It wasn’t a question of ‘if’, but ‘when’ Graham A. Bowlin would find victory lane in the 2022 eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series season.
The answer came on Tuesday night (31st May) when the Charlotte Phoenix driver dominated at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway, leading 97 laps en route to his first win of the 2022 season and the second of his career.
Bowlin took control of the race on lap 22 when he passed Casey Kirwan (XSET) for the lead. Zack Novak (Rise Esports) took the lead when Bowlin pitted, but the caution flew just right where Bowlin reclaimed the lead. From there, Bowlin held off Novak and the rest of the field to win his first career oval event.
Bowlin joins six other drivers as winners on the season in nine races completed so far. Only five races remain after this to set the final three spots in the 2022 playoffs.
Last year, the series had more winners than spots available. Mathematically, that is still a possibility, especially with two road courses in the future.
TIMELY, UNTIMELY CAUTION
The only caution of the night came right smack dab in the middle of the 120 lap event. On lap 60, Jimmy Mullis (Rise Esports) locked up the brakes underneath the car of Garrett Manes (Elliott Sadler Esports). The resulting contact led to a spin and the yellow flag flying in the middle of green flag pit stops.
A good chunk of the field had already pitted before halfway, and most wound up trapped a lap down. Bowlin decided to pit right on that lap, and made it on to pit road while the light was still green. It wasn’t three seconds later that the lights went red, signifying the closure of pit road, which handed down penalties to anyone who entered pit road after that moment.
There were three drivers who were bit the hardest during the caution were Vicente Salas (Williams Esports), Dylan Duval (Stewart-Haas Esports) and Ryan Luza (XSET). As the caution flew and the pit entrance closed, the trio continued into the pits. Per the game coding, all three drivers were handed a pitting while pits were closed penalty and were forced to start end of the longest line.
For Novak and a handful of drivers who had stayed out until that point, it turned into a great moment for their race as they were able to pit, get new tires, and stay ahead of most of those who attempted an undercut and had to take the wave around. Nick Ottinger (William Byron Esports), Kirwan, and Bobby Zalenski (Joe Gibbs Racing) were among those who had to wave around and fight back through the field.
SIDES OF BEEF
While there was only a single caution during the race, there were plenty of moments that had competitors jawing at one another that didn’t slow down the event. Beef, as it’s referred to, was ever present throughout the night, even in a relatively clean virtual event.
On the opening lap, Ray Alfalla (Joe Gibbs Racing) got loose off of Turn 2 and slid into the path of Michael Guest (Jim Beaver Esports). Guest got on the mic and asked “what are we doing back here?” in Alfalla’s direction. The nose damage ultimately kept Guest behind for the entirety of the event. Later in the running, the two found each other again, and Alfalla quipped back with the same question to Guest.
POST RACE FIREWORKS
The most vocal argument of the evening came between Michael Conti (JR Motorsports) and Manes. On the fourth lap, the pair went three-wide for a moment with Femi Olatunbosun (Clint Bowyer Racing). Manes first made contact with Olatunbosun, then slid into Conti, and then they straightened it out. Both were upset with the moves they made on each other in the moment.
They continued to disagree after the race as well, and Luza, who was bit by the actual caution that Manes was involved in with Mullis, also got in on the disagreement in favor of Conti.
Another incident that the race would continue green afterward included Blake Reynolds (Jim Beaver Esports) and Darik Bourdeau (eRacr). The two made contact out of Turn 4 and slammed the inside wall. The contact was enough to end Bourdeau’s race and severely handicap Reynolds’ race.
While not as vocal over the comms, Duval wound up upset with the way Vicente Salas ran him during the race, and before he took the lead, James Pike reported from virtual pit road that Bowlin was frustrated while running behind the pole sitter on the evening, Cody Byus (Mode Motorsports).
STEWART-HAAS ESPORTS BARELY BACK ON TOP
Despite the off night from Steven Wilson and a lower-than-anticipated finish from a fast Duval, Stewart-Haas Esports is back on top of the Team Points, albeit barely. The gap is only five points back to Rise Esports, who moves into second. Former leaders Team Dillon Esports are only seven points behind Stewart-Haas, and the leaders entering WWT Raceway, Jim Beaver Esports, are now down in fourth.
Duval led the Stewart-Haas stables with a 12th place finish while Wilson struggled through the entire night. Failing to put down a qualifying lap meant starting 33rd. Fighting from the back meant trying an alternate strategy and for Wilson, that meant an undercut. The caution ruined the possibility of gaining from that. For the rest of the race, he was on a tire disadvantage, eventually coming in 25th.
While Wilson lost the points lead in the resulting finishes to Mode Motorsports’ Matt Bussa, his 25th together with Duval’s 12th was enough to put them back on top for now.
