Ten drivers entered The Last Great Colosseum at Bristol Motor Speedway with a chance to lock in their spot in the Championship 4 battle. After 175 wild laps on Tuesday night (13th September 2022), none of the 2022 eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series Playoff drivers were able to manage winning the free pass to the title race.
Instead, Ryan Luza (XSET) made the perfect strategy call on the final caution to take tires. On the ensuing restart, Luza was able to make easy work of Kollin Keister (Charlotte Phoenix) who had stayed out. Luza took the victory, the first of the season and the 17th of his storied career.
The win doesn’t retroactively get him into the 2022 Playoff field, but it did help the 2017 Champion find his way back inside the Top 20 in the points, avoiding the relegation line for now. Only three races remain in the 2022 season, two races in this Round of 10, and not one driver is safe entering Talladega in two weeks.
DEFENDING CHAMPIONS MAKING STATEMENTS
From the get-go, it looked to be a night for the spoilers. While ten drivers are trying their best to get the 2022 Championship, 30 others are trying to make the best of the rest of their seasons, looking to avoid relegation, if possible, and also pickup any wins along the way.
2021 Series Champion Keegan Leahy (23XI Racing) didn’t make this season’s playoffs, but that didn’t stop him from trying to take a dominant win on Tuesday night. Leahy qualified on the pole and for the first 101 laps, it looked to be completely in his favor.
A caution at lap 76 slowed the field for the first time and allowed the majority of the field to pit for service. As some say, however, cautions can breed cautions, and that’s just what happened as the race passed halfway.
Before that caution, Ray Alfalla (Joe Gibbs Racing) was making absolute strides through the pack. Alfalla started in 31st and before too long, he was up on the podium in third place. His tires started to wear quick, but it was truly impressive to see the 4-Time champion cut through the field like butter.
Of course, the top previous champion of the series was Luza, as he played it right to take the win.
BAD NIGHT TO BE A PLAYOFF DRIVER (FOR MOST)
The first caution of the night was without issue for all ten of the playoff drivers. After that, it got a bit messy. The second caution flew just before the 100th lap and this time, at least four of the title contenders were involved.
Mitchell deJong (23XI Racing) and Steven Wilson (Stewart-Haas Esports) made contact, sending deJong spinning up into Matt Bussa (Mode Motorsports) who would collect Casey Kirwan (XSET) and more. It was a proper pileup that cost Kirwan and Bussa laps off of the lead pack for one reason or another.
The next caution wasn’t any better, as Graham A. Bowlin (Charlotte Phoenix) went around in the middle of traffic following a bump from Kaden Honeycutt (RFK Racing). Almost immediately after that, Blake Reynolds (Jim Beaver Esports) got spun into Bussa again after a tap from Dylan Ault (LETARTE Esports).
By this time, Leahy had lost out and Bobby Zalenski (Joe Gibbs Racing) was the new leader on an alternate strategy. However, with so many cautions, the strategies were all over the place, which allowed Keister to snooker Zalenski for the lead before the final caution with just under 30 laps to go.
THE BIG ONE LEADS TO BIG STRATEGY CALLS LATE
Even at a short track, the big one is still a possibility. The big one at Bristol would sweep up multiple playoff hopefuls, including Nick Ottinger (William Byron Esports), Femi Olatunbosun (Clint Bowyer Esports), deJong, Kirwan, and so many other hopefuls such as Leahy.
An ensuing pit stop brought a good chunk of the field in for the final time, which at this point, who knew it would be the last chance for fresh virtual rubber. Zalenski, Wilson, a battered Bowlin and Michael Conti (JR Motorsports) all opted to stay out on what they had, some on older stuff than others.
Garrett Lowe (Wood Brothers Racing) was the only non-damaged playoff driver to opt for the tires. Lowe, along with Luza, Cody Byus (Mode Motorsports), Alfalla and more would be in the prime position for the final restart.
Luza made his way through it faster than anyone else, and that led to his second win at the concrete venue in his fourth attempt.
