By Seth Eggert, Staff Writer
The eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series race at Richmond Raceway was a masterclass for Rookie-of-the-Year competitor Vicente Salas.
Salas qualified on the pole and never looked back. The only driver that was able to hang with the Spacestation Racing driver was Elliott Sadler eSports’ Garrett Manes. The driver of the virtual No. 2 OfferPad Toyota Camry was often on the bumper of Salas’ virtual No. 55 Spacestation Racing Ford Mustang. However, the California driver never put a wheel out of place.
On each of the seven restarts, including one in overtime, Salas rocketed ahead. That left Manes to defend second from Ryan Luza and Bobby Zalenski. By the time Manes caught back up to the No. 55, the tires had equalized, leaving it difficult to pass.
Another factor that played into Salas’ favor is the fact that the first three cautions waved at the end of a 50-lap green flag run. With worn tires throughout the field, none of his competitors dared to gamble and stay on track. Under caution with about 20 laps to go, it looked as if Manes, Luza, and Zalenski would opt for a different strategy. However, at the last second all three drivers darted back on track instead of filing onto pit road.
In overtime, Salas cruised away from the field. He took the checkered flag with 0.335 seconds to spare over Manes. In addition to Salas becoming the 56th different winner in eNASCAR history in just his sixth career start, he also earned Spacestation Racing their first victory in the Coca-Cola Series. By virtue of being the sixth different winner this season, he is currently locked into the eNASCAR playoffs, should there be 10 winners and he stays top-20 in points.
Salas led all 203 laps, becoming the first driver in eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series history to lead flag to flag on an oval. He also broke the record for most laps led in a race. Salas’ 203 laps led eclipse’s former series champion Kenny Humpe, who led 194 laps at Richmond in 2015.
“I don’t even know what to say,” admitted Salas. “We put in thousands of laps this weekend. For it to pay off like this and for Garrett to get second-place too, I couldn’t be any happier for anybody.
“Honestly if I could set (the restart) up right, get the jump a little bit, I don’t think there was much anyone could have done. It’s huge, relieves so much stress for the rest of the season. Been tough for how much time we put in, especially with my real-life racing schedule. To be able to be easier with it is extremely relieving.”
Notable Finishers and Incidents
Completing the top-five were Luza, Isaac Gann, and Zalenski. Rounding out the top-10 were Logan Clampitt, Keegan Leahy, Steven Wilson, Nick Ottinger, and Matt Bussa.
The hard charger of the race was Michael Guest. For the second eNASCAR race in a row, Guest gained 27 positions from where he started. This week, the Jim Beaver eSports driver started 40th and finished 13th.
Despite the seven cautions, only two drivers failed to finish on the lead lap, Brian Schoenburg and Ashton Crowder. Crowder was involved in the second incident of the night, which collected Spacestation Racing’s Malik Ray and Joe Gibbs Racing’s Femi Olat. The first caution waved for Chris Shearburn’s spin in turn four.
The biggest incident of the night by far started with Garrett Lowe. The Wood Brothers Racing driver broke loose after contact in turn four. As he attempted to regain control, he slammed in Michael Conti. The two drivers spun in front of the field, collecting Brad Davies, Jake Nichols, and several others.
1. 55-Vicente Salas , 2. 2-Garrett Manes , 3. 4-Ryan Luza , 4. 44-Isaac Gann , 5. 83-Bobby Zalenski , 6. 97-Logan Clampitt , 7. 32-Keegan Leahy , 8. 17-Steven Wilson , 9. 25-Nick Ottinger , 10. 75-Matt Bussa , 11. 90-Zack Novak , 12. 3-Corey Vincent , 13. 9-Michael Guest , 14. 10-Graham Bowlin , 15. 77-Bob Bryant , 16. 46-Jimmy Mullis , 17. 14-Blade Whitt , 18. 66-Blake Reynolds , 19. 33-Taylor Hurst , 20. 36-Chris Shearburn , 21. 23-Mitchell deJong , 22. 41-Dylan Duval , 23. 51-Ray Alfalla , 24. 67-Allen Boes , 25. 15-Caine Cook , 26. 29-Zack Nichols , 27. 16-John Gorlinsky , 28. 24-Jake Nichols , 29. 11-Malik Ray , 30. 8-Michael Conti , 31. 79-Ryan Doucette , 32. 37-Derek Justis , 33. 52-Jake Matheson , 34. 6-Nathan Lyon , 35. 38-Casey Kirwan , 36. 21-Garrett Lowe , 37. 88-Brad Davies , 38. 18-Femi Olat , 39. 47-Brian Schoenburg , 40. 1-Ashton Crowder .
Lead Changes: Zero
Lap Leader: Vicente Salas 1-203.
Laps Led: Vicente Salas 203.
Hard Charger: 9-Michael Guest (+27).
Rookie of the Race: 55-Vicente Salas, first.
Cautions: Seven for 34 Laps.
Margin of Victory: 0.335 seconds.
Time of Race: One hour, 31 minutes, 30.125 seconds.
Average Speed: 99.834 MPH.
Pole Winner: 55-Vicente Salas, 21.397 seconds (126.186 MPH).
Fastest Lap: 2-Garrett Manes, Lap 157, 21.450 seconds (125.874 MPH).
Feature Photo Credit: Photo by Justin Melillo