By Seth Eggert, Staff Writer
Season 1 Monday Night Racing champion Nick DeGroot held off multiple NASCAR drivers to take the victory at Twin Ring Motegi.
Controlling the Race
The iRacing veteran controlled much of the Carlyle Tools 125 in his virtual No. 89 Motorsport.com Dallara. Two-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Kyle Busch, as well as Xfinity Series drivers Anthony Alfredo and Josh Bilicki challenged DeGroot for the lead.
With 14 cautions slowing the pace for 56 laps, DeGroot struggled to put together a rhythm to pull away. Several late incidents forced the race into overtime. Coming to the green-white-checkered, DeGroot led Busch, Alfredo, and SCCA drivers Will Rodgers and Preston Pardus. Using his iRacing experience, the journalist jumped to an early lead, snaking down the frontstretch.
Busch, Alfredo, and others chased DeGroot entering turn one. The winner at Talladega Superspeedway entered the first turn high in an attempt to avoid the aero wash from the No. 89. The momentum allowed Busch to close in down the backstretch. However, the Rowdy Energy driver couldn’t close the gap enough coming to the white flag.
Utilizing a strategy that Conor Daly, Ed Carpenter, and other NTT IndyCar drivers use in real life, DeGroot continued to snake down the straightaways. The dirty air that followed his Dallara iR18 was enough to keep Busch at bay. When the checkered flag waved, DeGroot held of Busch by about half a second with Alfredo, Rodgers, and Pardus completing the top-five.
“That’s no easy task there,” DeGroot said of holding off Busch. “My whole thing was that I just needed to get a good enough restart so that by the time he gets that run we’re in turn three. That’s the corner where the cars are really pushing tight. From that point onwards, I protected the bottom at all costs. The tires were still pretty fresh because of all the caution laps.
“I thought if I held that bottom, maybe I could aero-push him coming to the white flag, which I was able to do. That’s basically what we did, and it all went according to plan. It was pretty intimidating having him behind me, but it was awesome that we were able to pull this off and get this win.”
Another 1-2 Finish
DeGroot’s win marked the fourth 1-2 finish between himself and Busch. While the journalist has won two of those, both in the IndyCar, Busch has won the others in the NASCAR Camping World Truck and Cup car.
“We were trying, we were on some old tires,” Busch admitted. “We had a restart with 20, 25 to go, I got out there a little and they just ran me down and blew my doors off. I was like ‘damn, what the hell was that?’ So, I was worried that I was going to drop even farther back than I did.
“I was able to get a couple good restarts there, get the draft. We were second there chasing DeGroot and I just didn’t have enough turn. He’s really, really good at blocking, bottling up the bottom, where my only choice was to try to go around the outside. I just wasn’t going to be able to make that stick unfortunately.”
Rounding out the top-10 were Monday Night Racing’s co-founder Ford Martin, NASCAR Digital’s DJ Cummings, Brenden Madonia, NHRA Funny Car champion Ron Capps, and Jesse Vaughan.
MRN’s Dillon Welch ran the fastest lap of the race on the final lap before taking the checkered flag in 11th. Bilicki crossed the line in 15th after a late-race incident. Las Vegas winner and NASCAR on NBC pit road reporter Parker Kligerman finished 21st. 2000 NASCAR Xfinity Series champion Jeff Green and current driver Ryan Vargas were out of the race in 41st and 42nd after incidents ended both of their races prematurely.
Greg Stumpff and Chris Rice both had eventful races. The Off Axis Paint owner and Kaulig Racing President were involved in separate incidents. Stumpff recovered to finish 19th while Rice took the checkered in 34th.
Making their first Monday Night Racing appearances in season two, NTT IndyCar Series drivers Daly and Carpenter finished 23rd and 40th respectively. NASCAR Drive for Diversity competitor and Richmond Raceway eSports development driver Rajah Caruth made his series debut in the scheduled 125-lap race. After running up front, an incident on a late restart left Caruth in the garage when the race ended, scored 39th.
Only four drivers completed the race incident-free including race winner DeGroot, Vaughan, and both Steve Auffant and Seth Eggert in 12th and 13th respectively. Although Busch, Alfredo, Rodgers, and Pardus, who finished in the top-five, were each involved in incidents, their wrecks happened early enough in the race that they could recover. Rodgers at one point landed on top of the pit wall after a wreck.
Matthew Stallknecht of NASCAR Marketing earned the most incident points throughout the night with 32 incident points total. Stallknecht led a total of 20 laps, most prior to the halfway point of the race. After his repeated incidents he took the checkered flag in 22nd.
1. Nick DeGroot , 2. Kyle Busch , 3. Anthony Alfredo , 4. Will Rodgers , 5. Preston Pardus , 6. Ford Martin , 7. DJ Cummings , 8. Brenden Madonia , 9. Ron Capps , 10. Jesse Vaughan , 11. Dillon Welch , 12. Steve Auffant , 13. Seth Eggert , 14. Kyle McFadden , 15. Josh Bilicki , 16. Jason Keffer , 17. Joe Adgie , 18. Gabriel Wood , 19. Greg Stumpff , 20. Steven Ellis , 21. Parker Kligerman , 22. Matthew Stallknecht , 23. Conor Daly , 24. Garrett Miller , 25. Noah Lewis , 26. Drew Welker , 27. Paul Sutton , 28. Brett Baldeck , 29. Mark Rebilas , 30. Gary Sexton , 31. Josh Slate , 32. Michael Massie , 33. Maxwell Kennon , 34. Chris Rice , 35. Chris Wilner , 36. Rob D’Amico , 37. Covy Moore , 38. Michael Rossi , 39. Rajah Caruth , 40. Ed Carpenter , 41. Jeff Green , 42. Ryan Vargas .
Lead Changes: 12 among five drivers.
Lap Leader(s): Nick DeGroot 1, Josh Bilicki 2, Nick DeGroot 3-11, Josh Bilicki 12-35, Matthew Stallknecht 36-51, Kyle Busch 52-55, Josh Bilicki 56-71, Matthew Stallknecht 72-75, Nick DeGroot 76-94, Kyle Busch 95-103, Nick DeGroot 104-128.
Laps Led: Nick DeGroot 53, Josh Bilicki 41, Matthew Stallknecht 20, Kyle Busch 13, Josh Slate 1.
Hard Charger: Preston Pardus (+36).
Tough Break(s): Rajah Caruth and Michael Rossi (-30).
Cautions: 14 for 56 Laps.
Margin of Victory: 0.504 seconds.
Time of Race: One hour, 54 minutes, 49.357 seconds.
Average Speed: 100.329 MPH.
Pole Winner: Nick DeGroot, 27.822 seconds (194.091 MPH).
Fastest Lap: Dillon Welch, Lap 128, 27.161 seconds (198.815 MPH).
Photo by Seth Eggert / Kickin’ the Tires