Contact, Strategy Net Bickford Monday Night Win at The Glen
By Seth Eggert, Staff Writer
The decision of when to pit and a fierce final lap battle earned Charlotte Phoenix’s James Bickford his first career win in Monday Night Racing presented by Interstate Batteries.
Battle for the Lead
For the first time, Monday Night Racing opted for a caution-free, break-free format on a road course. The limited fuel mileage of the virtual Pro 2 Off-Road Trucks presented different strategies for the drivers. Some, like Bickford, opted to stretch his fuel to the absolute limit. Meanwhile Repco Supercars driver Shane van Gisbergen pitted a lap later, ensuring his fuel would last the final 12 laps to the finish.
Initially the two-time Supercars champion emerged from pit road with the lead. Though Bickford slowly reeled the road course ace in. On van Gisbergen’s out lap, the former ARCA Menards Series West driver swept back into the lead. On the backfoot, the Auckland, New Zealand native was forced to chase Bickford down.
On the backstretch van Gisbergen used the draft to close in. Diving to driver’s right, he slammed into Bickford at the entrance of the bus stop. As the two drivers fought to maintain control, van Gisbergen slid into the grass on driver’s left, skidding back into the No. 29 Charlotte Phoenix machine. Exiting the bus stop, Bickford once again was in control.
The short chute after the carousel presented one last opportunity for van Gisbergen to draft back up to Bickford. Closing in at the last two corners, the driver of the No. 97 Hot Wheels truck put the bumper to the Charlotte Phoenix driver. Bickford slid and tagged the outside wall off the last corner. However, he maintained the lead and held off van Gisbergen’s aggressive charge to take the win by two truck lengths.
“Man, I’m here to put on a show for the fans,” joked Bickford. “It was a great time behind the steering wheel for me. Going into the last corner I knew that I was a little faster than Shane with the strategy. I couldn’t get away from his draft, every time I’d have a good corner and get away, he’d suck up right to my back bumper on the straightaways. I couldn’t do anything about it, so I knew it was going to come down to the last lap here. Hope it was awesome for the fans. I’m over here just ecstatic.
“I have a wonderful crew chief, Reid Wilson, an awesome spotter, Matt Scott. In testing we found something. That something worked. I just had to stay relevant in the race and I knew I could run through the field. Everything went according to plan, just didn’t plan on Shane being so fast tonight. He was awesome tonight. It was hard to beat him.”
In addition to the win being Bickford’s first in Monday Night Racing, it was Charlotte Phoenix eSports’ first win in the series. In recent weeks, Charlotte Phoenix has been knocking on the door of their first win in eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series with Graham Bowlin and Kollin Keister.
Monday Night Racing Season 2 champion Will Rodgers finished third with Brad Perez and Preston Pardus rounding out the top-five. David Schildhouse, Season 4 champion Adam Cabot, Anthony Alfredo, Max Kennon, and DJ Cummings completed the top-10.
With no cautions, the race was more a battle of strategies than one of attrition. Collin Fern and others attempted to save fuel. While making the race on two stops on paper appeared to be a stretch, in practice, it was accomplished by many.
Though he didn’t get the finish that he wanted, Ryan Vargas still had a refreshing run. The NASCAR Xfinity Series driver brought back his Cranio Care Bears / FACES paint scheme. Vargas ran the paint scheme to honor the late Brentley Grant Ehmann, who helped make Cranio Care Bears what it is today. The Xfinity Series driver finished 14th.
Making his Monday Night Racing debut was fellow Xfinity Series driver Brandon Brown. Driving a Dale Earnhardt-inspired paint scheme, the NASCAR Brandon Brown finished 24th. Though he’s not to be confused with long-time Monday Night Racing driver from Race XR, Brandon Brown, who borrowed a rig in Charlotte, N.C. while working on Racetrack Revival at North Wilkesboro Speedway.
1. 29-James Bickford , 2. 97-Shane van Gisbergen , 3. 55-Will Rodgers , 4. 60-Brad Perez , 5. 42-Preston Pardus , 6. 20-David Schildhouse , 7. 17-Adam Cabot , 8. 23-Anthony Alfredo , 9. 21-Max Kennon , 10. 10-DJ Cummings , 11. 06-TJ Majors , 12. 86-Collin Fern , 13. 98-Presley Sorah , 14. 6-Ryan Vargas , 15. 24-Nick Olsen , 16. 07-Ford Martin , 17. 075-Landon Huffman , 18. 19-Garrett Smithley , 19. 1-Gary Sexton , 20. 46-Steven Ellis , 21. 6-Bryan Boris Cook , 22. 41-Matt Stallknecht ,
23. 99-Mark Rebilas , 24. 68-Brandon Brown (NASCAR) , 25. 077-Devon Henry , 26. 2-Robby Lyons , 27. 11-Steve Auffant , 28. 50-Gabe Wood , 29. 53-Justin Melillo , 30. 28-Ron Capps , 31. 4-Brett Baldeck , 32. 12-Brandon Brown (Race XR) , 33. 57-Seth Eggert , 34. 88-Mike Clay , 35. 94-George Balfanz Jr , 36. 84-Kase Kallenbach , 37. 58-Charli Brown , 38. 33-Ruben Garcia  (DNS).
Lead Changes: Eight among five drivers.
Lap Leader(s): Will Rodgers 1-2, Shane van Gisbergen 3-6, DJ Cummings 7-10, Shane van Gisbergen 11-13, Will Rodgers 14, Shane van Gisbergen 15-28, James Bickford 29-31, David Schildhouse 32-34, James Bickford 35-38.
Laps Led: Shane van Gisbergen 21, James Bickford 7, DJ Cummings 4, Will Rodgers 3, David Schildhouse 3.
Hard Charger(s): 075-Landon Huffman (+17).
Rookie of the Race: 98-Presley Sorah, 13th.
Caution Flags: None.
Margin of Victory: 0.185 seconds.
Time of Race: 55 minutes, 58.027 seconds.
Average Speed: 144.213 MPH.
Pole Winner: 55-Will Rodgers, One minute, 25.120 seconds (107.425 MPH).
Fastest Lap: 23-Anthony Alfredo, One minute, 24.939 seconds (107.654 MPH).
Featured Photo Credit: Photo by Seth Eggert / Kickin’ the Tires.