By Seth Eggert, Staff Writer
After running outside the top-10 for much of the Big Green Egg 180, Repco Supercars driver Shane van Gisbergen extended his fuel range to take the victory.
Monday Night Racing Rowdy Energy Pro Series’ second trip to the virtual Michigan International Speedway was the first start for the Auckland, New Zealand native this season. The two-time Repco Supercars champion gained track position after a timely caution waved in the middle of green flag pit stops. van Gisbergen’s virtual No. 97 Dupont Chevrolet Monte Carlo was among about nine that had yet to pit.
Podium eSports’ Gary Sexton led the field on the restart with 44 laps to go. That was on the extreme outside edge of the fuel window. While many such as Rajah Caruth, Garrett Smithley, and Brad Perez pitted, a select few opted to take the gamble on strategy. Of those that pitted, Sexton was busted for speeding while both Anthony Alfredo and Robby Lyons spun entering the pits.
As the laps clicked off, six drivers remained on the single pit stop strategy, van Gisbergen, Justin Melillo, Jason Keffer, Max Kennon, Michael Massie, and Seth Eggert. With under two laps to go, Eggert’s No. 57 Kickin’ the Tires Chevrolet sputtered, forcing him to pit. Kennon meanwhile blew a tire prior to the finish. Massie managed the fuel and was poised for a top-10 finish before breaking loose off the final corner and crashing.
van Gisbergen stretched the fuel perfectly, taking the checkered flag with a 14.329 second cushion over Caruth. Melillo ran out of fuel exiting Turn 4 and coasted his virtual No. 53 Traxion.GG machine to the line in third. Keffer and Smithley completed the top-five.
“That was a pretty cool race,” van Gisbergen admitted. “I had to stretch it on fuel. It was good to come and race with these guys again. It’s a fun league. I’ve been away for a couple of months with my real racing. Was in a pretty good spot at the last yellow.
“I was second, but I noticed I only needed three liters (about 0.79 gallons) to make it. That was easy to save on a long run, so I just cruised from the start. I was saving a bit extra in case the yellow came out for the green-white-checkered things that you guys do. So, I could go flat out the last couple laps.
“I’m not good at this two-corners stuff normally, so I was struggling a little bit. Sort of figured it out in practice and in the race, I got better and better. My tire life was quite good as well, but I’m not sure why that is or how it works, I just drive around.”
Adam Cabot, Perez, Stefan Wilson, polesitter James Bickford, and Alfredo rounded out the top-10.
The Big Green Egg 180 was a tale of two races. The first half feature four cautions for incidents. The first saw Gabe Wood lift off entering Turn 1 before landing on all four tires.
The final caution of the night happened when Caruth’s No. 44 Market Rebellion Crypto Chevrolet cut a right rear tire just before halfway. With green flag pit stops underway, that forced over half the field to take the wave around.
The fuel mileage strategy left just 15 cars on the lead lap at the checkered flag. That marked the most cars one or more laps down at the end of a Monday Night Racing event since the iRacing league’s inception.
1. 97-Shane van Gisbergen , 2. 44-Rajah Caruth , 3. 53-Justin Melillo , 4. 33-Jason Keffer , 5. 52-Garrett Smithley , 6. 17-Adam Cabot , 7. 60-Brad Perez , 8. 25-Stefan Wilson , 9. 29-James Bickford , 10. 5-Anthony Alfredo , 11. 86-Collin Fern , 12. 54-Josh Bilicki , 13. 20-David Schildhouse , 14. 50-Gabe Wood , 15. 21-Max Kennon , 16. 27-Michael Massie , 17. 63-Bryan Boris Cook , 18. 07-Ford Martin , 19. 19-Robby Lyons , 20. 41-Matt Stallknecht , 21. 12-Brandon Brown , 22. 10-DJ Cummings , 23. 77-Devon Henry , 24. 84-Kase Kallenbach , 25. 28-Ron Capps , 26. 91-Cole Irvin , 27. 57-Seth Eggert , 28. 13-Gary Sexton , 29. 93-Garrett Miller , 30. 14-Dillon Welch , 31. 46-Steven Ellis , 32. 4-Brett Baldeck , 33. 24-Will Rodgers , 34. 42-Preston Pardus , 35. 11-Steve Auffant , 36. 26-Chris Wilner .
Lead Changes: 17 among 11 drivers.
Lap Leader(s): James Bickford 1, David Schildhouse 2, Anthony Alfredo 3, David Schildhouse 4-17, Anthony Alfredo 18-22, Will Rodgers 23, Anthony Alfredo 24-32, James Bickford 33-34, Anthony Alfredo 35-40, Gabe Woold 41, Rajah Caruth 42-43, Garrett Smithley 44, Shane van Gisbergen 45-47, Josh Bilicki 48, Gary Sexton 49-75, David Schildhouse 76, DJ Cummings 77-85, Shane van Gisbergen 86-90.
Laps Led: Gary Sexton 27, Anthony Alfredo 21, David Schildhouse 16, DJ Cummings 9, Shane van Gisbergen 8, James Bickford 3, Rajah Caruth 2, Josh Bilicki 1, Will Rodgers 1, Garrett Smithley 1, Gabe Wood 1.
Hard Charger(s): Shane van Gisbergen (+34).
Rookie of the Race: 86-Collin Fern, 11th, Brandonbilt Motorsports.
Caution Flags: Four for 14 Laps.
Margin of Victory: 14.329 seconds.
Time of Race: One hour, 15 minutes, 39.319 seconds.
Average Speed: 142.753 MPH.
Pole Winner: 29-James Bickford, Phoenix Gaming, 41.154 seconds (174.953 MPH).
Fastest Lap: 52-Garrett Smithley, Rick Ware Racing, Lap 23, 41.178 seconds (174.851 MPH).
Featured Photo Credit: Photo by Seth Eggert / Kickin’ the Tires.