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Esports

eNCCiS: 10 different winners in ’21 after Zalenski wins at Pocono

The eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series picked up exactly where it left off four weeks ago. At the conclusion of Charlotte’s race, there were nine different winners in nine races. Now after 10 races in the 2021 season, the most recent one coming at Pocono Raceway, there are now 10 different winners to factor into the playoff grid after Bobby Zalenski added his name to the winner’s list on Tuesday night.

Following three unsuccessful attempts at eNASCAR Overtime, Zalenski held on to the lead before the race-ending caution over the two most recent winners before him, Charlotte Motor Speedway winner Ray Alfalla and Circuit of the Americas winner Mitchell deJong.

“This is fantastic,” Zalenski said as he crossed the line to collect the win. Zalenski said he was glad to have a friend in deJong behind him this week, but in the same breath, he told Tim Terry to expect a battle next week at Road America as both drivers try to become the first multi-time winner in 2021. Dominating and leading every lap is no longer a guarantee for any one driver on these road courses.

Now a nine-time career winner in the series, Zalenski’s Pocono victory puts himself in prime position to make the 2021 eNASCAR Playoffs, but a single win is no longer a playoff guarantee at this point. A second win could make it a guarantee. Only 10 spots are available in the playoff field, and with 10 different winners already, should all 10 find themselves in the Top 20 in points and another driver were to win, one winner would be excluded from competing for a title.

IT WAS CLEAN AND GREEN…

William Byron Esports driver Nick Ottinger took the pole position for the night over JR Motorsports drivers Brad Davies and Michael Conti. Zalenski started in fourth, and early on, the quartet of Camaros led the field until pit strategies started getting weird.

Ray Alfalla and Jake Nichols kicked off the pit party by coming down for service at lap 15. Many drivers waited a few laps later, until lap 20 for their service. Even more drivers held on to Lap 30, and a small group of guys tried to stretch it as long as they could.

With seemingly four different strategies in play, a few of them converged around midway, setting up for an interesting show of teamwork between drivers to move forward or take the lead.

The drivers that stayed out, Brian Schoenburg, Zack Nichols and Matt Bussa, were all dependent on a caution flying at the precise moment to keep them on top. Bussa had the toughest go, losing the pack early and having to save fuel while racing alone. Schoenburg and Nichols, however, got that caution and found themselves in the thick of it late in the going.

…UNTIL IT WASN’T

The first caution flew fairly late in the going after Ashton Crowder got into Keegan Leahy fighting in the Top 10. Leahy’s car was destroyed, but Crowder was able to continue on for a decent finish. The pack was already running close, but now with a restart packing things up even more, calamity was bound to ensue.

Zalenski was able to take the lead during the caution over Schoenburg, and with the piece he had under him, the goal was to survive as many restarts as possible.

Mid-pack cautions continued to fall, one after another, until eNASCAR Overtime came into play. At that point, Zalenski continued to lead as Alfalla and deJong moved their way into position.

On the third and final eNASCAR Overtime restart, a pack of cars flung it into Turn 1 and wrecked hard. Race control had no choice but to throw the caution, and at that moment, Zalenski had the lead over Alfalla and deJong.

PLAYOFF BUBBLES BURSTING

The fight for the playoffs hit a milestone that not many expected at the start of the season. With 10 different winners now, should all 10 finish inside the Top 20 in the points and no new winners crop up, all 10 will make the playoffs and no one else without will. An interesting dynamic that’s always been thought of in the real world but has never come close, in the first season with this format, the virtual racers were able to completely break the status quo.

With Alfalla currently out of the picture until he can make his way inside the Top 20, rookie contender Steven Wilson is currently in playoff contention by three points over Michael Guest.

What happens if an 11th different winner already inside the Top 20 in points, someone like a Guest or Wilson, crops up after Road America next week. On top of that, what if Alfalla is able to make his way inside the Top 20 to place 11 winners in playoff contention? With only 10 spots available in the playoff field, the lowest driver in the standings would be missing out at that moment. The only ways to ensure a spot at this point are by winning a second race or leading the points standings.

