Steven Wilson (Stewart-Haas Esports) made a statement on Tuesday night (5th July 2022) following Road America. With only three races remaining in the 2022 eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series Regular Season, Wilson is a winner once again after leading every lap in virtual Wisconsin.
Against the eNASCAR road racing specialists in the field, Wilson outlasted them all, winning the pole en route to leading every lap and scoring the victory. Just about the only thing he didn’t do was put down the fastest lap of the race.
With last year’s road king, Mitchell deJong (23XI Racing), breathing down his neck, as well as other road aces such as Bobby Zalenski (Joe Gibbs Racing), Graham A. Bowlin (Charlotte Phoenix), Casey Kirwan (XSET) and Vicente Salas (Williams Esports), Wilson ran an absolutely perfect race from green to checkered.
The leaders opted to all pit with seven laps to go in the 25 lap event. Even with deJong gaining nearly a second on the one-and-only pit stop of the night, Wilson brought it home for his second win of the season and of his career.
One of the top drivers on the entire season, Wilson made it known what his focus is in the final seven races of the season. “We’re winning a championship, that’s what we’re here for,” Wilson said confidently during the post-race winner’s chat.
Wilson moves solely into the lead of both the Driver’s Standings with a 16 point lead over Matt Bussa (Mode Motorsports) as well as into the top seeded position of the Playoff Grid, tied with Nick Ottinger (William Byron Esports) and Michael Conti (JR Motorsports) at two wins.
Wilson led the field to the green flag and was able to pull more than two seconds over the rest before the end of Turn 1. The reason was due to a side-by-side play between deJong and Bowlin for second place. Heading down the backstretch, deJong would claim the spot with Bowlin, Kirwan, Salas, Zalenski and Dylan Duval (Stewart-Haas Esports) all trying to figure it out.
Off of Turn 6, Duval became incapacitated as he and Salas made contact heading toward Turn 7. The spin wasn’t too bad, as he avoided major contact, only receiving some Canadian-on-Canadian contact from Keegan Leahy (23XI Racing).
As the field attempted to avoid the spinning, Dylan Ault (LETARTE Esports) and Bussa would end up around before the entrance to Turn 8. Meanwhile, Duval was attempting to get back going, but more contact, this time with Parker Retzlaff (RFK Racing), sent the No. 41 into the tires and out of the race early.
Leahy would continue to struggle following the contact with Duval. Four laps into it, he slid off the course at the aptly named Canada Corner and into the tires. That would lead to his early demise and a debilitating 39th place finish.
The most recent winner before Road America, 4-Time Ray Alfalla (Joe Gibbs Racing) wound up involved as well in the Duval spins. He never was able to recover, as in eNASCAR road races, caution flags are turned off. Alfalla managed to stay on the lead lap, but was the last to do so, finishing 35th.
Nickolas Shelton (Clint Bowyer Racing) also retired early, finishing 38th, while Derek Justis (iRacing Motorsports) was the only other driver to lose a lap, finishing 36th. Duval did return to the track, but limped home to a 37th.
NO-TIRE STRATEGY IN PLAY
This season, the Road America event shaved six laps off of the length of last season’s race. While that might not seem like too much, the venue is 4.048-miles in length, so essentially the field lost just shy of 25 miles from the race.
Whether that made any difference or not, the new NASCAR NEXT Gen definitely threw a wrench into the strategies throughout the field anyway. With a few extra gallons in the tank, plus a tire model that seemed to gain speed as it wore out, the winning move looked to be fuel-only throughout the top running drivers.
As there would be no cautions, an earlier pit call wouldn’t be possibly as advantageous since the yellow would never fly. Maybe for tires, but as it turned out, none of the Top 6 finishing drivers who all pulled more than ten seconds (and in some cases, more than 20 seconds) over the rest of the field opted for fresh virtual rubber during their pit call, which came with seven laps to go.
Fuel strategy would be about the only strategy call, whether to take a certain amount or whatever. Getting on and off pit road would also be key. A pit penalty would be almost even more of a penalty here, with no chance to bounce back with good fortune flags. Corey Vincent (Team Dillon Esports) was fighting for a seventh place finish, but sped leaving the pits and wound up finishing 30th.
Up front, as deJong chased Wilson, Zalenski was falling into the clutches of Kirwan and Bowlin. Zalenski fell back to finish in fifth, his worst career road course finish since he started racing in the series in 2017. Zalenski’s now gone since the Charlotte Roval race in 2020 without a road course win, four events ago.
On the final lap, Kirwan posted the fastest lap of the race on a set of unchanged tires. Up front, however, Wilson didn’t need to run the fastest lap, he just needed to run fast and smooth enough for the victory.
NO NEW WINNER, TWO SEATS STILL REMAIN
Wilson, Ottinger and Conti all have two wins on the season, while five other drivers all have one. Three more races remain until the 2022 Playoffs are set, so there still exists a timeline where a winner might not make the race for the championship.
