The first short oval on the schedule is now behind the drivers of the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series. Richmond Raceway was that short track, and JR Motorsports’ Michael Conti was the one to score the victory, his first at “The Action Track” in 11 career attempts.
The 2014 series champion Conti took the lead from Casey Kirwan (XSET) with 53 laps to go as Kirwan opted to pit for fresh tires under caution. Six more cautions would follow that lead change, and on the final restart, Graham A. Bowlin (Charlotte Phoenix) found himself on Conti’s back bumper on the same strategy as Kirwan, with 20 lap fresher tires.
Thanks to the battle between Bowlin and Nick Ottinger (William Byron eSports) on the final restart, Conti was able to pull away to score the victory, the second on the season and the 13th of his career.
“I came into this year really, really, really feeling good,” Conti said post-race. “There was so much preparation in the last year. It was not fun at times, it was painstaking running through setups and information and theories, and seeing what worked and what didn’t. Ultimately, without that, and without being pushed by a lot of people around me, we wouldn’t be here.”
Conti becomes the first multi-time winner of the 2022 season, and Richmond becomes his 13th career victory in 176 career series starts.
TEAM DILLON DOMINANCE EARLY
For the first time in 2022, Nick Ottinger (William Byron eSports) didn’t win a pole position. Instead, that honor went to Taylor Hurst, driving the No. 33 for Team Dillon Esports. Hurst and his teammate Corey Vincent started on the front two rows, separated by a great qualifying effort made by eRacr.gg’s Collin Bowden.
Off of the start, the two Team Dillon drivers had the upper hand. If history were to repeat itself, Hurst was looking sporty as a leader with a teammate tucked up right behind. Last season, Vicente Salas (Williams Esports) had a technical teammate in Garrett Manes (Elliott Sadler Esports) right behind, and Salas went on to lead every single lap.
There were a few cautions in the first 48 laps, but even on the longer runs, it looked as though it would be about the threes with Hurst and Vincent in control.
Unfortunately, a call by Kirwan to take two tires on the lap 49 pit stop broke up the duo from the top, and that gave Conti enough of an advantage to move around the Team Dillon Esports guys into second behind Kirwan.
CAUTIONS BREED CAUTIONS
With just under 80 laps to go at Richmond, the trend was still yet to be set, whether it would go green or suffer from yellow fever. Kirwan led the second longest green flag run of the day, from lap 66 to 77. The only run longer came from laps 26 to 47 when Hurst was in control.
Kirwan only had two fresh tires on his car at that point, the lefts slightly more worn than the right sides. On lap 78, Kirwan opted to pit with a few others, including Bowlin. Meanwhile, Conti had stayed out, ahead of the Team Dillon dominant drivers, in clean air and ready to take control.
Unfortunately from there, the race devolved into a demolition derby. Before lap 80, there were five cautions. Malik Ray (iRacing Motorsports) was sent into a spin cycle after contact with Brian Mercurio (LETARTE Esports) in the first yellow. The second caution came when Liam Brotherton (Elliott Sadler Esports) got turned around by Parker Retzlaff (RFK Racing).
Ray Alfalla (Joe Gibbs Racing) was the subject of the third caution, going for a spin after a late dive by Retzlaff forced the two and Ryan Luza (XSET) into a three-wide situation. The fourth caution had two parts – first, Salas made contact with Zack Novak (Rise eSports) and spun entering Turn 3. As that was happening, Darik Bourdeau (eRacr.gg) couldn’t check up in time and collected the defending champion Keegan Leahy (23XI Racing).
The caution that would set up the final change for the lead happened when Blade Whitt (Wood Brothers Racing) and Manes got together, collecting multiple drivers. As he attempted to get going, Manes wound up grip flipping on to the apron, effectively ending his chances.
After Conti took the lead, the aggression level rose immensely. Alfalla went for another loop, then so did Salas. A few laps later, Briar LaPradd (JR Motorsports) and Luza triggered a multi-car incident on the backstretch.
Brotherton tried to grab all he could, involving Alfalla in another incident. Ray got loose and Dylan Duval (Stewart-Haas Esports) managed to get squished sideways in an eRacr.gg sandwich. The final caution saw emotions boil over, as Logan Clampitt (William Byron eSports) and Retzlaff went back and forth until they both spun out. Truly, cautions were breeding cautions.
PIT STRATEGY DECIDES THE OUTCOME
Had Kirwan not opted for the strategy of two tires, it could be argued that Hurst had a winning strategy if he could stay in the clean air. Unfortunately, not leading allowed Conti to get ahead of him before Kirwan decided to pit.
When Kirwan pitted, the field was split on the decision. Fresh tires on a green track would be a potent combination. As the race attempted to resume, you could see it as Bowlin and Kirwan fought their way through the field like it was made of butter.
Unfortunately for Kirwan, Bowlin forced the Williams Esports teammates of Salas and Donovan Strauss into a jam, which sent Salas up and into Kirwan’s machine, ultimately ending his chances.
The tires were still fresh enough for Bowlin to mount a charge, but the more cautions continued to fall, the less his chances at winning became. Before the final caution, Bowlin worked his way into second and set his sights on Conti. However, restacking the field allowed Ottinger to get back alongside on the restart.
