Ray Alfalla became the eighth different winner of the 2022 eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series season on Tuesday night (21st June 2022) at Nashville Superspeedway.
If there’s anything I’ve learned in all my years of covering eNASCAR, it’s to never count out Ray Alfalla.
Alfalla (Joe Gibbs Racing) came into Nashville Superspeedway on Tuesday night (21st June 2022) with only a single Top 5 on the season as he sat outside the Top 20 relegation line. Starting in 37th wouldn’t help either.
However, Alfalla proved once again why he’s the one and only ‘4-Time’ eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series champion as he scored a record 27th career victory, holding off Zack Novak (Rise Esports) in eNASCAR Overtime for the dub.
A late caution flew, resulting in a restart with 12 laps to go. Before that restart, the field was split on differing tire strategies. Two drivers stayed out, but it was Alfalla who was the first off of pit road with only two right side tires. The first on four fresh tires was Novak back in eighth.
Cautions mired the remainder of the race, but still, on the final restart, Novak found himself right on Alfalla’s bumper. Utilizing the new iRacing Start Zone to perfection, Alfalla got enough of a jump to hold on for the win, all but cementing his place in the 2022 eNASCAR Playoffs.
“What a season it’s been for the VRS Camry,” Alfalla said post-race. “I’m so happy to get back to victory lane. We messed up in qualifying, which has unfortunately been the case a lot. We got a good break with the yellow, we were Top 3 there. I knew we had pretty good speed… once we were up front, we had a pretty good car to contend.”
Alfalla now has victories in 12 of the 13 seasons in the whole history of the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series, dating back to his first win in the inaugural season at Martinsville Speedway on 24th March 2010. The only season he didn’t score a win was 2019 when he drove for the Wood Brothers, finished 21st in the standings, and was relegated into the Contender Series. Now, he’s revived the ‘Drive for 5’.
ONCE AGAIN, PIT STRATEGIES TAKE CENTER STAGE
There’s been one constant this season, and it’s been the inconsistency of the strategies playing out in unexpected ways. Tuesday night was no different as in the first half of the show, it looked to be a back-to-back night ahead for Graham A. Bowlin (Charlotte Phoenix) once he took control.
On lap 19, Bowlin was able to snag the lead from the pole sitter Briar LaPradd (JR Motorsports) and his own teammate, Kollin Keister who was also working on taking the lead. Keister had it first, but Bowlin made the move at the line to not only lead the lap, but clear the pair and pull away.
For 37 laps, Bowlin held control, all the way through the majority of the pit cycle. On Lap 56 of 100, Bowlin took his virtual NEXT Gen to the attention of his virtual pit crew while the rest of the field continued to cycle around. Everything got flipped on its head when the caution flew on Lap 60. Five cars had yet to pit, and that included Alfalla.
Mitchell deJong (23XI Racing) was one of the first to pit and was able to take the lead for the interim. With the oldest virtual tires among the leaders, deJong did his best to hold off a fast Steven Wilson (Stewart-Haas Esports) and a hungry Novak, looking to snap a two-pair of deuces and finally score the ace.
The trio battled three-wide for multiple laps until Novak finally took possession at lap 78. Novak had older tires as well from staying out on the caution, so the highest driver on fresh tires happened to be one of the lucky ones who was still on track when it flew – Ray Alfalla.
As Alfalla was working to try and get around Wilson, another caution flew with 16 laps to go. That’s when pit strategy diverged once again with Alfalla taking two tires, thanks to a call from atop the virtual box from Bryan Blackford, while Novak took four.
Logan Clampitt (William Byron Esports) and Darik Bourdeau (eRacr) opted to stay out on their old tires while Matt Bussa (Mode Motorsports), Blake Reynolds (Jim Beaver Esports), Bobby Zalenski (Joe Gibbs Racing) and Michael Guest (Jim Beaver Esports) all restarted on two fresh tires ahead of Novak.
