By Seth Eggert, Staff Writer
Before winning the Coca-Cola 300 at the virtual Charlotte Motor Speedway, Ray Alfalla had pressed the ‘panic button.’
Alfalla entered the ninth round of the 2021 eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series outside the top-30 in points. In the first eight races of the season, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver finished outside the top-20 seven times. Alfalla went ‘full send’ at Charlotte.
The four-time eNASCAR champion spent the first run deep in the field. Internet connection issues kept the virtual No. 51 Rowdy Energy Toyota Camry from making a charge forward. The connection issue cleared and Alfalla gained track position with a timely caution.
Taking the Lead
As Malik Ray and Ryan Luza battled for the lead on the final run, Alfalla held back. The eNASCAR veteran saved his tires to make a late charge. That proved to be the difference as his virtual Toyota Camry carved through the top-five with ease. Alfalla swept by Michael Guest for third and Luza for second in with nine laps to go. With eight to go, he got to the inside of the virtual No. 11 Spacestation Gaming Ford Mustang.
With less tire wear, Alfalla pulled away. When the checkered flag waved, he was just under two seconds ahead of Ray. Luza, polesitter Keegan Leahy, and 2019 eNASCAR champion Zack Novak completed the top-five.
“How about that, Rowdy Energy in victory lane for the first time, and VRS is back,” stated Alfalla. “I said the panic mode button was pushed before the race and it really was. Couldn’t have predicted it after the first run and all of the issues we were having. We’re back in victory lane.
“We made all of the right adjustments there. The race started and we were having connection issues, had to let people go. I got stuck behind some guys and things weren’t looking too good. We caught a break there under one of the yellows and got to the front. I had a good car. We found a lot of speed after the Kansas race. Then we went to COTA and a bunch of bad stuff happened there. I knew we were going to have good speed at the next oval.”
Despite the win, Alfalla is not yet locked into the eNASCAR playoffs. He still sits 31st in the points standings, 37 behind Nathan Lyon in 20th. Alfalla’s win marked eNASCAR history, extending the number of different winners to start a season. He also became the first driver to have multiple wins at the virtual Charlotte Motor Speedway oval.
“We’ve got to win another race, then make the top-20 in points,” admitted Alfalla. “Then no one can deny us a playoff berth. We’ve got a long way to go, two more road courses, some short tracks in there. We’re just getting started.”
Completing the top-10 were Guest, Dylan Duval, Casey Kirwan, Graham Bowlin, and Steven Wilson. Wilson had to overcome a green flag pit road speeding penalty to climb back into the top-10.
Fifth-place finisher Novak ran the fastest lap of the race. On lap 180, he ran a 29.523 second, 182.908 MPH lap.
Luza was the hard charger of the race. The third-place finisher climbed 27 positions from 30th to battle for the lead.
After an early caution for Brad Davies and Derek Justis, the Coca-Cola 300 appeared to be on pace for a caution-free run. That is until Ryan Doucette’s monitor turned off just passed the halfway mark. The equipment issue for the driver of the virtual No. 79 Ford Mustang set off a chain of cautions.
Five cautions, most for multi-car incidents, marred the end of the marquee eNASCAR race. Early race contenders Mitchell deJong, Garrett Manes, Jimmy Mullis, and others were collected in the various incidents.
Charlotte proved to be a struggle for the virtual Team Chevy contingent. Despite several qualifying up front, Isaac Gann was the best Chevrolet driver throughout the race, running just inside the top-15. However, the Kligerman Sport driver was among those swept up in the multi-car pileups.
Currently, the eNASCAR playoff grid remains unchanged. Guest and Corey Vincent are in on points. Wilson is one point behind the cutoff, held by Vincent. Leahy sits on top of the standings with one win.
Runner-up Charlotte finisher Ray also rocketed up the points standings. He jumped from outside the top-30 to be 27th. Ray is now 30-points behind the relegation cutoff that Lyon holds.
1. 51-Ray Alfalla , 2. 11-Malik Ray , 3. 4-Ryan Luza , 4. 32-Keegan Leahy , 5. 90-Zack Novak , 6. 9-Michael Guest , 7. 41-Dylan Duval , 8. 38-Casey Kirwan , 9. 10-Graham Bowlin , 10. Steven Wilson , 11. 55-Vicente Salas , 12. 25-Nick Ottinger , 13. 77-Bob Bryant , 14. 3-Corey Vincent , 15. 6-Nathan Lyon , 16. 15-Caine Cook , 17. 37-Derek Justis , 18. 8-Michael Conti , 19. 18-Femi Olat , 20. 75-Matt Bussa , 21. 46-Jimmy Mullis , 22. 23-Mitchell deJong , 23. 47-Brian Schoenburg , 24. 97-Logan Clampitt , 25. 66-Blake Reynolds , 26. 14-Blade Whitt , 27. 21-Garrett Lowe , 28. 79-Ryan Doucette , 29. 67-Allen Boes , 30. 83-Bobby Zalenski , 31. 33-Taylor Hurst , 32. 36-Chris Shearburn , 33. 52-Jake Matheson , 34. 16-John Gorlinsky , 35. 88-Brad Davies , 36. 24-Jake Nichols , 37. 44-Isaac Gann , 38. 1-Ashton Crowder , 39. 2-Garrett Manes , 40. 29-Zack Nichols .
Lead Changes: 16 among 10 drivers.
Lap Leader(s): Keegan Leahy 1-52, Steven Wilson 53-66, Vicente Salas 67, Casey Kirwan 68-69, Ryan Luza 70-72, Graham Bowlin 73-74, Blake Reynolds 75, Matt Bussa 76, Keegan Leahy 77-102, Vicente Salas 103-107, Keegan Leahy 108-109, Casey Kirwan 110-137, Keegan Leahy 138-173, Malik Ray 174-178, Ryan Luza 179-180, Malik Ray 181-192, Ray Alfalla 193-200.
Laps Led: Keegan Leahy 116, Casey Kirwan 30, Malik Ray 17, Steven Wilson 14, Ray Alfalla 8, Vicente Salas 6, Ryan Luza 5, Graham Bowlin 2, Matt Bussa 1, Blake Reynolds 1.
Hard Charger(s): Ryan Luza (+27).
Caution Flags: 7 for 27 laps.
Margin of Victory: 1.193 seconds.
Time of Race: Two hours, nine minutes, 47.895 seconds.
Average Speed: 138.677 MPH.
Pole Winner: 32-Keegan Leahy, 28.944 seconds (186.567 MPH).
Fastest Lap: 90-Zack Novak, Lap 180, 29.523 seconds (182.908 MPH).
Featured Photo Credit: Photo by Justin Melillo