By Seth Eggert, Staff Writer
An action packed; attrition filled Podium 500 came down to Casey Kirwan masterfully controlling the draft on an overtime restart.
The lead in the third annual Podium 500 at the virtual Daytona International Speedway changed hands on 95 occasions. eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series driver Malik Ray controlled the tempo for much of the 500-mile race. Ray and his Spacestation Racing teammates combined to lead 108 of the 204 laps.
However, two off-track excursions and an off-sequence pit stop handed the lead to XSET Gaming’s Casey Kirwan. The fellow eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series driver worked with NASCAR Cup Series rookie, and XSET content creator, Anthony Alfredo to move to the front. The duo drafted in the third lane to pass defending Podium 500 winner Daniel E Eberhardt.
Two late-race cautions cut the competitive cars from 20 down to a handful. In one, Elliott Sadler eSports’ Liam Brotherton got sent through the grass entering turn three with just under 10 laps to go. Brotherton’s No. 10 swept up the banking collecting several cars. Alfredo’s virtual No. 38 Speedy Cash Ford Mustang got clipped in the melee. However, the Cup Series driver regained control.
The other late-race caution saw JTG Racing’s Derek Justis get swept up in a wreck off turn four. When the field lined up for the final run to the finish, Alfredo, Eberhardt, Kirwan, and Ray were joined by Logan Helton and Michael Guest.
On the restart, Kirwan and Eberhardt were neck and neck for the lead. Helton pushed Kirwan’s virtual No 38 XSET Gaming Ford Mustang as Ray pushed Eberhardt. On the final lap, Ray ducked below the double yellow line in a bid to pass Eberhardt. However, the virtual No. 11 Spacestation Racing had no help from Alfredo due to the damage the Cup driver’s car sustained.
As the leaders exited turn four, Kirwan dove below the double-yellow line to defend his lead. When Eberhardt followed suit and the duo moved back onto the racing surface, chaos ensued. Contact sent Kirwan spinning across the line for the win by 0.035 seconds. The lead pack piled in with Helton, Ray, and Alfredo also getting collected in the melee. The Front Row Motorsports driver crossed the line in fifth, and on his side.
“I’m still waiting for it to sink in,” admitted a speechless Kirwan. “I typically don’t win many of these big money races, especially (super speedways). All day just starting up front and just stayed there with all of the cautions. Unfortunately, my XSET teammate Alfredo got damage in that last wreck so the bottom lane was getting screwed over by his damage. Just got lucky that I started on the outside. I was able to get down in front of Eberhardt.
“It means a lot to win one of the most prestigious races. To kick the year off like that, it’s good. Hopefully we can do that again (in the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series). This is like speedweeks for iRacing. We’ve got this, Coca-Cola Series, then the NASCAR iRacing Series (NiS). It’s good to kick the season off like that and hopefully we’ll keep it rolling.”
Jim Beaver eSports driver Guest finished sixth. Fake 500 winner Seth DeMerchant, Presley Sorah, Matt Forkapa, and Blaze Crawford completed the top-10.
Eberhardt was the hard charger of the race, climbing from 43rd to finish second. He also ran the fastest lap of the Podium 500 on lap 174, 44.155 seconds (203.827 MPH).
After the late-race incident, Justis took the checkered flag in 21st. Both of Richmond Raceway eSports’ drivers Jimmy Mullis and Zack Novak were swept up in the first wreck of the race on lap 21. Novak’s race was over while pole sitter Mullis attempted to recover. Also involved in that incident was Elliott Sadler eSports driver Garrett Manes.
Mullis’ recovery was short-lived, however. Just past lap 50, Ryan Matthews slipped on the apron. In an incident reminiscent of Kevin Lepage’s infamous Xfinity wreck at Talladega, Matthews was clobbered by Collin Bowden, Mullis, and others.
The eighth Coca-Cola Series driver in the field, Vicente Salas also saw his race end prematurely. During a round of green flag pit stops, Salas’ virtual No. 55 Spacestation Racing machine collided with Kevin Champagne. The damage effectively ended the day Coca-Cola Series rookie.
Kirwan’s win netted the Coca-Cola Series driver a $1,000 prize. In the Podium eSports-promoted event, the XSET Gaming driver bested over 350 entries. Kirwan had the benefit of a provisional, if needed, by virtue of having the highest iRating upon entering the Podium 500. Now he and the other eNASCAR drivers turn their attention to the season opener at Daytona.
The 43-car field was determined first with front-row qualifying on Friday night. Then eight heat races and two LCQs created the fields for the two Duel races. 17 drivers from both duels, as well as several provisional drivers filled in the remainder of the field.