On the flip side, the curse continued for the team point leading team once again. As explained above, both Guest and Reynolds struggled with damage throughout the event. Reynolds led the team with a 36th place finish while Guest wound up lapped in 38th. Both positions only awarded a single point, and they were jumped by Stewart-Haas, Rise and Team Dillon.
Rise is on the rise, after finding themselves in eighth two races ago, now the Novak/Mullis combination sit second overall following Novak’s runner-up and Mullis’s recovery to 17th. Their LockDown teammates at Team Dillon also had split results. Corey Vincent managed a Top 10 finish, but Taylor Hurst never did recover from his early pit stop, ultimately finishing in 33rd.
NEXT UP: SUMMER BREAK
Leaving WWT Raceway at Gateway, the series enters its longest break of the 2022 season. The virtual racing will be off for the next three weeks as iRacing enters 2022 Season 3 and the next build goes through the normal release and subsequent patches.
When the racing does return, it will be at Nashville Superspeedway for another inaugural racing event. Tune in at 8:30 p.m. ET on 21st June to see it all unfold. Things will kick off with the Countdown to Green for a half-hour before the main cast starts at 9:00 p.m. ET. The broadcast will be available at eNASCAR.com/live or on the iRacing Social Channels.
RACE #9 – WWT RACEWAY AT GATEWAY – TOP 10 RESULTS
|1||4||48||Graham A. Bowlin||Charlotte Phoenix||120 LAPS||97||40|
|2||19||5||Zack Novak||Rise Esports||+2.837 sec||2||35|
|3||6||97||Logan Clampitt||William Byron Esports||+6.179 sec||0||34|
|4||30||7||Malik Ray||iRacing Motorsports||+6.641 sec||0||33|
|5||23||4||Ryan Luza||XSET||+6.850 sec||0||32|
|6||39||75||Matt Bussa||Mode Motorsports||+9.067 sec||0||31|
|7||11||21||Garrett Lowe||Wood Brothers Racing||+9.739 sec||0||30|
|8||5||19||Vicente Salas||Williams Esports||+9.873 sec||0||29|
|9||9||25||Nick Ottinger||William Byron Esports||+10.311 sec||0||28|
|10||27||3||Corey Vincent||Team Dillon Esports||+11.299 sec||0||27|
PLAYOFF STANDINGS AFTER RACE #9 – WWT RACEWAY AT GATEWAY
|1||25||Nick Ottinger||William Byron Esports||2||245||5||6|
|2||8||Michael Conti||JR Motorsports||2||186||3||3|
|3||75||Matt Bussa||Mode Motorsports||1||250||2||6|
|4||10||Steven Wilson||Stewart-Haas Esports||1||241||4||5|
|5||79||Femi Olatunbosun||Clint Bowyer Racing||1||220||3||4|
|6||48||Graham A. Bowlin||Charlotte Phoenix||1||213||4||4|
|7||21||Garrett Lowe||Wood Brothers Racing||1||193||1||4|
|8||95||Casey Kirwan||XSET||0||220 (+27)||2||5|
|9||3||Corey Vincent||Team Dillon Esports||0||208 (+15)||2||5|
|10||5||Zack Novak||Rise Esports||0||200 (+7)||3||4|
TEAM STANDINGS AFTER RACE #9 – WWT RACEWAY AT GATEWAY
|1||10 | 41||Stewart-Haas Esports||386 (—)|
|2||5 | 46||Rise eSports||381 (-5)|
|3||3 | 33||Team Dillon Esports||379 (-7)|
|4||9 | 15||Jim Beaver Esports||367 (-19)|
|5||4 | 95||XSET||356 (-30)|
|6||24 | 75||Mode Motorsports||346 (-40)|
|7||25 | 97||William Byron Esports||338 (-48)|
|8||23 | 45||23XI Racing||334 (-52)|
|9||43 | 48||Charlotte Phoenix||333 (-53)|
|10||18 | 51||Joe Gibbs Racing||326 (-60)|
RACE #9 – WORLD WIDE TECHNOLOGY RACEWAY AT GATEWAY – BOX SCORE:
- One caution for four laps
- Four lead changes among four drivers
Byus (1-2), Kirwan (3-21), Bowlin (22-59), Novak (60-61), Bowlin (62-120)
- Most laps led: No. 48 Graham A. Bowlin (97)
- Fastest lap: No. 23 Mitchell deJong (Lap 57, 34.323 secs)
- Rookie of the race: No. 6 Parker Retzlaff (15th place)
2022 ENASCAR COCA-COLA IRACING SERIES SCHEDULE
|16-Aug-22||13||Watkins Glen Int’l||35|
|13-Sep-22||PO1 | 15||Bristol Motor Speedway||175|
|27-Sep-22||PO2 | 16||Talladega Superspeedway||70|
|11-Oct-22||PO3 | 17||Homestead-Miami Speedway||100|
|25-Oct-22||C4F | 18||Phoenix Raceway||110|