More cautions continued to fall. Alfalla made his way to the lead, Novak made his way to third. Unfortunately for Novak, there wasn’t enough time to pull off the comeback, as he wound up with his third runner-up finish in a row.
Bowlin, the dominant car early, wound up in an accident, but rebounded to finish 12th. The pole sitter LaPradd also got caught up in an incident and ended up in 20th. Clampitt’s no-tire call resulted in a 14th place effort. Another leader at one point, deJong would finish in 16th by the end of the night.
STEWART-HAAS ESPORTS VS JIM BEAVER ESPORTS
While the Driver’s Championship has been hotly contested through the season, currently led by Bussa by six points over Wilson, it’s the Team Championship that has most of the teams talking on social media lately.
Stewart-Haas Esports was able to maintain the crown for another week as they stayed on top of the pile, scoring a sixth place finish from Wilson and a 10th from Dylan Duval. Surprisingly, they weren’t the metaphorical team of the day though.
That honor would go to their now-closest competitor in the fight, the duo over at Jim Beaver Esports. Both Guest and Reynolds have had great seasons to this point, and despite neither of them currently on the playoff grid at the moment, they sit 12th and 13th on that grid now following a third and fourth place effort on Tuesday night.
Rise Esports fell to third after climbing to second three weeks ago. While Novak did lead the team again with another second place, teammate Jimmy Mullis was wiped out on lap 1 of the event after a stack up sent Vicente Salas (Williams Esports) up into Malik Ray (iRacing Motorsports) and Taylor Hurst (Team Dillon Esports) in Turn 1.
The resulting damages to Hurst also meant a drop from third to fourth by Team Dillon Esports, despite another Top 10 effort from Corey Vincent. XSET stays fifth with another Top 10 run from Casey Kirwan and a 17th place effort from Ryan Luza.
Alfalla’s team, Joe Gibbs Racing, moved up into seventh right behind Mode Motorsports, the team of the current driver’s points leader. Charlotte Phoenix, William Byron Esports and 23XI Racing all round out the Top 10.
TWO SEATS LEFT
With Alfalla’s win, there are now eight different winners in 10 races on the 2022 season so far. Four races remain in the 2022 Regular Season, but there are only two seats left at the table for the playoffs. Road America, Pocono Raceway, Watkins Glen International and Darlington Raceway are the four remaining before the field is set and we know for sure who will race for the title this year.
Only two drivers have multiple wins, that being Michael Conti (JR Motorsports) and Nick Ottinger (William Byron Esports). The only thing the pair need to do to maintain their place on the playoff grid is to stay in the Top 20 in points by the end of the Regular Season. Ottinger is more than two races up on that number, 87 points ahead of the cut. Conti only has a race to spare, 53 points above.
The other single race winners are locked, for now. It could become unlocked for Bussa, Wilson, Bowlin, Femi Olatunbosun (Clint Bowyer Racing), Garrett Lowe (Wood Brothers Racing) and now Alfalla. Not only do these six drivers need to stay on the right side of the relegation line, but if there are three new winners in the next four races, they’ll also have to points race.
If there aren’t any new winners between now and the conclusion of Darlington, the final two spots will come down to points of those without a win. Right now, Kirwan has the first spot while Vincent has the other. Novak is only two points behind, however, with Guest and Reynolds also within a race.
Zalenski, deJong, Jimmy Mullis (Rise Esports), Garrett Manes (Elliott Sadler Esports), Hurst, Duval and Keegan Leahy (23XI Racing) all find themselves in the Top 20 currently, but more than 35 points behind Vincent for that last current spot. They’ll all likely need to win to get in.
Don’t forget about the guys under the cut line as well. Luza, the Williams Esport duo of Salas and Donovan Strauss, LaPradd, Ray, Liam Brotherton (Elliott Sadler Esports) and Keister are all within a race of the cutoff line. If they can get a win and get above 20th in points, they could also find a way into the playoffs this season.
