By Seth Eggert, Staff Writer
The unpredictability of speedway racing at Daytona International Speedway was on display as Joshua Slate survived the chaos to win the Monday Night Racing League playoff opener.
End to Regulation
Slate pushed MNR newcomer and NASCAR Xfinity Series driver Ryan Vargas to the lead just past the halfway point of the race. As the intensity ratcheted up, cautions became more widespread with multi-car incidents.
With two laps to go, Henry Herald reporter Joe Adgie attempted to block FOX 46 Charlotte’s Brett Baldeck on the backstretch. The duo collided setting off a multi-car wreck that swept up Motorsport’s Nick DeGroot, Paul Sutton, and others. The incident set up a chain of events that included two overtime attempts.
On the first attempt at overtime, Brendan Madonia was hooked by the Big Green Egg’s Rob D’Amico. Polesitter Seth Eggert narrowly avoided getting clipped by Madonia. The near miss prevented another field destroying accident.
The final attempt at overtime saw Slate pushing Vargas with Eggert in tow. NASCAR’s DJ Cummings was left handing in the outside line when TSJ Sports’ Noah Lewis moved to the lower lane. However, Cummings soon found help from Steven Ellis. The duo surged forward on the final lap.
Vargas saw the momentum and moved to block both lanes. A bad bump sent his virtual No. 13 Flex Seal Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE into Slate. Vargas and Cummings then spun up the track. Ellis, Jeff Green, and others piled in while Slate and Eggert escaped. With no help, the Kickin’ the Tires writer had one chance to pass the Behind the Wall Media driver. Eggert looked low and Slate blocked, taking the victory by 0.084 seconds.
(Photo by Justin Melillo / The Racing Experts)
“If we’re being honest, I just held the gas down and prayed that I wasn’t going to get swept up into (the big one),” Slate admitted to the Flatout Racing Network. “The seas parted, and I found my way through it. Luckily, I was able to get the win. Last week hurt after I was battling up front all race and not able to get the win. Glad to finally be able to put the Behind the Wall car where it belongs, back in victory lane.”
Green finished third with DeGroot and Devon Henry completing the top-five. Jason Keffer, D’Amico, Michael Rossi, CJ McLaughlin, and Lewis rounded out the top-10. NHRA Funny Car Drag Racer, and MNR playoff driver, Ron Capps, finished 20th.
The final lap was not the first field-consuming wreck of the night. On lap 22, Eggert gave Keffer, an eNASCAR Heat Pro League season 1 driver, a bad push. The push turned Keffer down into race leader Justin Melillo and DeGroot. The track-blocking swept up 22 of the 25 starters with Slate, Adgie, and Jerry Jordan being the only drivers to avoid the mayhem.
“I think it’s the intensity of the playoffs,” Slate explained about the rash of cautions. “These drivers are really hungry to get up there. They see someone else that’s up there and want to win to lock themselves into the next round. I think it’s just everyone pushing as hard as they can to lock themselves into the next round of the playoffs.
“We’ve got a road course and a bunch of these guys are NASCAR guys. Going to a road course might not be too exciting for them. I’m not too bad at road courses so hopefully I can get a second win.”
(Photo courtesy of Monday Night Racing)
Eggert was the best finisher among the playoff drivers with DeGroot second amongst the group. Rossi, Wilner, and Cummings completed the five-best playoff drivers of the 13 eligible.
Only nine playoff drivers took part in Monday Night’s TSJ Sports 100 race at Daytona. Melillo, Ellis, Capps, and Ford Martin were the other four to take part. Missing the race were Kyle Busch, Landon Cassill, Parker Kligerman, and Dillon Welch. The four pros have a one-race waiver due to their real-life obligations.
The Monday Night Racing league on iRacing was created by Paul Sutton and Ford Martin. Both Martin and Sutton are recent graduates of High Point University.
The Monday Night Racing league has welcomed several pros into their ranks from week to week. From the NASCAR world, Anthony Alfredo, Busch, Cassill, Green, Bobby Labonte, Robby Lyons, Kligerman, McLaughlin, Regan Smith, Garrett Smithley, and Vargas. Some have competed in several races while others have made one-off starts.
Other pros in the league also include Capps, Ricky Carmichael, Ed Carpenter, Conor Daly, Chad Reed, and Ricky Taylor.
Several competitors from the LeafFilter Replacements, including Jonathan Davis, Kevin Hamlin, KC Heschel Kevin Iannarelli, TJ Majors, and Steve Myers have also participated in Monday Night Racing league events.
The league has also included many NASCAR media members.
1. Joshua Slate , 2. Seth Eggert , 3. Jeff Green , 4. Nick DeGroot , 5. Devon Henry , 6. Jason Keffer , 7. Rob D’Amico , 8. Michael Rossi , 9. CJ McLaughlin , 10. Noah Lewis , 11. Ryan Vargas , 12. Chris Wilner , 13. Joe Adgie , 14. DJ Cummings , 15. Justin Melillo , 16. Brett Baldeck , 17. Paul Sutton , 18. Drew Welker , 19. Steven Ellis , 20. Ron Capps , 21. Ford Martin , 22. Michael Massie , 23. Jerry Jordan , 24. Brenden Madonia , 25. Kyle McFadden .
Lead Changes: 10 among seven drivers.
Lap Leader(s): Justin Melillo 1, Seth Eggert 2, Jeff Green 3, Justin Melillo 4, Ryan Vargas 5-10, Jason Keffer 11-16, Justin Melillo 17-21, Joshua Slate 22-25, Joe Adgie 26-31, Ryan Vargas 32-52, Joshua Slate 53.
Laps Led: Ryan Vargas 27, Justin Melillo 7, Joe Adgie 6, Jason Keffer 6, Joshua Slate 5, Jeff Green 1, Seth Eggert 1.
Hard Charger(s): Joshua Slate and Michael Rossi (+14).
Tough Break(s): Brenden Madonia and Justin Melillo (-13).
Cautions: Nine for 27 laps.
Margin of Victory: 0.084 seconds.
Time of Race: One hour, seven minutes, 16.946 seconds.
Average Speed: 118.159 MPH.
Pole Winner: Seth Eggert, 47.635 seconds (188.937 MPH).
Fastest Lap: Michael Massie, Lap 39, 44.838 seconds (200.723 MPH).
Photo by Justin Melillo / The Racing Experts