1. Casey Kirwan  ($1,000), 2. Daniel E Eberhardt , 3. Logan Helton , 4. Malik Ray , 5. Anthony Alfredo , 6. Michael Guest , 7. Seth DeMerchant , 8. Presley Sorah , 9. Matt Forkapa , 10. Blaze Crawford , 11. Michael Cosey Jr. , 12. Adam Gilliland , 13. Briar LaPradd , 14. Justin Lisonbee , 15. Anthony Emery , 16. Brandon Hauff , 17. Will Norton , 18. Travis Brown , 19. Jonathan Wall , 20. Kevin Champagne , 21. Derek Justis , 22. Ben Hoerst , 23. Matt Kocher , 24. Michael P Frisch , 25. Christian Pedersen , 26. Joey Staats , 27. Dylan Ault , 28. Brandon Paunetto , 29. David L Brown , 30. Anthony Burroughs , 31. Liam Brotherton , 32. Connor Anton , 33. Justin Knoblock , 34. Vicente Salas , 35. Lucas Cram , 36. Austin Coop , 36. Lucas Cram , 37. Justin Botelho , 38. Dustin L Johnson , 39. Collin Bowden , 40. Jimmy Mullis , 41. Ryan Matthews [39, 42. Garrett Manes , 43. Zack Novak .
Lead Changes: 95 among 17 drivers.
Lap Leader(s): Brandon Hauff 1, Jimmy Mullis 2, Brandon Hauff 3, Casey Kirwan 4-6, Logan Helton 7-9, Collin Bowden 10, Malik Ray 11, Michael Cosey Jr. 12, Malik Ray 13, Michael Cosey Jr. 14-15, Collin Bowden 16-17, Michael Cosey Jr. 18-19, Adam Gilliland 20, Michael Cosey Jr. 21, Adam Gilliland 22, Michael Cosey Jr. 23-30, Liam Brotherton 31, Michael Cosey Jr. 32, Liam Brotherton 33, Michael Cosey Jr. 34-36, Malik Ray 37-41, Anthony Alfredo 42, Malik Ray 43-47, Liam Brotherton 48, Malik Ray 49-50, Liam Brotherton 51, Malik Ray 52-57, Liam Brotherton 58, Malik Ray 59, Anthony Alfredo 60-61, Liam Brotherton 62, Malik Ray 63-64, Liam Brotherton 65, Anthony Alfredo 66, Malik Ray 67-69, Anthony Alfredo 70, Malik Ray 71-72, Anthony Alfredo 73-75, Malik Ray 76-77, Justin Knoblock 78-79, Daniel E Eberhardt 80, Justin Knoblock 81, Daniel E Eberhardt 82-83, Justin Knoblock 84, Daniel E Eberhardt 85-86, Justin Knoblock 87, Malik Ray 88-89, Logan Helton 90, Malik Ray 91-93, Michael P Frisch 94, Will Norton 95, Casey Kirwan 96, Malik Ray 97-98, Justin Knoblock 99, Malik Ray 100, Justin Knoblock 101-103, Malik Ray 104-105, Justin Knoblock 106, Malik Ray 107, Justin Knoblock 108, Malik Ray 109-110, Justin Knoblock 111-112, Malik Ray 113-116, Casey Kirwan 117, Malik Ray 118, Justin Knoblock 119, Malik Ray 120, Justin Knoblock 121-123, Malik Ray 124-125, Anthony Alfredo 126-128, Justin Knoblock 129, Blaze Crawford 130-133, Derek Justis 134, Anthony Alfredo 135, Casey Kirwan 136-137, Malik Ray 138-148, Casey Kirwan 149-150, Malik Ray 151-167, Casey Kirwan 168-169, Christian Pederson 170-171, Casey Kirwan 172-174, Anthony Alfredo 175-179, Casey Kirwan 180, Anthony Alfredo 181-182, Casey Kirwan 183, Malik Ray 184, Casey Kirwan 185, Malik Ray 186, Daniel E Eberhardt 187, Casey Kirwan 188, Daniel E Eberhardt 189, Malik Ray 190-194, Daniel E Eberhardt 195-196, Malik Ray 197, Daniel E Eberhardt 198-201, Casey Kirwan 202-204.
Laps Led: Malik Ray 87, Casey Kirwan 22, Anthony Alfredo 18, Michael Cosey Jr. 18, Justin Knoblock 18, Daniel E Eberhardt 13, Liam Brotherton 7, Blaze Crawford 4, Logan Helton 4, Collin Bowden 3, Adam Gilliland 2, Brandon Hauff 2, Christian Pederson 2, Michael P Frisch 1, Derek Justis 1, Jimmy Mullis 1, Will Norton 1.
Hard Charger: Daniel E Eberhardt (+41).
Tough Break: Jimmy Mullis (-39).
Cautions: Five for 17 Laps.
Margin of Victory: 0.035 seconds.
Time of Race: Two hours, 53 minutes, 1.889 seconds.
Average Speed: 176.846 MPH.
Pole Winner: Jimmy Mullis, 47.837 seconds (188.139 MPH).
Fastest Lap: Daniel E Eberhardt, Lap 174, 44.155 (203.827 MPH).
Feature Photo Credit: Seth Eggert / Kickin’ the Tires