NEXT UP: SWEET HOME TALLADEGA
Nobody is safe leaving Bristol. Wilson leads by only a single point over Lowe with Bowlin and Conti filling out the final spots for now. Zalenski, who fell back to finish 16th after the no-pit call, is five points out of it with Talladega and Homestead-Miami still to go.
Talladega, a true wild card race to contend with, could be a total guess as to who wins when we head there in two weeks. Ottinger won there last year. 13 points out leaving Bristol down in eighth isn’t necessarily a must-win spot, but going back-to-back could help his quest for a second title.
Tune in at 8:30 p.m. ET on 27th September to see the middle battle of the 2022 Playoffs. 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 #15 – BRISTOL MOTOR SPEEDWAY – TOP 10 RESULTS
|1||14||4||Ryan Luza||XSET||175 LAPS||24||40|
|2||35||24||Cody Byus||Mode Motorsports||+1.324 secs||0||35|
|3||31||51||Ray Alfalla||Joe Gibbs Racing||+1.359 secs||0||34|
|4||24||15||Blake Reynolds||Jim Beaver Esports||+1.444 secs||0||33|
|5||18||21||Garrett Lowe||Wood Brothers Racing||+1.844 secs||0||32|
|6||26||36||Brian Mercurio||LETARTE Esports||+1.921 secs||0||31|
|7||33||3||Corey Vincent||Team Dillon Esports||+3.328 secs||0||30|
|8||28||40||Dylan Ault||LETARTE Esports||+3.452 secs||0||29|
|9||36||12||Derek Justis||iRacing Motorsports||+5.242 secs||0||28|
|10||2||10||Steven Wilson||Stewart-Haas Esports||+11.432 secs||0||27|
PLAYOFF STANDINGS AFTER RACE #15 – BRISTOL MOTOR SPEEDWAY
|1||10||Steven Wilson||Stewart-Haas Esports||3||2036||7||10|
|2||21||Garrett Lowe||Wood Brothers Racing||1||-1||2||5|
|3||48||Graham A. Bowlin||Charlotte Phoenix||1||-7||6||6|
|4||8||Michael Conti||JR Motorsports||2||-10||4||6|
|5||18||Bobby Zalenski||Joe Gibbs Racing||0||-15||3||6|
|6||79||Femi Olatunbosun||Clint Bowyer Racing||1||-17||3||6|
|8||25||Nick Ottinger||William Byron Esports||2||-23||5||8|
|9||75||Matt Bussa||Mode Motorsports||1||-24||2||8|
|10||23||Mitchell deJong||23XI Racing||1||-29||3||4|
TEAM STANDINGS AFTER RACE #15 – BRISTOL MOTOR SPEEDWAY
|POS||CAR #’s||TEAM||MANUF.||POINTS||BEHIND||TEAM WINS|
|1||10 | 41||Stewart-Haas Esports||FORD||694||LEADER||3|
|2||9 | 15||Jim Beaver Esports||FORD||660||-34||0|
|3||4 | 95||XSET||CHEVY||658||-36||2|
|4||5 | 46||Rise eSports||CHEVY||597||-97||0|
|5||18 | 51||Joe Gibbs Racing||TOYOTA||594||-100||1|
|6||24 | 75||Mode Motorsports||FORD||582||-112||1|
|7||23 | 45||23XI Racing||TOYOTA||559||-135||1|
|8||43 | 48||Charlotte Phoenix||TOYOTA||549||-145||1|
|9||3 | 33||Team Dillon Esports||CHEVY||538||-156||0|
|10||8 | 88||JR Motorsports||CHEVY||536||-158||2|
RACE #15 – BRISTOL MOTOR SPEEDWAY – BOX SCORE:
- Five cautions for 25 laps
- Three lead changes among four drivers (Leahy, Zalenski, Keister, Luza)
- Most laps led: #45 Keegan Leahy (101 laps)
- Fastest lap: Lap 151, #4 Ryan Luza (14.765 seconds)
- Rookie of the race: #36 Brian Mercurio (6th)
2022 ENASCAR COCA-COLA IRACING SERIES SCHEDULE
|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|