By Seth Eggert, Staff Writer
Entering the second round of the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series playoffs, Keegan Leahy needed to win, and he did that and more.
The 23XI Racing driver was last on the 10-driver playoff grid after a dismal showing at the virtual Darlington Raceway. Leahy set down the gauntlet in practice, and then again in qualifying, winning the pole. With his 23XI teammate Mitchell deJong on the outside pole and Coanda Simsport-backend teammate in third, the Canadian set sail.
Despite three cautions, Leahy led every single lap of the 250-lap race. His No. 32 Virtual Racing School Toyota Camry was unchallenged for much of the race. It wasn’t until the final 60 laps that William Byron eSports driver Logan Clampitt caught Leahy.
However, the veteran eNASCAR driver backed off to keep from getting caught in lapped traffic. That allowed Leahy to drive away on corner exits, keeping Clampitt at bay.
It wasn’t until two late-race cautions that Leahy showed the speed that he had in practice and qualifying. He ran the fastest lap of the race with three laps to go, scoring a virtual ‘Grand Slam’ when he took the checkered flag. Clampitt was second, 0.283 seconds behind. Ryan Luza, who was forced to race using generator power after losing electricity, deJong, and Ray Alfalla completed the top-five.
“Track position was everything,” admitted Leahy. “I led every lap and there was no way anybody was getting by me while I was leading. We got caught up in some traffic. Lapped traffic was such a big deal in this race. Honestly, those guys in the back were only there because of track position.
“(Emphasis on qualifying) has been my philosophy all year, Mitchell and I have the two best average starting positions. It’s no coincidence that we’re both in the playoffs because of that.”
Luza competed on an emergency back-up power supply and a generator from his real-life Late Model racing days. Although the XSET Gaming driver was not directly affected by Hurricane Nicholas, which made landfall not far from his Cypress, TX home, a blown transformer knocked out power to his community.
“We lost power at 3:00 a.m. (Tuesday) night, and I figured it would be back on by now,” admitted Luza. “The storm (Hurricane Nicholas) really missed us. I’m not really sure what happened. I heard the transformer blow. We thought it was going the be really bad because the eye of the storm was supposed to come through here.
“We’re just always prepared, and we had the generator from when we used to race Late Models. It always went with us to the track. Very thankful we have this setup. If my dad didn’t setup all of this, I wouldn’t be racing tonight.”
Casey Kirwan, Bobby Zalenski, Graham Bowlin, Nick Ottinger, and Blake Reynolds rounded out the top-10. Other eNASCAR playoff drivers included Matt Bussa in 11th, Vicente Salas 16th, Bob Bryant 21st, Jimmy Mullis 25th, and Michael Conti 38th.
Championship Four Picture
Conti appeared to be on pace to comfortably be within a handful of points of the Championship Four cutoff. However, late-race contact with Steven Wilson sent the virtual No. 8 WR1 Sim Chassis Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE spinning into the inside wall. Both drivers ricocheted back into traffic collecting several others in the process. That forces Conti into the same must-win scenario at Talladega Superspeedway that Leahy was in entering Bristol.
deJong and Clampitt currently hold the final two eNASCAR Championship Four spots. deJong has a 15-point cushion with Clampitt eight points above fifth place Bussa. Bowlin is 11-points back with Salas 15 behind, Mullis 20 behind, and Bryant 24 behind.
The eNASCAR Championship 4 will be decided Tuesday, September 28 at the virtual Talladega Superspeedway.
1. 32-Keegan Leahy , 2. 97-Logan Clampitt , 3. 4-Ryan Luza , 4. 23-Mitchell deJong , 5. 51-Ray Alfalla , 6. 38-Casey Kirwan , 7. 83-Bobby Zalenski , 8. 10-Graham Bowlin , 9. 25-Nick Ottinger , 10. 66-Blake Reynolds , 11. 75-Matt Bussa , 12. 11-Malik Ray , 13. 9-Michael Guest , 14. 21-Garrett Lowe , 15. 41-Dylan Duval , 16. 55-Vicente Salas , 17. 67-Allen Boes , 18. 36-Chris Shearburn , 19. 6-Nathan Lyon , 20. 79-Ryan Doucette , 21. 77-Bob Bryant , 22. 24-Jake Nichols , 23. 1-Ashton Crowder , 24. 15-Caine Cook , 25. 46-Jimmy Mullis , 26. 88-Brad Davies , 27. 37-Derek Justis , 28. 16-John Gorlinsky , 29. 2-Garrett Manes , 30. 14-Blade Whitt , 31. 18-Femi Olat , 32. 44-Anthony Burroughs , 33. 3-Corey Vincent , 34. 29-Zack Nichols , 35. 33-Taylor Hurst , 36. 90-Zack Novak , 37. 52-Jake Matheson , 38. 8-Michael Conti , 39. 17-Steven Wilson , 40. 47-Brian Schoenburg .
Lead Changes: None.
Lap Leader(s): Keegan Leahy 1-250.
Laps Led: Keegan Leahy 250.
Hard Charger(s): 41-Dylan Duval and 6-Nathan Lyon (+19).
Rookie of the Race: 23-Mitchell deJong, 23XI Racing, Fourth.
Caution Flags: Three for 14 Laps.
Margin of Victory: 0.283 seconds.
Time of Race: One hour, 12 minutes, 25.500 seconds.
Average Speed: 110.390 MPH.
Pole Winner: 32-Keegan Leahy, 14.079 seconds (136.288 MPH).
Fastest Lap: 32-Keegan Leahy, Lap 248, 14.498 seconds.
Featured Photo Credit: Photo by Justin Melillo