Graham A. Bowlin showed up on Tuesday night with an unrivaled determination to win.
Every road course week on the 2021 eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series calendar has begged to answer the question of whether Mitchell deJong or Bobby Zalenski would take the win. Bowlin aimed to change that status quo.
Bowlin’s scenario was to either win into the 2021 eNASCAR playoffs or miss out. There were already 11 different winners on the season with only 10 playoff spots available. Neither Zalenski or deJong would make it easy, but Bowlin’s hard work and determination resulted in his first career series victory in Upstate New York at Watkins Glen Int’l.
“It feels awesome, with all the hard work that goes into this, I’m sweating out here,” Bowlin said. “It was a really hard race. The pressure was on the whole race… The first lap was crazy. I didn’t expect it to be that low grip into Turn 1. I was just defensive driving after that the whole first lap.”
The first lap was key to the mission, but it was a full race effort for the Houston, TX native. On the final lap, deJong faked to the inside before moving to Bowlin’s left side out of the final corner. With his first win on the line, Bowlin didn’t leave anything to chance.
With a move that would make his team owner Tony Stewart proud, Bowlin used up deJong out of the final corner. As deJong wound up losing second to Zalenski in the aftermath, it was Bowlin who crossed the line for his first victory in the series in 33 career starts.
BOWLIN BATTLE FOR THE AGES
Bowlin was the fastest in final practice and the fastest in qualifying. The only thing Bowlin had to do was to keep everyone else behind him for 50 laps at Watkins Glen.
From the get go, Bowlin found himself under pressure. A slip in Turn 1 forced deJong out wide but allowed Zalenski to get alongside. Bowlin trusted his braking into the bus stop and cleared for the lead. Zalenski parked his nose on Bowlin’s rear bumper and kept the sophomore driver for Stewart-Haas Esports on his toes.
deJong opened the floodgates to the pit window. With no cautions, only one pit stop would be necessary to make it the full distance. Bowlin reacted and pitted a lap later. Zalenski waited it out another lap.
In the second half, the pressure was even stronger. Zalenski got alongside a few times, but Bowlin was able to keep it in front. As the laps wound down, deJong made his charge back up into the mix. Zalenski knew his only chance at that point would be Bowlin’s misfortune. With four laps to go, Zalenski moved out of deJong’s way to let him have a crack at it.
deJong put the most pressure on in those final laps. He was able to manage his tires better not having to race hard, and had way better corner speeds than Bowlin. Out of the bus stop on the final lap, deJong put the bumper to Bowlin once, twice, three times. Bowlin kept it pointed forward, this battle would come down to the final corner.
WIN AND YOU’RE STILL NOT IN
With 12 winners and only 10 playoff spots through 13 races in the 2021 season, some are out who thought they might be in. The possibility still exists for either Chris Shearburn or Ray Alfalla to make it into the 2021 playoffs, but they’ll both need a lot of other contributing factors to happen.
Both drivers sit outside the Top 20 with one race left in the 2021 regular season. Shearburn is only 10 points out of the Top 20, but he’ll also need to pass one of three other winners to make it in. Jimmy Mullis, Ryan Luza and Bob Bryant can all fall out if Shearburn gets a Top 4 finish and any of them wind up in the bottom five.
Alfalla, on the other hand, needs to win and hope for misfortune from Shearburn, Garrett Lowe, Blake Reynolds and Jake Nichols.
There are some drivers that can win and knock out another winner. Steven Wilson, Michael Guest, Corey Vincent, Casey Kirwan and Nick Ottinger all can win and lock in at Michigan. That would knock out Mullis, Luza, Bryant, Logan Clampitt or Vicente Salas depending on everyone else’s results.
Thankfully for five playoff drivers, the math works out where they have nothing to worry about at Michigan. Bowlin, deJong, Zalenski, Keegan Leahy and Michael Conti are all locks for the 2021 playoffs.
TWO WEEKS UNTIL THE PLAYOFFS ARE SET
The regular season finale will happen in two weeks at Michigan Int’l Speedway. The series frequents the Brooklyn, MI venue every season, never once not on the schedule. It will be the 13th race at the two mile facility as it was run twice in 2010.
Casey Kirwan is the most recent winner at the track. Kirwan held off Alex McCollum and Ray Alfalla on that day to score his second career victory in the series. Alfalla is the only multi-time winner in Michigan, collecting wins in 2013 and 2016. Michael Conti, Ryan Luza and Garrett Lowe all have one win each as well.
Tune in on 17th August to see who can get it done and make the 2021 eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series Playoffs. Logetech, the newest official partner of eNASCAR, will be sponsoring the event that’s now called the Logitech G Challenge 100. Steve Letarte and Evan Posocco will be on the call. Tune in for the Countdown to Green at 8:30 p.m. ET over at eNASCAR.com or on the iRacing social channels.
TOP 10 RESULTS AT WATKINS GLEN
- 10 Graham A. Bowlin – Stewart-Haas Esports 50 LAPS
- 83 Bobby Zalenski – LETARTE Esports +0.754 sec
- 23 Mitchell deJong – 23XI Racing +0.970 sec
- 17 Steven Wilson – Roush Fenway Gaming +3.528 sec
- 25 Nick Ottinger – William Byron Esports +7.134 sec
- 97 Logan Clampitt – William Byron Esports +11.821 sec
- 2 Garrett Manes – Elliott Sadler Esports +15.308 sec
- 55 Vicente Salas – Spacestation Gaming +18.485 sec
- 8 Michael Conti – JR Motorsports +18.730 sec
- 3 Corey Vincent – Team Dillon Esports +21.533 sec
PLAYOFF STANDINGS AFTER WATKINS GLEN
- 23 Mitchell deJong – 23XI Racing – 2 wins
- 10 Graham A. Bowlin – Stewart-Haas Esports – 1 win
- 32 Keegan Leahy – 23XI Racing – 1 win
- 83 Bobby Zalenski – LETARTE Esports – 1 win
- 8 Michael Conti – JR Motorsports – 1 win
- 55 Vicente Salas – Spacestation Gaming – 1 win
- 97 Logan Clampitt – William Byron Esports – 1 win
- 46 Jimmy Mullis – Richmond Raceway Esports – 1 win
- 77 Bob Bryant – Kligerman Sport – 1 win
- 4 Ryan Luza – XSET Gaming – 1 win
*36 Chris Shearburn – LETARTE Esports – 1 win, outside Top 20
*51 Ray Alfalla – Gibbs Gaming – 1 win, outside Top 20
TOP 10 TEAM STANDINGS AFTER WATKINS GLEN
- 23XI Racing (23, 32) – 629 points | 3 wins
- Stewart-Haas Esports (10, 41) – 566 points | 1 win
- William Byron Esports (25, 97) – 547 points | 1 win
- XSET Gaming (4, 38) – 533 points | 1 win
- LETARTE Esports (36, 83) – 524 points | 2 wins
- Kligerman Sport (44, 77) – 492 points | 1 win
- Richmond Raceway Esports (46, 90) – 489 points | 1 win
- JR Motorsports (8, 88) – 480 points | 1 win
- Team Dillon Esports (3, 33) – 480 points
- Roush Fenway Gaming (6, 17) – 474 points
LEAD CHANGES: FOUR among FOUR drivers
LAP LEADERS: Graham Bowlin (42), Ashton Crowder (5), Nick Ottinger (2), Bobby Zalenski (1)
BEST LAP: Bobby Zalenski – 1:10.401 secs
ZERO Cautions for ZERO Laps