Ottinger played the perfect technical teammate to Conti, battling just enough with Bowlin to keep him away in the final run.
JIM BEAVER ESPORTS ON TOP OF THE TEAMS
Looking at the team standings, Jim Beaver eSports currently sit at the top of the mountain. In part due to a fifth place effort from Michael Guest, he and his teammate Blake Reynolds are the only pair of teammates that find themselves in the Top 10 in the drivers standings after four races.
Conversely, the team that was leading the standings, Stewart-Haas eSports had a pretty tough night coming off of their first win of the season two weeks ago. Sure, Steven Wilson backed up that win with an 11th place run, but he never seemed to be in the conversation all night. His teammate Duval was collected late in a wreck and could only manage a 33rd place finish.
SHR eSports have also been sprung by the newcomers at Charlotte Phoenix. A former SHR eSports driver, Bowlin has been in the win conversation all season long, finding misfortune to prevent the possible victory. On Tuesday, Bowlin wound up second with his teammate Kollin Keister finishing ninth. As it stands, they’re only three points behind.
The only team with two wins, JR Motorsports has a top driver in Conti behind the wheel. His teammate LaPradd had some misfortune at Richmond and sits 21st in the standings as a result. If LaPradd can get his luck turned around, JR Motorsports might be able to take control of the team standings before too long.
NEXT UP: BRISTOL, BUT DIRTY
For the first time in eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series history, the pavement oval drivers will be subject to getting a little dirty at the Bristol Motor Speedway Dirt Track in two weeks.
They’ve literally never done this before, although some drivers do have some dirt experience at the iRacing World Championship level. It will be interesting to see how it all goes down in the dirt.
Tune in at 8:30 p.m. ET on 12th April 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 #4 – RICHMOND TOP 10 RESULTS
|1||6||8||Michael Conti||JR Motorsports||130 LAPS||53||40|
|2||7||48||Graham A. Bowlin||Charlotte Phoenix||+0.269 sec||0||35|
|3||13||25||Nick Ottinger||William Byron eSports||+0.673 sec||0||34|
|4||3||3||Corey Vincent||Team Dillon Esports||+0.884 sec||0||33|
|5||38||9||Michael Guest||Jim Beaver eSports||+0.911 sec||0||32|
|6||1||33||Taylor Hurst||Team Dillon Esports||+1.298 sec||48||31|
|7||8||46||Jimmy Mullis||Rise eSports||+1.593 sec||0||30|
|8||21||75||Matt Bussa||Mode Motorsports||+1.594 sec||0||29|
|9||16||43||Kollin Keister||Charlotte Phoenix||+1.868 sec||0||28|
|10||36||21||Garrett Lowe||Wood Brothers Racing||+1.926 sec||0||27|
POINTS AFTER RACE #4 – RICHMOND
|1||8||Michael Conti||JR Motorsports||114 pts – 2 WINS||3||3|
|2||10||Steven Wilson||Stewart-Haas eSports||115 pts – 1 WIN||2||2|
|3||79||Femi Olatunbosun||Clint Bowyer Racing||111 pts – 1 WIN||1||2|
|4||25||Nick Ottinger||William Byron eSports||112 pts||3||3|
|5||48||Graham A. Bowlin||Charlotte Phoenix||106 pts||2||2|
|6||9||Michael Guest||Jim Beaver eSports||102 pts||2||3|
|7||18||Bobby Zalenski||Joe Gibbs Racing||100 pts||0||1|
|8||75||Matt Bussa||Mode Motorsports||98 pts||1||2|
|9||46||Jimmy Mullis||Rise eSports||93 pts||1||2|
|9||15||Blake Reynolds||Jim Beaver eSports||93 pts||0||1|
TEAM STANDINGS AFTER RACE #4 – RICHMOND
|1||9 | 15||Jim Beaver eSports||181 pts|
|2||43 | 48||Charlotte Phoenix||178 pts|
|3||10 | 41||Stewart-Haas eSports||166 pts|
|4||8 | 88||JR Motorsports||163 pts|
|5||23 | 45||23XI Racing||150 pts|
|6||4 | 95||XSET||149 pts|
|7||14 | 79||Clint Bowyer Racing||147 pts|
|8||3 | 33||Team Dillon Esports||146 pts|
|9||18 | 51||Joe Gibbs Racing||137 pts|
|10||25 | 97||William Byron eSports||133 pts|
RICHMOND BOX SCORE:
- 11 cautions for 51 laps
- 2 lead changes among three drivers
Taylor Hurst (1-48), Casey Kirwan (49-77), Michael Conti (78-130)
- Most laps led: No. 8 Michael Conti (53)
- Fastest lap: No. 19 Vicente Salas (Lap 118, 21.940 secs)
- Rookie of the race: No. 20 Donovan Strauss (15th place)
2022 ENASCAR COCA-COLA IRACING SERIES SCHEDULE
|12-Apr-22||5||Bristol Motor Speedway DIRT||25/120|
|26-Apr-22||6||Dover Motor Speedway||120|
|24-May-22||8||Charlotte Motor Speedway||100|
|31-May-22||9||World Wide Technology Raceway||120|
|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|