By Seth Eggert, Staff Writer
The finale of the inaugural Monday Night Racing season saw Mario Andretti make his iRacing league debut and Nick DeGroot win the championship.
Mario Andretti Joins the League
The assumption that iRacing is primarily utilized by up-and-coming drivers and current drivers was debunked when Andretti joined the entry list for the Tufco Flooring 125. The 1969 Indianapolis 500 Champion adapted quickly to the motorsports simulation with the help of Sage Karam.
In several practice races, Andretti learned the nuances of iRacing in his virtual No. 3 Budweiser Dallara iR18. The practice proved crucial as the 1978 Formula 1 World Champion qualified 10th and quickly worked his way into the battle for the lead.
— Mario Andretti (@MarioAndretti) September 28, 2020
Andretti Battles for the Lead
Despite several incidents, with NASCAR Xfinity Series driver Ryan Vargas, and Monday Night regulars Joe Adgie, Joshua Slate, and others, Andretti found himself dueling with Motorsport.com’s Nick DeGroot.
For about 25 laps, Andretti and DeGroot competed side-by-side around the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The 1967 Daytona 500 Champion used the tow from DeGroot’s car to swing around the outside. Andretti edged the Monday Night Racing Championship competitor for the lead on Lap 44. However, DeGroot held off the 80-year-old motorsports legend throughout much of the battle.
Unfortunately, Andretti’s luck ran out as the incident-marred event saw him and other notable drivers like Max Papis, Bobby Labonte, and Ron Capps work through their fast repairs.
While the storyline of Andretti competing in the league organized by Ford Martin and Paul Sutton dominated the headlines, a battle for the championship was also underway. DeGroot, NASCAR’s DJ Cummings, Racing Electronics’ Michael Rossi, and The Racing Experts’ Justin Melillo made up the four competitors for the Kickin’ the Tires-sponsored League’s Inaugural Championship.
Although Cummings, Melillo, and Rossi were involved in incidents during the race, the four drivers proved why they were in the championship battle. In the final laps, the four drivers ran inside the top-five.
Ultimately the championship was decided by a final lap, final corner incident. Cummings attempted to dive below DeGroot and force the League’s winningest driver up the track. However, the duo made contact and race leader DeGroot slammed the outside wall. In a drag race to the finish, Cummings and Rossi collided.
Cummings took the checkered first, with Adgie second and Melillo third. However, after further review from race control, he was not awarded the victory. The race director deemed the field had been frozen by the caution flag at the time of the incident, awarding the Championship, and the race win to DeGroot.
“Apparently (I was) not good enough though (protecting the bottom),” explained DeGroot. “I’m still a little surprised how this all turned out. What a whirlwind of emotions I just went through. I’m still wrapping my head around it.
“The way this package was, wrapping it around the bottom and hold that lead. The only way they could get you was to get a really big run with cars dicing back and forth. With everybody serpentine it’s really hard to get that run.
“When I joined this League, I raced against Kyle Busch and beat him at Fontana. All the way from there up to this, it’s was incredible to race. Those first 124 laps were incredibly fun. I loved racing DJ, Michael, and Justin for this Championship. It’s really a shame how it all ended. I wish it could have ended differently. I hate having a Championship with an asterisks next to it.”
After the review, DeGroot, Cummings, Rossi, Melillo, and Adgie made up the top-five. Polesitter Brendan Madonia finished sixth with Martin seventh. Kyle McFadden, Chris Wilner, and Brett Baldeck completed the top-10.
Vargas finished 14th with Capps 16th, Labonte 19th, Papis 21st, and CJ McLaughlin 27th. Papis ran the fastest lap of the race on the 118th circuit.
Robert Hill Jr. had the tough break of the race, ending up 26th after being sidelined by connection issues. Rossi was the hard charger, gaining 23 positions.
Several of the professional drivers expressed interest in returning to the league in season two. Vargas said on social media, “Thank you to all those involved for putting this show on! Ready for Season 2!”
The Monday Night Racing League, which features professional drivers, motorsports media members, and others from within the industry is unique in both membership and competition. The League tests the all-around versatility of drivers as it rarely features the same car in back-to-back weeks.
League Champion Nick DeGroot won seven races, IndyCar at Auto Club Speedway, Street Stocks at the Legacy Phoenix Raceway, NASCAR Cup cars at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval, Porsches at the Daytona International Speedway Road Course, Dirt Street Stocks at Eldora Speedway, Super Late Models at Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville, and IndyCar at Indianapolis.
Monday Night Racing will be accepting season two applications for new members with more information to be announced at a later date. Applicants must be either motorsports media members, or people from inside the motorsports industry.
1. Nick DeGroot , 2. DJ Cummings , 3. Michael Rossi , 4. Justin Melillo , 5. Joe Adgie , 6. Brendan Madonia , 7. Ford Martin , 8. Kyle McFadden , 9. Chris Wilner , 10. Brett Baldeck , 11. Noah Lewis , 12. Devon Henry , 13. Michael Massie , 14. Ryan Vargas , 15. Steven Ellis , 16. Ron Capps , 17. Steve Auffant , 18. Seth Eggert , 19. Bobby Labonte , 20. Joshua Slate , 21. Max Papis , 22. Rob D’Amico , 23. Mario Andretti , 24. Paul Sutton , 25. Jason Keffer , 26. Robert Hill Jr , 27. CJ McLaughlin .
Lead Changes: 48 among 11 drivers.
Lap Leader(s): Ryan Vargas 1, Ford Martin 2-5, Brendan Madonia 6, Ryan Vargas 7-11, Brendan Madonia 12, Bobby Labonte 13-15, Joshua Slate 16-17, Nick DeGroot 18-19, Ryan Vargas 20, Nick DeGroot 21-23, DJ Cummings 24, Nick DeGroot 25-30, DJ Cummings 31, Michael Rossi 32, DJ Cummings 33-34, Nick DeGroot 35-43, Mario Andretti 44, Jason Keffer 45-46, Michael Rossie 47, Nick DeGroot 48-60, Ryan Vargas 61-67, DJ Cummings 68, Nick DeGroot 69-74, DJ Cummings 75-76, Nick DeGroot 77-79, DJ Cummings 80, Ryan Vargas 81-84, Nick DeGroot 85, Ryan Vargas 86, Nick DeGroot 87, DJ Cummings 88, Nick DeGroot 89, DJ Cummings 90, Nick DeGroot 91, DJ Cummings 92, Nick DeGroot 93-97, Joshua Slate 98, Nick DeGroot 99-102, Joshua Slate 103, Nick DeGroot 104-105, Joshua Slate 106-108, Nick DeGroot 109, Steve Auffant 110-112, Nick DeGroot 113-117, Ford Martin 118, Nick DeGroot 118-122, Ford Martin 123, DJ Cummings 124, Nick DeGroot 125.
Laps Led: Nick DeGroot 68, Ryan Vargas 19, DJ Cummings 12, Joshua Slate 7, Ford Martin 6, Bobby Labonte 3, Steve Auffant 3, Brendan Madonia 2, Jason Keffer 2, Michael Rossi 2, Mario Andretti 1.
Hard Charger: Michael Rossi (+23).
Tough Break: Robert Hill Jr. (-23).
Cautions: 11 for 31 Laps.
Margin of Victory: Under Caution.
Time of Race: Two Hours, One Minute, 29.615 seconds.
Average Speed: 154.329 MPH.
Pole Winner: Brendan Madonia, 39.357 seconds (228.676 MPH).
Fastest Lap: Max Papis, Lap 118, 39.054 seconds (230.450 MPH).
Photo by Paul Sutton / Monday Night Racing League