Coming into Tuesday evening, the looming question was whether Bobby Zalenski could continue his eNASCAR road racing dominance at Circuit of the Americas or if one of the best road racers on the entire iRacing service, yet a rookie in the top oval racing series, could dethrone him finally.
It would be the latter, and that driver was none other than Mitchell deJong.
In qualifying, deJong took the pole position handedly over Zalenski. Going into Turn 1 on the first lap of the race, that proved to be the difference between both of their nights. As deJong executed the corner with having the good position, Zalenski had to cut his corner differently. Unfortunately, 2020 Series Champion Nick Ottinger locked up his front tires in the row behind and slid right into the side of Zalenski’s No. 83.
As the field from second place on back sorted it out, and with no cautions being thrown by race control for the duration of the night, deJong escaped into a comfortable lead early and never looked back. After 34 laps of green flag racing, all led by the 23XI Racing driver, deJong took the virtual victory, the first of his eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series career.
“I can’t believe it,” deJong said while celebrating during his cool down lap. “Obviously it was a little bit messy at the beginning, and it was quite stressful. I’ll tell you what, it helps having a comparison like Bobby (Zalenski) and the guys that work behind the scenes on this. It’s such a huge help, going into the race and knowing that you’re going to be fighting with your teammates for the pole.”
PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE!
The eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series is the top series for oval drivers, but in accordance with the real NASCAR schedule, some road courses have snuck on to the schedule ever since 2014. COTA proved to be a handful for many throughout the night, but the winner attributed his gains to relentless practice.
“It was a really tough couple of weeks of practice, but man, I can’t believe it,” deJong said. “Obviously, it’s so stressful, it’s such a competitive series, especially with how dominant Bobby has been. Really unlucky for him today, I think we would have had a great battle. It feels so good.”
It’s no surprise that deJong, Zalenski, and their other backend teammates at VRS Coanda Simsport have all been hard at work for this race. Nobody could ever be certain how any of these races might play out, but one thing that’s for sure is that when it comes to road racing, practice definitely helps a ton.
There were a handful of other great runs on the night from some of the drivers from the backend team Deadzone Racing. Graham A. Bowlin led the efforts there with a third place finish, Steven Wilson rounded out the Top 5, Casey Kirwan rebounded to finish seventh, and Blake Reynolds avoided the early calamity and finished eighth.
EIGHT FOR EIGHT
After COTA, there are now eight different winners in as many races. The eNASCAR Playoffs will only host 10 drivers, so it will be interesting to see if anyone can guarantee their place in the playoffs with a second win or if the number of winners will continue to grow past that threshold.
Before his dominating performance, deJong wasn’t having the greatest of seasons in his rookie campaign. He was involved in a massive wreck two weeks ago at Kansas Speedway and expired a virtual engine early at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The phenom has shown speed all season though with earning three poles in the eight races, but the finishes haven’t been there until Tuesday night.
“We’ve had quite a difficult season so far,” deJong said. “We’ve had some positive showings of potential, and we’ve also had some big failures, so it feels good. Hopefully this is the momentum we need to get back on track. Obviously, it would be fantastic to get a win on an oval, and that’s what we’re going to try. We’ve got to get out heads in the game and get ready to go for the end of the season. We’ve got a lot of season to get in the Top 20.”
With the win, deJong joins Michael Conti, Logan Clampitt, Ryan Luza, Vicente Salas, Bob Bryant, Chris Shearburn, and his 23XI Racing teammate Keegan Leahy as the winners on the year. deJong is the lowest in points of the eight, but he does reside above the Top 20 which is the current requirement to be eligible to make the playoffs.
If the playoffs were to start today, Michael Guest and Corey Vincent would be the only two non-winners that would make the postseason. Good thing the series increased their playoff pool from eight to ten over the offseason.
NORMALCY AT CHARLOTTE NEXT WEEK
It’s a short break in between COTA and the next race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The ninth race of the season will be in less than one week, on 25th May, and will be the fifth 1.5-mile race so far on the schedule.
Kollin Keister won there last year in the Roush Fenway Gaming No. 17, now driven by Steven Wilson. Wilson has shown promise all year, so could he be the next new winner in the series?
The Countdown to Green will air at 8:30 p.m. ET with the race broadcast kicking off at 9:00 p.m. ET over at eNASCAR.com/live.
CIRCUIT OF THE AMERICAS – TOP 10 RESULTS
- 23 Mitchell deJong* – 23XI Racing – 34 LAPS
- 46 Jimmy Mullis – Richmond Raceway Esports +17.710 sec
- 10 Graham A. Bowlin – Stewart-Haas Esports +23.242 sec
- 83 Bobby Zalenski – LETARTE Esports +27.131 sec
- 17 Steven Wilson* – Roush Fenway Gaming +29.347 sec
- 3 Corey Vincent – Team Dillon Esports +33.104 sec
- 38 Casey Kirwan – XSET Gaming +37.701 sec
- 66 Blake Reynolds – McLaren Shadow +40.000 sec
- 2 Garrett Manes* – Elliott Sadler Esports +44.640 sec
- 33 Taylor Hurst – Team Dillon Esports +46.572 sec
PLAYOFF STANDINGS AFTER CIRCUIT OF THE AMERICAS
- 32 Keegan Leahy – 23XI Racing – 1 win
- 97 Logan Clampitt – William Byron Esports – 1 win
- 8 Michael Conti – JR Motorsports – 1 win
- 36 Chris Shearburn – LETARTE Esports – 1 win
- 4 Ryan Luza – XSET Gaming – 1 win
- 77 Bob Bryant – Kligerman Sport – 1 win
- 55 Vicente Salas* – Spacestation Gaming – 1 win
- 23 Mitchell deJong* – 23XI Racing – 1 win
- 9 Michael Guest – Jim Beaver Esports – 190 points
- 3 Corey Vincent – Team Dillon Esports – 182 points
TEAM STANDINGS – TOP 10 AFTER KANSAS SPEEDWAY
- 23XI Racing (23, 32) – 388 points
- William Byron Esports (25, 97) – 371 points
- LETARTE Esports (36, 83) – 363 points
- Kligerman Sport (44, 77) – 335 points
- XSET Gaming (4, 38) – 324 points
- MODE Motorsports (24, 75) – 317 points
- Team Dillon Esports (3, 33) – 315 points
- Roush Fenway Gaming (6, 17) – 304 points
- JR Motorsports (8, 88) – 301 points
- Stewart-Haas Esports (10, 41) – 294 points
*Denotes Rookie of the Year Contender