Leaving Road America, the winner in the worst position has to be Alfalla, now 18th in the Driver’s Standings and only 11 points ahead of the cut line. Whether the field gets more than 10 drivers or not, if Alfalla isn’t in the Top 20 following Darlington, he won’t have a claim to a playoff spot anyway.
Garrett Lowe (Wood Brothers Racing) has a little more breathing room. Lowe is 36 points above the cut and 25 points ahead of Alfalla. If an eleventh winner were to come with new winners at Pocono, Watkins Glen and Darlington, Lowe would just need to be ahead of one of those winners, as well as in the Top 20.
But what if there aren’t any new winners for the rest of the regular season? At least two spots would be available for those high up in the points without a win. Kirwan leads that group, currently third in the Driver’s Standings and 35 points ahead of the next driver with no win.
That driver is the 2019 Series Champion Zack Novak (Rise Esports), who had an off night on Tuesday, finishing 23rd following three straight second place finishes. Novak is three points ahead of the next non-winner, Blake Reynolds (Jim Beaver Esports) who had a remarkable run, finishing eighth.
Either way you slice it, with three, two, one, or no new winners in the next three races, there are compelling stories on how the Playoff Grid could possibly be set this season.
NEXT UP: THAT TRIANGLE PLACE
Pocono Raceway is the next battleground for the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series. Last season, Bobby Zalenski was able to pull off his first win of the 2021 season, which eventually led to another Championship 4 appearance later that season.
19th July will be the 10th time in 13 seasons where the Tricky Triangle will be featured on the virtual schedule. Alongside Zalenski, Alfalla, Leahy, Conti, Jimmy Mullis (Rise Esports), Allen Boes (SpaceStation Racing) and Cody Byus (Mode Motorsports) are all past winners. There has never been a two-time winner.
Tune in at 8:30 p.m. ET on 19th July to see the Pocono action 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 #11 – ROAD AMERICA – TOP 10 RESULTS
|1||1||10||Steven Wilson||Stewart-Haas Esports||25 LAPS||25||40|
|2||2||23||Mitchell deJong||23XI Racing||+1.140 sec||0||35|
|3||6||95||Casey Kirwan||XSET||+5.568 sec||0||34|
|4||3||48||Graham A. Bowlin||Charlotte Phoenix||+5.589 sec||0||33|
|5||5||18||Bobby Zalenski||Joe Gibbs Racing||+7.982 sec||0||32|
|6||4||19||Vicente Salas||Williams Esports||+9.473 sec||0||31|
|7||14||31||Garrett Manes||Elliott Sadler Esports||+20.440 sec||0||30|
|8||10||15||Blake Reynolds||Jim Beaver Esports||+21.701 sec||0||29|
|9||17||8||Michael Conti||JR Motorsports||+22.171 sec||0||28|
|10||8||25||Nick Ottinger||William Byron Esports||+26.962 sec||0||27|
PLAYOFF STANDINGS AFTER RACE #11 – ROAD AMERICA
|1||10||Steven Wilson||Stewart-Haas Esports||2||312||5||7|
|2||25||Nick Ottinger||William Byron Esports||2||279||5||7|
|3||8||Michael Conti||JR Motorsports||2||246||4||5|
|4||75||Matt Bussa||Mode Motorsports||1||296||2||7|
|5||48||Graham A. Bowlin||Charlotte Phoenix||1||271||5||5|
|6||79||Femi Olatunbosun||Clint Bowyer Racing||1||245||3||4|
|7||21||Garrett Lowe||Wood Brothers Racing||1||221||1||4|
|8||51||Ray Alfalla||Joe Gibbs Racing||1||196||2||2|
|9||95||Casey Kirwan||XSET||0||284 (+38)||3||7|
|10||5||Zack Novak||Rise Esports||0||249 (+3)||4||5|
12th – #3 Corey Vincent (-5 points from Top 10)
TEAM STANDINGS AFTER RACE #11 – ROAD AMERICA
|1||10 | 41||Stewart-Haas Esports||487 (—)|
|2||9 | 15||Jim Beaver Esports||470 (-17)|
|3||4 | 95||XSET||462 (-25)|
|4||5 | 46||Rise eSports||456 (-31)|
|5||3 | 33||Team Dillon Esports||435 (-52)|
|6||24 | 75||Mode Motorsports||422 (-65)|
|7||18 | 51||Joe Gibbs Racing||421 (-66)|
|8||25 | 97||William Byron Esports||418 (-69)|
|9||43 | 48||Charlotte Phoenix||410 (-77)|
|10||8 | 88||JR Motorsports||404 (-83)|
RACE #11 – ROAD AMERICA – BOX SCORE:
- Zero cautions for zero laps
- Zero lead changes among one driver
- Most laps led: No. 10 Steven Wilson (25)
- Fastest lap: No. 95 Casey Kirwan (Lap 25, 2:06.794 secs)
- Rookie of the race: No. 20 Donovan Strauss (12th 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|