By Seth Eggert, Staff Writer
The main competition for Keegan Leahy at Darlington Raceway came on restarts as he cruised to a dominant victory in the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series.
Leahy took the lead under the first caution on pit road. His virtual No. 32 Direct Force Pro Toyota Camry beat polesitter Michael Conti off of pit road. From that point on, Leahy simply had to hold off challenges from Conti and Nick Ottinger on restarts.
In total, the Denny Hamlin Racing driver had to defend the lead on seven separate restarts. The track nicknamed ‘Too Tough to Tame’ proved to be just that for many in the field. However, the three leaders, Leahy, Conti, and Ottinger danced just fine with ‘The Lady in Black.’
Run to the Checkered
On the final restart, Conti held serve with Leahy for several laps. With both drivers at equal speed and Leahy in the preferred groove, it proved impossible for the JR Motorsports driver to make the pass. Leahy took the victory with Conti 0.333 seconds behind. Ottinger, Logan Clampitt, and Malik Ray completed the top-five.
“Honestly, I did not expect this win at all,” admitted Leahy. “This has been my least-prepared for race this season, I’ve been in the middle of a move. Just so much going on. Full credit to Chris Shearburn and Bobby Zalenski for the work on the setup this week. They put together a really good setup, especially on the long run.
“My hands cramped up. It was so difficult to drive this thing. The pass for the lead … I don’t think it was going to happen on the track. Michael Conti was incredibly fast all night. It took me until lap 30 in a run to have any sort of advantage against him. He would be on my bumper the whole start of the run.
“The pass on pit road came as a surprise. I don’t think I had a particularly great pit stop, but that’s just how it goes sometimes. They drop the jack a little bit quicker than the other guy and you get out in first. Super glad I could pick it up on pit road.”
Leahy’s victory included a familiar paint scheme returning to victory lane. As part of eNASCAR joining NASCAR Throwback weekend, he honored Ricky Craven’s 2003 victory at Darlington.
Caine Cook, Ryan Luza, Brad Davies, Kollin Keister, and Jake Nichols rounded out the top-10.
The biggest movers of the race were Ray and Chris Overland. The duo both gained 25 spots from where they started, 30th and 37th respectively to finish fifth and 12th.
At the end of the race, Leahy’s teammate, Casey Kirwan had the tough break. After starting fifth, he was caught up in several incidents throughout the night. When the checkered flag waved, Kirwan finished 32nd, 27 positions behind where he started.
Defending eNASCAR Champion Zack Novak finished 34th.
The race was slowed by incidents seven times. While most were single car incidents, several big crashes did end the night for some drivers.
The biggest incident took place when Virtual Racing School teammates Ray Alfalla and Bobby Zalenski got together in turn 2. Keister slowed to avoid the duo, only to get hit by Blake Reynolds. The contact sent him spinning across the track into Matt Bussa and Bob Bryant. The incident ended the race for Bussa.
A couple cautions later, Brian Schoenburg bounced off the wall and into the path of Kirwan. Seemingly unhappy with the incident, Kirwan hit Schoenburg again, bringing out the caution. The duo made contact twice more before Schoenburg’s car was done for the night.
Leahy’s victory increased his cushion over the cutoff line for the eNASCAR Playoffs. He is now 76-points ahead of eighth place Alfalla. Victories do not lock eNASCAR drivers into the Playoffs. No driver has enough points to be locked into the Playoffs.
Alfalla’s gap meanwhile is now just 20-points over Davies. Corey Vincent, Graham Bowlin, and Jimmy Mullis are all within 30-points of Alfalla.
The relegation battle tightened significantly. Novak holds the final transfer spot, one point ahead of John Gorlinsky. Michael Guest is another point back. Christian Challiner is 12-points behind while Ray and Dylan Duval closed to be within 20-points of Novak.
1. 32-Keegan Leahy , 2. 8-Michael Conti , 3. 25-Nick Ottinger , 4. 99-Logan Clampitt , 5. 51-Malik Ray , 6. 55-Caine Cook , 7. 53-Ryan Luza , 8. 88-Brad Davies , 9. 17-Kollin Keister , 10. 24-Jake Nichols , 11. 27-Corey Vincent , 12. 16-Chris Overland , 13. 4-Santiago Tirres , 14. 10-Justin Bolton , 15. 21-Garrett Lowe , 16. 41-Dylan Duval , 17. 2-Ray Alfalla , 18. 15-Michael Guariglia , 19. 6-Nathan Lyon , 20. 3-Blake Reynolds , 21. 36-Chris Shearburn , 22. 83-Bobby Zalenski , 23. 37-Christian Challiner , 24. 75-Phillip Diaz , 25. 18-Graham Bowlin , 26. 46-Jimmy Mullis , 27. 97-John Gorlinsky , 28. 9-Eric J. Smith , 29. 77-Bob Bryant , 30. 14-Brandon Kettelle , 31. 66-Jarl Teien , 32. 23-Casey Kirwan , 33. 33-Michael Guest , 34. 90-Zack Novak , 35. 54-Alex McCollum , 36. 79-Brian Schoenburg , 37. 5-Matt Bussa .
Lead Changes: Three among three drivers.
Lap Leader(s): Michael Conti 1-31, Keegan Leahy 32-98, Bob Bryant 99, Keegan Leahy 100-184.
Laps Led: Keegan Leahy 152, Michael Conti 31, Bob Bryant 1.
Hard Charger(s): 16-Chris Overland and 51-Malik Ray (+25).
Tough Break: 23-Casey Kirwan (-27).
Cautions: Seven for 33 laps.
Margin of Victory: 0.333 seconds.
Time of Race: One hour, 51 minutes, 55.443 seconds.
Average Speed: 134.740 MPH.
Pole Winner: 8-Michael Conti, 26.480 seconds (181.631 MPH).
Fastest Lap: 55-Caine Cook, Lap 144, 27.057 seconds (177.758 MPH).
Strength of Field: 6,896 average iRating.
Photo by Justin Melillo / The Racing Experts