By Seth Eggert, Staff Writer
Richmond Raceway eSports’ Jimmy Mullis was in the right position to take advantage of a difference in tire wear to win the Hard to Drive 300 presented by eRacr.gg at the virtual Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Tires, Tires, Tires
After multiple late-race cautions left eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series drivers Bob Bryant, Nathan Lyon, Eric J. Smith, Santiago Tirres, and Bobby Zalenski damaged or destroyed, the race came down to who did or didn’t have fresh tires. Over three back-to-back cautions, eNASCAR’s Jake Nichols led the field on old tires in his virtual No. 24 Mode Motorsports Dodge Charger.
Mullis lined up third, on fresher tires, in the virtual No. 46 Coca-Cola Toyota Camry. When the green flag flew, the two-time 2020 Coca-Cola Series winner fought off a charge from Isaac Gann on the outside. Their virtual 900HP Gen 5 NASCAR cars fought side-by-side for several laps.
Battle for the Lead
After clearing Gann, Mullis wasted no time catching Nichols. On the backstretch, maneuvered his Toyota to the inside of Nichols’ Dodge for the lead. After clearing Nichols on the frontstretch with six laps to go, Mullis pulled away. Nichols attempted a crossover move before Seth DeMerchant, on brand new tires, flew by on the outside.
While Mullis’ tires were slightly older than DeMerchant’s his lead was just over half a second with three laps to go. The eNASCAR iRacing Pro Series driver closed in on Mullis, but ultimately didn’t have enough time. When the checkered flag waved, DeMerchant settled for the hard charger award, 0.319 seconds behind Mullis. Ray Alfalla, Caine Cook, and Nichols completed the top-five.
“The last 100 laps I was just trying to put myself into position to be in the conversation,” explained Mullis. “Everything just fell right for me. I’m pretty speechless, those last couple laps were just absolutely stressful. I can’t even find the words; my heart was beating out of my chest to hold off somebody like Seth and Ray. We all had damage up there, but it’s awesome to win this event for sure.
“I knew Seth was going to be the one to beat. On that really long green flag run when we had the green flag stops, he was the fastest one on track for sure. I hate that we didn’t completely get to go green there. I was interested to see before those yellows happened how it was going to go. He was flying and I know I had to give it everything I had.”
Conor Horn, Blake Reynolds, Gann, Brian Mercurio, and Garrett Konrath rounded out the top-10 finishers. Polesitter Andrew Pietranek finished 26th after a late race accident. NASCAR on NBC pit road reporter Parker Kligerman finished 40th after a mid-race incident.
The first 97 laps of the Hard to Drive 300 went caution-free. Pietranek jumped to an early 2.5-second lead before burning off his tires. Cook took over until he overcooked his pit entrance under green. The lead changed hands between Alfalla, Bryant, Kollin Keister, and Tucker Minter.
A race-changing caution in the middle of a green flag pit cycle on lap 98 jumbled the running order. Kligerman broke loose entering turn one. He slid into the wall in his No. 66 Thank an eRacr Today machine before spinning onto the apron. Kligerman retired from the race several laps later.
On a restart, DeMerchant and Gann battled for the lead behind Keister. Gann’s No. 22 tightened up and drifted up into DeMerchant’s No. 24. The Pro Series driver broke loose and drifted turns one and two before recovering. Although DeMerchant lost several positions, his save, in front of eventual race winner Mullis, was crucial for how the race turned out.
Despite the difficult nature of the Gen 5 NASCAR stock cars, most incidents in the Hard to Drive 300 were single-car spins. Bryant, Kligerman, and Tirres each went for a spin at one point in the event. It wasn’t until the final 30 laps that major multi-car incidents wiped out wide swathes of the field.
The first annual Hard to Drive 300 saw an estimated 200 entries from across the iRacing and professional worlds. NASCAR drivers Anthony Alfredo, Landon Huffman, and Garrett Smithley attempted to make the 43-car field. Kligerman made the field after a driver change.
14 of the 43 drivers represented the 2020 eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series field. 2020 eNASCAR iRacing Road to Pro Series champion Allen Boes was also in the field.
The event, organized by Bryan Blackford, and promoted by eRacr, is one of many that bridge the gap between the real-life NASCAR season finale and the start of the 2021 season.
1. Jimmy Mullis  ($500), 2. Seth DeMerchant , 3. Ray Alfalla , 4. Caine Cook , 5. Jake Nichols , 6. Conor Horn , 7. Blake Reynolds , 8. Isaac Gann , 9. Brian Mercurio , 10. Garrett Konrath , 11. Michael Cosey Jr. , 12. Brad Wright , 13. Brandon Kettelle , 14. Corey Carpenter , 15. Anthony Burroughs , 16. Andrew Faryniarz , 17. Dylan Ault , 18. Brandon McKissic , 19. Spencer Burns , 20. Briar LaPradd , 21. Will Cooley , 22. Danny Hansen , 23. Collin Bowden , 24. Nathan Lyon , 25. Bobby Zalenski , 26. Andrew Pietranek , 27. Tyler Garey , 28. Donovan Strauss , 29. Eric J. Smith , 30. Chris Overland , 31. Tucker Minter , 32. Kollin Keister , 33. Bob Bryant , 34. Allen Boes , 35. Adam Gilliland , 36. Eddie Kerner , 37. Mitchell Hunt , 38. Santiago Tirres , 39. Ryan Doucette , 40. Parker Kligerman , 41. Keegan Leahy , 42. Liam Brotherton , 43. Jarrett Liebert .
Lead Changes: 22 among 16 drivers.
Lap Leader(s): Andrew Pietranek 1-27, Caine Cook 28-39, Ray Alfalla 40-46, Brad Wright 47-48, Bobby Zalenski 49-50, Michael Cosey Jr. 51, Bob Bryant 52-57, Tucker Minter 58-79, Kollin Keister 80-92, Bobby Zalenski 93-98, Ryan Doucette 99-104, Seth DeMerchant 105-112, Isaac Gann 113, Kollin Keister 114-117, Chris Overland 118-133, Kollin Keister 134-158, Seth DeMerchant 159-168, Isaac Gann 169-171, Danny Hansen 172-175, Jake Nichols 176-189, Jimmy Mullis 190-195.
Laps Led: Andrew Pietranek 27, Tucker Minter 22, Seth DeMerchant 17, Chris Overland 16, Jake Nichols 14, Caine Cook 12, Bobby Zalenski 8, Ray Alfalla 7, Bob Bryant 6, Jimmy Mullis 6, Isaac Gann 5, Danny Hansen 4, Brad Wright 2, Michael Cosey Jr 1.
Hard Charger: Seth DeMerchant (+34).
Tough Break: Jarrett Liebert (-36).
Cautions: Seven for 28 Laps.
Margin of Victory: 0.319 seconds.
Time of Race: Two hours, eight minutes, 17.223 seconds.
Average Speed: 140.451 MPH.
Pole Winner: Andrew Pietranek, 30.698 seconds (180.598 MPH).
Fastest Lap: Brian Mercurio, Lap 187, 31.080 seconds (178.378 MPH).
Photo by Seth Eggert / Kickin’ the Tires