ format. Both Chris Shearburn and Alfalla needed a second win and to be inside the top-20 to make the eNASCAR playoffs.
A mid-race wreck relegated eNASCAR champion Ryan Luza to a last-place finish. The drop in the points standings and Bussa’s win bumped the XSET Gaming driver out of the playoffs.
The 10 drivers competing for the 2021 eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series championship are: Graham Bowlin, Bob Bryant, Bussa, Logan Clampitt, Conti, Mitchell deJong, Keegan Leahy, Mullis, Vicente Salas, and Bobby Zalenski.
Elimination and Relegation Woes
Also missing the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series playoffs is defending champion Nick Ottinger. A frustrating season to this point left Ottinger in a must-win scenario at Michigan. However, storms from the remnants of Hurricane Fred in his native North Carolina knocked his power out while he was running second. That left Ottinger multiple laps down and out of contention.
With 10 drivers in the eNASCAR playoffs, the rest of the 30-driver field now have just four races to make the top-20 and avoid relegation.
The next eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series race and the first race of the eNASCAR playoffs is at the virtual Darlington Raceway on August 31.
1. 75-Matt Bussa , 2. 52-Jake Matheson , 3. 24-Jake Nichols , 4. 8-Michael Conti , 5. 90-Zack Novak , 6. 38-Casey Kirwan , 7. 46-Jimmy Mullis , 8. 51-Ray Alfalla , 9. 21-Garrett Lowe , 10. 44-Anthony Burroughs , 11. 6-Nathan Lyon , 12. 79-Ryan Doucette , 13. 1-Ashton Crowder , 14. 41-Dylan Duval , 15. 11-Malik Ray , 16. 23-Mitchell deJong , 17. 2-Garrett Manes , 18. 97-Logan Clampitt , 19. 77-Bob Bryant , 20. 83-Bobby Zalenski , 21. 33-Taylor Hurst , 22. 29-Zack Nichols , 23. 18-Femi Olat , 24. 47-Brian Schoenburg , 25. 10-Graham Bowlin , 26. 15-Caine Cook , 27. 67-Allen Boes , 28. 32-Keegan Leahy , 29. 88-Brad Davies , 30. 66-Blake Reynolds , 31. 9-Michael Guest , 32. 14-Blade Whitt , 33. 17-Steven Wilson , 34. 37-Derek Justis  35. 25-Nick Ottinger , 36. 36-Chris Shearburn , 37. 3-Corey Vincent , 38. 16-John Gorlinsky , 39. 55-Vicente Salas , 40. 4-Ryan Luza .
Lead Changes: 15 among 10 drivers.
Lap Leader(s): Logan Clampitt 1-32, Taylor Hurst 33, Ray Alfalla 34-47, Dylan Duval 48, Ray Alfalla 49-50, Dylan Duval 51-54, Matt Bussa 55-63, Casey Kirwan 64-67, Michael Conti 68-76, Matt Bussa 77-85, Keegan Leahy 86-91, Jake Nichols 92-93, Keegan Leahy 94, Jake Matheson 95, Keegan Leahy 96-99, Matt Bussa 100.
Laps Led: Logan Clampitt 32, Matt Bussa 19, Ray Alfalla 16, Keegan Leahy 11, Michael Conti 9, Dylan Duval 5, Casey Kirwan 4, Jake Nichols 2, Taylor Hurst 1, Jake Matheson 1.
Hard Charger(s): 24-Jake Nichols (+36).
Rookie of the Race: 52-Jake Matheson, second, Williams eSports.
Caution Flags: Five for 15 Laps.
Margin of Victory: 0.173 seconds.
Time of Race: One hour, 20 minutes, 11.987 seconds.
Average Speed: 149.626 MPH.
Pole Winner: 97-Logan Clampitt, 38.058 seconds (189.185 MPH).
Fastest Lap: 8-Michael Conti, Lap 68, 38.144 seconds (188.758 MPH).
Featured Photo Credit: Photo by Justin Melillo