By Seth Eggert, Staff Writer
Elliott Sadler eSports driver Garrett Manes cruised victory in the Podium eSports Retro 500 at the virtual Darlington Raceway in dominating fashion, leading over 200 in the process.
Once Manes took the lead in the virtual 1987 NASCAR Cup Series cars, it was difficult for the rest of the field to challenge him. Only different pit strategies truly put other drivers ahead of the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series driver. TJ Burske, Cody Dutton, Logan Helton, and Cayden Rush often found themselves on altering strategies that put them towards the front.
A late caution at the virtual Darlington Raceway with 20 laps to go eliminated Burske and Dutton from contention. It also ended the chances for both Helton and Rush as they were hoping for the race to go green to the finish. It ultimately pitted Manes against the field with fresh tires.
Battle for the Win
However, in the closing laps only Vicente Salas, Manes’ backend Elliott Sadler eSports teammate, and Spacestation Racing eNASCAR driver, could challenge Manes. The virtual No. 2 Offerpad Chevrolet Monte Carlo held off repeated challenges from the No. 55 Ford Thunderbird. With tire management key, Manes took the checkered flag just over a second ahead of Salas. The Spacestation Racing driver won the Slide Job 300 just over a month ago, another race that featured tire management.
“I did not want to see that caution,” admitted Manes. “I could field that I was going to make it on tires. Was able to clock off some fast laps. When it came out, I was like, ‘that is not what I needed.’ I knew Vicente was going to be the challenge. We were there at the end. We had the pace; I was very surprised. I didn’t think I’d be able to put a gap between the two of us. Stayed in my lane, kept the pace, the tires on it until the last 10 laps, the final stint of the race. I’m shocked, but here we are.
“This is definitely one of the top (wins of my sim racing career). We did the Southern 500 back when it was ARCA cars. That was prior to the ‘87s being around. I remember I was in the top-five, but I did not have the race that I did tonight. Got really nervous when I caught the wall with 100 to go. I was saving so hard that it through off my points and I smacked the wall. It was a lot of damage but I was able to hold a solid pace.”
Rush, Anthony Emery, and Colton Zimmer completed the top-five. iRacing broadcaster Shawn M. Butler, Derek Fulton, polesitter Dutton, John Theodore, and Burske rounded out the top-10.
Other notables in the field included eRacr Roval Racing Series Ballistipax Class C champion David Grantham in 12th, in-race reporter Dylan Connelly in 15th, and NASCAR and Monday Night Racing’s Matthew Stallknecht in 35th.
Both Connelly and Helton used the same approach as NASCAR Xfinity Series driver Brandon Brown to find sponsorship. Connelly found himself partnered with Xfinity Series driver Tommy Joe Martins. Helton meanwhile partnered with Kickin’ the Tires, who also sponsored Brown at Nashville Superspeedway. Helton finished 11th after leading three laps while Connelly finished 15th.
The full-length ode to the real-life Southern 500 was slowed 16 times for a total of 68 laps. While most incidents were single car spins, a couple multi-car incidents shook up the running order. Twice on restarts missed shifts resulted in calamity. One of those took out outside polesitter Chad Peterson and Daniel Hindre.
One driver, Brandon Zimmerman, was disqualified from the event due to too many incidents. Sami Yahya was also removed from the server due to repeated on track incidents.
1 2-Garrett Manes  ($500), 2. 55-Vicente Salas , 3. 27-Cayden Rush , 4. 23-Anthony Emery , 5. 09-Colton Zimmer , 6. 32-Shawn M. Butler , 7. 7-Derek Fulton , 8. 80-Cody Dutton , 9. 88-John Theodore , 10. 13-TJ Burske , 11. 63-Logan Helton , 12. 6-David Grantham , 13. 42-Anthony Navarro , 14. 43-Brandon Sox , 15. 95-Dylan Connelly , 16. 9-Garrett Konrath , 17. 77-Chadd Oxendine , 18. 83-Jake Balmain , 19. 102-Zacharay A. Mertes , 20. 19-Chris Watkins , 21. 24-Joshua Parent , 22. 85-Jake Ham , 23. 90-Sami Yahya , 24. 37-Chad Peterson , 25. 71-Daniel Hindre , 26. 17-Roswell Harlow , 27. 91-Carlos Ramos , 28. 56-Josh Bonwell , 29. 98-Mario Merenda , 30. 02-Cole J. Dutton , 31. 38-Richard Swavely , 32. 47-Joshua Eshe , 33. 70-Bryan Scrivener , 34. 99-Brandon Hawkin , 35. 41-Matthew Stallknecht , 36. 111-Jaron Valley , 37. 20-Brandon Zimmerman  (disqualified).
Lead Changes: 19 among 10 drivers.
Lap Leader(s): Cody Dutton 1-8, Chad Peterson 9-19, Chadd Oxendine 20-26, Chad Peterson 27-42, Garrett Manes 43-97, Chad Peterson 98-127, Garrett Manes 128-141, Garrett Konrath 142-147, Logan Helton 148-150, Garrett Manes 151-217, Daniel Hindre 218-222, Shawn M. Butler 223-225, Vicente Salas 226-227, TJ Burske 228, Vicente Salas 229-230, Garrett Manes 231-233, TJ Burske 234-252, Garrett Manes 253-294, Cody Dutton 295-334, Garrett Manes 335-367.
Laps Led: Garrett Manes 214, Chad Peterson 57, Cody Dutton 48, TJ Burske 20, Chadd Oxendine 7, Garrett Konrath 6, Daniel Hindre 5, Vicente Salas 4, Shawn M. Butler 3, Logan Helton 3.
Hard Charger(s): 09-Colton Zimmer and 95-Dylan Connolly (+21).
Caution Flags: 16 for 68 Laps.
Margin of Victory: 1.095 seconds.
Time of Race: Four hours, five minutes, 4.442 seconds.
Average Speed: 122.736 MPH.
Pole Winner: 80-Cody Dutton.
Fastest Lap: 55-Vicente Salas, Lap 354, 30.778 seconds (159.777 MPH).
Featured Photo Credit: Photo by Seth Eggert / Kickin’ the Tires