By Seth Eggert, Staff Writer
Even with two weeks apart, two different track configurations, Bobby Zalenski wins both eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series events at Daytona International Speedway.
Zalenski in Control
The Virtual Racing School driver qualified on the pole and spent much of the race up front. By staying up front, Zalenski’s virtual No. 83 VRS Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE stayed ahead of the trouble. Although he started on the pole, the winner of the inaugural Daytona International Speedway Road Course event didn’t take the lead until lap 52.
Once Zalenski took the lead, the protected it with skill. He only lost the top spot briefly to Corey Vincent, Zack Novak, and Caine Cook. However, Zalenski’s main challenger was Eric J. Smith. The Jim Beaver eSports driver struggled to make headway in the second lane.
In the closing laps, Cook finally got the third lane moving forward. He led the outside lane to take the top spot from Zalenski when the white flag waved. However, that momentum didn’t hold. Zalenski surged forward, beating Smith to the line by 0.028 seconds. Novak, Vincent, and Bob Bryant completed the top-five.
“This was fantastic, I had a great car prepared for me by VRS,” explained Zalenski. “It feels good to win on an oval, holy crap. It’s been three years since I’ve won on an oval, and it was Daytona. Super special. We were really close to winning the one in February, and then we pushed Keegan to it.
“This one, I got a good push from Zack (Novak), I’ve got to thank him for that. That whole last bit I was trying to control the race as much as I could from the lead. I was confident in positioning my car on the bottom with how I could control the race. When Zack got by me there, I made a move, got back by him. I was hyped after that one.”
Early race leader Nick Ottinger, Logan Clampitt, Matt Bussa, Alex McCollum, and Cook, who slipped to 10th as the field crashed coming to the line, rounded out the top-10.
Before the race even got under way, both Keegan Leahy and Dylan Duval experienced equipment failures. Leahy’s internet failed, forcing him to start the race four laps down. Duval meanwhile had two of his three monitors fail in the same power surge in Nova Scotia.
On the final lap, Christian Challiner’s internet failed, knocking him out of a possible top-10 finish.
The race was slowed four times by cautions. Although the ‘big one’ struck five times with one sending cars spinning onto the backstretch skid pad.
The ‘Big Ones’
The first major wreck took place on lap 22 when Justin Bolton’s No. 10 Busch Beer Ford Mustang veered right in the middle of the pack. He collected Ray Alfalla, Michael Conti, Nathan Lyon, and Ryan Luza. Alfalla had the most spectacular crash of the group, getting airborne and rolling down the turn three banking.
The caution waved once again on lap 62 when a miscommunication sent Steve Sheehan into Jake Nichols. Sheehan spun back in front of the field entering the tri-oval collecting Michael Guest, Duval, and others.
On the ensuing restart, Chris Shearburn had an issue that swept Graham Bowlin and others onto the skip pad. That incident splintered the field into three separate groups. Because they spun onto the skid pad, the caution did not wave.
Brandon Kettelle led the middle group back to the lead pack. Kettelle caught the pack with a head of steam that nearly took the top spot from Zalenski. However, his No. 14 Ford Mustang didn’t last as it suddenly blew its’ engine on lap 73. Guest and Malik Ray had nowhere to go and piled into the stricken Mustang.
The final caution of the night waved on the following restart. Chris Overland attempted to follow the draft and drifted up, into Jark Teien. When the duo made contact, they swept up Bowlin and Jake Nichols. Ray somehow drove through the wreckage of that incident without a scratch.
Following his victory, Zalenski now leads the points standings by 28-points over Leahy. He is also 85-points ahead of the playoff cutoff line held by Alfalla.
The playoff cutoff tightened as Clampitt is now two points ahead of Alfalla. Bowlin closed the gap to 15-points behind the cutoff with Jimmy Mullis another two behind.
The battle around the relegation position also intensified. Guest now holds that position, five points ahead of John Gorlinsky and six ahead of Cook. Casey Kirwan is nine-points ahead with Blake Reynolds seven ahead. Defending eNASCAR Champion Novak is just three ahead of the cutoff.
1. 83-Bobby Zalenski , 2. 9-Eric J. Smith , 3. 90-Zack Novak , 4. 27-Corey Vincent , 5. 77-Bob Bryant , 6. 25-Nick Ottinger , 7. 99-Logan Clampitt , 8. 5-Matt Bussa , 9. 54-Alex McCollum , 10. 55-Caine Cook , 11. 21-Garrett Lowe , 12. 51-Malik Ray , 13. 3-Blake Reynolds , 14. 88-Brad Davies , 15. 16-Chris Overland , 16. 66-Jarl Teien , 17. 4-Santiago Tirres , 18. 18-Graham Bowlin , 19. 15-Michael Guariglia , 20. 46-Jimmy Mullis , 21. 97-John Gorlinsky , 22. 75-Philip Diaz , 23. 33-Michael Guest , 24. 41-Dylan Duval , 25. 24-Jake Nichols , 26. 32-Keegan Leahy , 27. 36-Chris Shearburn , 28. 37-Christian Challiner , 29. 23-Casey Kirwan , 30. 14-Brandon Kettelle , 31. 79-Brian Schoenburg , 32. 47-Steve Sheehan , 33. 6-Nathan Lyon , 34. 53- Ryan Luza , 35. 2-Ray Alfalla , 36. 10-Justin Bolton , 37. 8-Michael Conti .
Lead Changes: 19 among eight drivers.
Lap Leader(s): Nick Ottinger 1-13, Nathan Lyon 14, Nick Ottinger 15-20, Jarl Teien 21, Nick Ottinger 22-23, Jarl Teien 24-26, Nick Ottinger 27-39, Logan Clampitt 40, Nick Ottinger 41-43, Logan Clampitt 44, Jarl Teien 45-46, Nick Ottinger 47-48, Logan Clampitt 49-51, Bobby Zalenski 52-61, Corey Vincent 62, Bobby Zalenski 63-65, Zack Novak 66-69, Bobby Zalenski 70-98, Caine Cook 99, Bobby Zalenski 100.
Laps Led: Bobby Zalenski 43, Nick Ottinger 39, Jarl Teien 6, Logan Clampitt 5, Zack Novak 4, Caine Cook 1, Corey Vincent 1, Nathan Lyon 1.
Hard Charger(s): 90-Zack Novak and 77-Bob Bryant (+31).
Tough Break: 6-Nathan Lyon (-30).
Cautions: Four for 12 Laps.
Margin of Victory: 0.028 seconds.
Time of Race: One hour, 26 minutes, 42.659 seconds.
Average Speed: 172.989 MPH.
Pole Winner: 83-Bobby Zalenski, 46.366 seconds (194.108 MPH).
Fastest Lap: 54-Alex McCollum, Lap 6, 43.798 seconds (205.489 MPH).
Strength of Field: 6,809 average iRating.
Photo by Seth Eggert / Kickin’ the Tires