By Seth Eggert, Staff Writer
In a historic first for the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series, Nick Ottinger scored the win on the virtual dirt of Bristol Motor Speedway.
Matching the schedule from its’ real-life counterpart, the eNASCAR Series traded the paved racetracks for a changing dirt surface. Similar to the NASCAR Cup Series in 2021, some of those with dirt experience on iRacing struggled while others exceled. Some drivers with little previous experience on dirt, like William Byron eSports’ Ottinger surprised.
“For me, I’m always priding myself on trying to learn something new,” admitted Ottinger. “You’re never going to evolve as a driver, never going to be perfect as a racecar driver. You can always learn something. I was learning something every single lap I was out there, trying different angles, different ways to shape a corner. It was fun learning the discipline, completely focused on momentum.”
Ultimately, the attrition-filled race proved to be a race of track position. Graham Bowlin dominated the first half before being challenged by both Garrett Manes and Ottinger. After contact sent Manes spinning down the banking, the race came down to the Charlotte Phoenix driver and the 2020 eNASCAR champion.
Using a similar slide job that Bowlin used on Manes, Ottinger took the lead in the virtual No. 25 Logitech G Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE. The changing track conditions also hindered Bowlin’s efforts as he slipped down the running order. Stewart-Haas eSports’ Steven Wilson made a late charge to catch Ottinger. Wilson’s dirt experience aided his efforts, but he ultimately ran out of time. Ottinger took his first win of the 2022 eNASCAR season with three seconds to spare.
“Frankly my first impressions (of the track) were what am I doing here?” joked Ottinger. “Luckily, I had done a lot of prep work with a new partner, Elite Performance Industries. They have a dirt program; we did a lot of work during the off-season anticipating that we’d have a dirt race and it paid off. It was a long process. There was a learning curve for everybody. I did not expect to run this good, as far as being in the lead and contending with Graham.”
The win for Ottinger was the 18th in his eNASCAR career and second all-time in the record books. He’s just eight wins behind leader Ray Alfalla. The win also puts Ottinger in line with his team owner, William Byron. One year ago Byron won the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series debut on the Bristol Dirt.
“I made it a point to myself to circle on the calendar Bristol Dirt, I wanted to win Bristol Dirt,” stated Ottinger. “That was before the season started. I talked to William about it to teach me on this, get any tips. He said to ‘run the bottom,’ but I had to adapt. I didn’t expect (to win), but anytime a new track or discipline, you want to win. Just like when road courses came (to the eNASCAR Series), I wanted to be the first one to win that.
“I don’t ever want to be the first loser. You go out to these races to win and if you continue to do that it’s a testament to the team.”
Wilson, Bowlin, Blake Reynolds, and Mitchell deJong completed the top-five. Casey Kirwan, Logan Clampitt, Matt Bussa, Kollin Keister, and Corey Vincent rounded out the top-10. Collin Bowden was the ‘eRookie of the Race,’ finishing 12th in his eRacr machine.
The high attrition was evident in the third caution of the night. No less than 10 cars were swept up in the melee. Both JR Motorsports cars, both Spacestation Racing cars, both RFK Racing cars and others were collected. Of the 40 drivers that started the race, only half finished on the lead lap.
The track itself changed dramatically from the start of the race to the end. Deep ruts on the exit of Turn 2 and Turn 4 made the virtual NASCAR Gen 7 cars act more like supercross bikes. The severity of the gouging ruts suppressed some of the late-race action as the eNASCAR drivers focused on car control entering the next corner instead of attempting passes.
“(Dirt racing) is something where I tried to learn the discipline for what was going to be ever changing through the track,” explained Ottinger. “I know I was running the top side quite a bit. It was just every changing, how you had to attack your entry. I was learning a lot through Graham in the first Heat race. He seemed to be built for a tacky track, and we’re built for a slick track. We were pretty good for what we were.”
Now the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series will travel from one monster to another. Next for the series is a visit to the ‘Monster Mile,’ Dover Motor Speedway, on Tuesday, April 26.
1. 25-Nick Ottinger , 2. 10-Steven Wilson , 3. 48-Graham Bowlin , 4. 15-Blake Reynolds , 5. 23-Mitchell deJong , 6. 95-Casey Kirwan , 7. 97-Logan Clampitt , 8. 75-Matt Bussa , 9. 43-Kollin Keister , 10. 3-Corey Vincent , 11. 33-Taylor Hurst , 12. 69-Collin Bowden , 13. 79-Femi Olatunbosun , 14. 6-Zack Novak , 15. 7-Malik Ray , 16. 20-Donovan Strauss , 17. 31-Garrett Manes , 18. 18-Bobby Zalenski , 19. 88-Briar LaPradd , 20. 24-Cody Byus , 21. 46-Jimmy Mullis , 22. 4-Ryan Luza , 23. 55-Allen Boes , 24. 2-Liam Brotherton , 25. 14-Nickolas Shelton , 26. 51-Ray Alfalla , 27. 54-Kyle Peddle , 28. 41-Dylan Duval , 29. 6-Parker Retzlaff , 30. 17-Kaden Honeycutt , 31. 21-Garrett Lowe , 32. 16-Blade Whitt , 33. 45-Keegan Leahy , 34. 8-Michael Conti , 35. 36-Brian Mercurio , 36. 9-Michael Guest , 37. 40-Dylan Ault , 38. 42-Darik Bourdeau , 39. 19-Vicente Salas , 40. 12-Derek Justis .
Lead Changes: Three among three drivers.
Lap Leader(s): Graham Bowlin 1-38, Garrett Manes 39-40, Graham Bowlin 41-70, Nick Ottinger 71-120.
Laps Led: Graham Bowlin 68, Nick Ottinger 50, Garrett Manes 2.
Hard Charger(s): 5-Zack Novak (+20).
Rookie of the Race: 69-Collin Bowden, eRacr, 12th.
Caution Flags: Eight for 34 Laps.
Margin of Victory: 3.094 seconds.
Time of Race: 53 minutes, 12.362 seconds.
Average Speed: 67.662 MPH
Pole Winner: 48-Graham Bowlin, 18.982 seconds (94.827 MPH).
Fastest Lap: 48-Graham Bowlin, Lap 2, 18.200 seconds (98.901 MPH).
Featured Photo Credit: Photo by Justin Melillo.