By Jacob Seelman, Guest Contributor
HOMESTEAD, Fla. – Keegan Leahy crushed the field to win the second race of the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series season Tuesday night at the virtual Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Leahy started from the pole and only gave up the lead during his two green-flag pit stops. He retook command for good from Bob Bryant – who attempted a one-stop strategy – on lap 97 of 134.
In all, Leahy led three times for a race-high 105 laps at the 1.5-mile oval en route to his first win of the season and the ninth of his career.
The race went from green to checkered without a caution flag.
“With the aerodynamics on the sim, when you get behind somebody, you lose a lot of (lap) time,” Leahy noted after the race. “I just tried to play the pit strategy to give myself as much clean air as possible. With a long green flag race, 134 laps green, losing a hundredth of a second per lap adds up over the course of the night.
“The little decisions I made, like when to pit and when to pass in traffic, are what made the difference tonight,” Leahy added. “I only won by a couple seconds, but it was enough to put us in victory lane.”
With the victory, Leahy joins Daytona winner Michael Conti in this year’s championship playoffs. It was also the first win for 23XI Racing as an eSports team since its rebranding.
“I’m definitely happy about this one tonight,” Leahy tipped. “I was not expecting (to win) at this race. This was the last race that I expected to win. We were not the fastest car this week. We had the best qualifying setup; that’s what got us up front, and luckily there weren’t any cautions to shuffle me back, because I wouldn’t have won this if I had started to attempt or something.
Ryan Luza, the 2017 eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series champion, tried to track down Leahy on the final run but had to settle for runner-up honors. He crossed the finish line 2.293 seconds back in the end.
“We were really close, speed-wise,” Luza noted. “I think it just came down to who had the clean air. The first pit stop I came out right on (Leahy’s) bumper. If I could have cleared him, maybe I could have taken off with clean air. But that’s really what the race boiled down to, is who got on pit road in front of the other.
“It kind of sucks to come away with second because of the win-and-you’re-in (playoff format) now,” Luza continued. “Getting P2 just feels … like I got robbed in a way, because I could have won and been locked in (to the playoffs) for the rest of the regular season. But this was a lot better than I expected to run.”
Defending Homestead winner Chris Shearburn was third, followed by Garrett Lowe and Taylor Hurst.
Corey Vincent, Nick Ottinger, Bob Bryant, Zack Novak and Conti filled out the top 10 at the finish.
Seven drivers – Bobby Zalenski, Garrett Manes, Ray Alfalla, Derek Justis, Graham Bowlin, Blake Reynolds and Caine Cook – experienced connectivity issues several times during the race, starting at lap five.
As such, all seven competitors finished 33rd or worse, at least 10 laps down. Race officials and iRacing officials were investigating the incident as of press time, with more information expected in the coming days.
The eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series season continues March 2 at the virtual Las Vegas (Nev.) Motor Speedway.
1. 32-Keegan Leahy , 2. 4-Ryan Luza , 3. 36-Chris Shearburn , 4. 21-Garrett Lowe , 5. 33-Taylor Hurst , 6. 3-Corey Vincent , 7. 25-Nick Ottinger , 8. 77-Bob Bryant , 9. 90-Zack Novak , 10. 8-Michael Conti , 11. 23-Mitchell deJong , 12. 46-Jimmy Mullis , 13. 38-Casey Kirwan , 14. 24-Jake Nichols , 15. 97-Logan Clampitt , 16. 44-Isaac Gann , 17. 41-Dylan Duval , 18. 17-Steven Wilson , 19. 18-Femi Olat , 20. 9-Michael Guest , 21. 75-Matt Bussa , 22. 6-Nathan Lyon , 23. 67-Allen Boes , 24. 79-Ryan Doucette , 25. 11-Malik Ray , 26. 52-Jake Matheson , 27. 16-John Gorlinsky , 28. 29-Zack Nichols , 29. 1-Ashton Crowder , 30. 55-Vicente Salas , 31. 47-Brian Schoenburg , 32. 88-Brad Davies , 33. 83-Bobby Zalenski , 34. 2-Garrett Manes , 35. 51-Ray Alfalla , 36. 37-Derek Justis , 37. 10-Graham Bowlin , 38. 66-Blake Reynolds , 39. 14-Blade Whitt , 40. 15-Caine Cook .
Lead Changes: Nine among six drivers
Lap Leader(s): Keegan Leahy 1-43, Corey Vincent 44, Zack Novak 45, Bob Bryant 46-62, Keegan Leahy 63-86, Ryan Luza 87, Zack Novak 88-89, Allen Boes 90, Bob Bryant 91-96, Keegan Leahy 97-134.
Laps Led: Keegan Leahy 105, Bob Bryant 23, Zack Novak 3, Corey Vincent 1, Ryan Luza 1, Allen Boes 1.
Hard Charger: 8-Michael Conti [+19]
Margin of Victory: 2.293 seconds
Time of Race: One hour, 14 minutes, 33.557 seconds
Average Speed: 161.750 mph
Pole Winner: 32-Keegan Leahy, 30.022 seconds (179.868 mph)
Feature Photo Credit: Justin Melillo