NEXT UP: LEFT AND RIGHT TURNS
The first of four remaining challenges will take the 40 best eNASCAR pros to their first road course race of the 2022 season in two weeks. Road America is that first battleground, making its second appearance on a schedule in eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series history.
Last season, Mitchell deJong scored his second career victory at the venue after an intense showdown against Bobby Zalenski for the victory. The second win propelled deJong to a Championship 4 appearance in his rookie campaign where he wound up finishing third in the overall standings.
Tune in at 8:30 p.m. ET on 5th July to see all things Road America unfold. The event 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 #10 – NASHVILLE SUPERSPEEDWAY – TOP 10 RESULTS
|1||37||51||Ray Alfalla||Joe Gibbs Racing||103 LAPS||15||40|
|2||3||5||Zack Novak||Rise Esports||+0.194 sec||7||35|
|3||19||15||Blake Reynolds||Jim Beaver Esports||+0.429 sec||0||34|
|4||16||9||Michael Guest||Jim Beaver Esports||+0.726 sec||0||33|
|5||25||8||Michael Conti||JR Motorsports||+0.932 sec||0||32|
|6||21||10||Steven Wilson||Stewart-Haas Esports||+0.942 sec||4||31|
|7||14||95||Casey Kirwan||XSET||+1.009 sec||0||30|
|8||20||3||Corey Vincent||Team Dillon Esports||+1.424 sec||0||29|
|9||39||75||Matt Bussa||Mode Motorsports||+1.517 sec||1||28|
|10||9||41||Dylan Duval||Stewart-Haas Esports||+1.547 sec||0||27|
PLAYOFF STANDINGS AFTER RACE #10 – NASHVILLE SUPERSPEEDWAY
|1||25||Nick Ottinger||William Byron Esports||2||252||5||6|
|2||8||Michael Conti||JR Motorsports||2||218||4||4|
|3||75||Matt Bussa||Mode Motorsports||1||278||2||7|
|4||10||Steven Wilson||Stewart-Haas Esports||1||272||4||6|
|5||48||Graham A. Bowlin||Charlotte Phoenix||1||238||4||4|
|6||79||Femi Olatunbosun||Clint Bowyer Racing||1||235||3||4|
|7||21||Garrett Lowe||Wood Brothers Racing||1||195||1||4|
|8||51||Ray Alfalla||Joe Gibbs Racing||1||194||2||2|
|9||95||Casey Kirwan||XSET||0||220 (+27)||2||6|
|10||3||Corey Vincent||Team Dillon Esports||0||208 (+15)||2||6|
12th – #9 Michael Guest (-11 points from Top 10)
13th – #15 Blake Reynolds (-20 points from Top 10)
TEAM STANDINGS AFTER RACE #10 – NASHVILLE SUPERSPEEDWAY
|1||10 | 41||Stewart-Haas Esports||445 (—)|
|2||9 | 15||Jim Beaver Esports||435 (-10)|
|3||5 | 46||Rise eSports||418 (-27)|
|4||3 | 33||Team Dillon Esports||410 (-35)|
|5||4 | 95||XSET||407 (-38)|
|6||24 | 75||Mode Motorsports||391 (-54)|
|7||18 | 51||Joe Gibbs Racing||386 (-59)|
|8||43 | 48||Charlotte Phoenix||372 (-73)|
|9||25 | 97||William Byron Esports||369 (-76)|
|10||23 | 45||23XI Racing||361 (-84)|
RACE #10 – NASHVILLE SUPERSPEEDWAY – BOX SCORE:
- Five cautions for 21 laps
- 10 lead changes among nine drivers
- Most laps led: No. 48 Graham A. Bowlin (37)
- Fastest lap: No. 5 Zack Novak (Lap 103, 29.769 secs)
- Rookie of the race: No. 69 Collin Bowden (13th 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|