By Seth Eggert, Staff Writer
Avoiding the wrecks proved to be key for Jimmy Mullis as he earned his first 1.5-mile victory at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
The caution offered the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series driver an opportunity for a split strategy, which he took full advantage of. Mullis lined up inside the top-five in the virtual No. 46 Coke Energy Toyota Camry. The decision proved fateful as a massive field-clearing wreck broke out behind the Richmond Raceway eSports driver on the backstretch.
Mullis lined up second and again avoided disaster. As the leaders battled four-wide, Nathan Lyon got hooked by Garrett Lowe. The wreck swept up Chris Shearburn, Brandon Kettelle, Bob Bryant and others.
Coming to the final restart, Mullis found himself one of five drivers left with undamaged cars. After a brief battle between Blake Reynolds and Kettelle, he pounced. With 19 laps to go, Mullis took the lead with Phillip Diaz and Nick Ottinger in tow. The trio broke away from the field.
Soon, Mullis and Diaz had left Ottinger behind. However, with slightly fresher tires, the winner of the New Hampshire Motor Speedway race pulled away. When the checkered flag waved, Mullis was 0.255 seconds ahead of Diaz, who finished a career-best second. Ottinger, Reynolds, and pole sitter Michael Conti rounded out the top-five.
“That was incredible,” expressed Mullis. “Everything that I needed to go right went right for us. Start of the race, I felt pretty good coming in. I was able to pick people off on the bottom a lot better than I expected to. I took advantage of that early, trying to get some good track position. Pitting under green, I think I was 12th before we got that yellow. Played the tire strategy correctly and here I am.
“It’s definitely been a rollercoaster season for us. Three or four races earlier in the season if I don’t get wrecked, I’d been well inside the top-eight I believe after dominating Richmond. Everything happens for a reason and coming in tonight I got my first win on a 1.5-mile track.”
Kettelle who stated he was “having the race of his life” finished sixth. Michael Guariglia, Caine Cook, Ray Alfalla, and John Gorlinsky completed the top-10.
In addition to earning his best career finish, Diaz was also the hard charger of the race. The Mode House Media driver started 34th on the grid.
Ryan Luza led the most laps, 39, before being swept up in the field-clearing accident. It left Luza 34th, 30 positions lower than his fourth place starting spot. Ultimately, he earned the ‘tough break’ of the week.
Entering Las Vegas, Keegan Leahy and Bobby Zalenski had locked themselves into the eNASCAR Playoffs. Three drivers, Conti, Ottinger, and Garrett Lowe, added their names to the Playoff Grid.
Mullis’ victory moved him up to ninth, 15-points below the cutoff, held by Alfalla. Luza and Logan Clampitt are also above the cutoff with a 24-point and 42-point cushion respectively. Graham Bowlin, Brad Davies, Corey Vincent, and Shearburn are also within striking distance of the Playoffs with just the regular season finale at Talladega Superspeedway remaining.
1. 46-Jimmy Mullis , 2. 75-Phillip Diaz , 3. 25-Nick Ottinger , 4. 3-Blake Reynolds , 5. 8-Michael Conti , 6. 14-Brandon Kettelle , 7. 15-Michael Guariglia , 8. 55-Caine Cook , 9. 2-Ray Alfalla , 10. 97-John Gorlinsky , 11. 77-Bob Bryant , 12. 36-Chris Shearburn , 13. 24-Jake Nichols , 14. 16-Chris Overland , 15. 99-Logan Clampitt , 16. 18-Graham Bowlin , 17. 32-Keegan Leahy , 18. 17-Kollin Keister , 19. 21-Garrett Lowe , 20. 79-Brian Schoenburg , 21. 88-Brad Davies , 22. 41-Dylan Duval , 23. 23-Casey Kirwan , 24. 27-Corey Vincent , 25. Eric J. Smith , 26. 83-Bobby Zalenski , 27. 6-Nathan Lyon , 28. 10-Justin Bolton , 29. 5-Matt Bussa , 30. 66-Jarl Teien , 31. 90-Zack Novak , 32. 47-Steve Sheehan , 33. 4-Santiago Tirres , 34, 53-Ryan Luza , 35. 51-Malik Ray , 36. 54-Alex McCollum , 37. 33-Michael Guest , 38. 37-Christian Challiner .
Lap Leader(s): Michael Conti 1-2, Ryan Luza 3-32, Michael Conti 33-44, Nick Ottinger 45, Jimmy Mullis 46, Zack Novak 47, Michael Guariglia 48-62, Ryan Luza 63-70, Logan Clampitt 71-73, Brandon Kettelle 74-91, Caine Cook 92-96, Jimmy Mullis 97-100, Brandon Kettelle 101-103, Nathan Lyon 104, Chris Shearburn 105, Brandon Kettelle 106-111, Blake Reynolds 112, Brandon Kettelle 113, Blake Reynolds 114-115, Jimmy Mullis 116-134.
Laps Led: Ryan Luza 39, Brandon Kettelle 27, Jimmy Mullis 24, Michael Guariglia 15, Michael Conti 14, Caine Cook 5, Logan Clampitt 3, Blake Reynolds 3, Nathan Lyon 1, Zack Novak 1, Nick Ottinger 1, Chris Shearburn 1.
Hard Charger: 75-Phillip Diaz (+32).
Tough Break: 53-Ryan Luza (-30).
Cautions: Five for 19 Laps.
Margin of Victory: 0.255 seconds.
Time of Race: One hour, 26 minutes, 9.176 seconds.
Average Speed: 139.984 MPH.
Pole Winner: 8-Michael Conti, 29.209 seconds (184.875 MPH).
Fastest Lap: 14-Brandon Kettelle, Lap 47, 29.346 seconds (184.011 MPH).
Strength of Field: 6,827 Average iRating.
Photo by Seth Eggert / Kickin’ the Tires / iRacing