Road America is a new track to the schedule, just like Circuit of the Americas was. It’s plausible that either Mitchell deJong or Bobby Zalenski become the first multi-time winners on the season, given their road course track records, but there’s a defending champion who hasn’t won yet this season that has won at a road course before, that being Nick Ottinger. Another new winner could completely rock the proverbial boat.

NEXT WEEK AT ROAD AMERICA

The series was able to take four weeks straight off, but now drivers only get seven days until their next bout, Race #11 at Road America. As mentioned above, it’s a new track for the series, so there’s not much to go by historically by the track itself. In the COTA preview, I mentioned that only a few have won at courses that make left and right turns. Ottinger, Conti, Zalenski and deJong will be the only four competing that have road wins under their belts.

It’s likely that the streak of new winners will end next week, but then again, with the season had so far, anything could happen. Not many expected Zalenski to lose at COTA, but those same fans also didn’t expect a Zalenski win on Tuesday night at Pocono. Who knows, it could be possible that the newest driver in the series, Anthony Burroughs, who took over the No. 44 Kligerman Sport Chevrolet from an ailing Isaac Gann, might be the best eNASCAR road racer out there.

I guess you’ll all have to tune in to find out. The festivities will go off on 29th June at 8:30 p.m. ET for the eNASCAR Countdown to Green. Watch the action live at eNASCAR.com or on the iRacing social channels.

TOP 10 RESULTS AT POCONO RACEWAY

  1. 83 Bobby Zalenski – LETARTE Esports 100 LAPS
  2. 51 Ray Alfalla – Gibbs Gaming +0.139 sec
  3. 23 Mitchell deJong – 23XI Racing +0.860 sec
  4. 1 Ashton Crowder – Elliott Sadler Esports +1.083 sec
  5. 77 Bob Bryant – Kligerman Sport +1.388 sec
  6. 55 Vicente Salas – Spacestation Gaming +2.166 sec
  7. 17 Steven Wilson – Roush Fenway Gaming +3.136 sec
  8. 29 Zack Nichols – Williams Esports +4.944 sec
  9. 21 Garrett Lowe – Wood Brothers Gaming +7.453 sec
  10. 47 Brian Schoenburg – JTG Daugherty Racing +8.115 sec

PLAYOFF STANDINGS AFTER POCONO RACEWAY

  1. 32 Keegan Leahy – 23XI Racing – 1 win  
  2. 83 Bobby Zalenski – LETARTE Esports – 1 win
  3. 97 Logan Clampitt – William Byron Esports – 1 win  
  4. 55 Vicente Salas – Spacestation Gaming – 1 win  
  5. 4 Ryan Luza – XSET Gaming – 1 win 
  6. 77 Bob Bryant – Kligerman Sport – 1 win  
  7. 8 Michael Conti – JR Motorsports – 1 win 
  8. 23 Mitchell deJong – 23XI Racing – 1 win   
  9. 36 Chris Shearburn – LETARTE Esports – 1 win   
  10. 17 Steven Wilson – Roush Fenway Gaming – 233 points 
    *51 Ray Alfalla – Gibbs Gaming – 1 win but outside Top 20

TOP 10 TEAMS AFTER POCONO RACEWAY  

  1. 23XI Racing (23, 32) – 469 points  | 2 wins
  2. XSET Gaming (4, 38) – 420 points  | 1 win
  3. LETARTE Esports (36, 83) – 412 points | 2 wins
  4. William Byron Esports (25, 97) – 409 points | 1 win
  5. Stewart-Haas Esports (10, 41) – 398 points
  6. Roush Fenway Gaming (6, 17) – 391 points  
  7. Kligerman Sport (44, 77) – 391 points  | 1 win
  8. Jim Beaver Esports (9, 15) – 359 points   
  9. Team Dillon Esports (3, 33) – 350 points   
  10. MODE Motorsports (24, 75) – 345 points 
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