Keegan Leahy showed up to Bristol Motor Speedway on Tuesday night with one goal in mind. Down at the bottom of the standings after a disastrous ending at Darlington, Leahy knew that a Bristol win would be his best shot at racing for the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series title this year.
He was the fastest in final practice and qualifying. He ran the fastest lap of the race. Most importantly, Leahy led every single lap to claim the victory and punch his ticket to the Championship 4.
Leahy needed to be perfect on Tuesday night and he did just that. In the final stages, he held off a late charge from both Logan Clampitt and Ryan Luza for his second win of the season. It’s the tenth win of his career, tying him fifth all-time with Bobby Zalenski and 2015 Series Champion Kenny Humpe.
IT’S BRISTOL, BABY!
The Last Great Colosseum lived up to its moniker once again in 2021. The virtual venue has the habit of chewing up drivers and spitting them out. Only on a schedule for the fifth time in series history, Bristol is one of those places that is small enough to be chaotic at all places, at all times.
Leahy started on the pole and led his 23XI Racing teammate Mitchell deJong around the facility for the majority of the first half. The duo came across lapped traffic around lap 60 when they caught the back end of the field. The high line was the preferred groove among the field. The cars about to be lapped didn’t want to give it up so easily.
The first caution came when playoff contender Bob Bryant was sent spinning by the bumper of Blade Whitt. Another playoff contender, Jimmy Mullis, caught a lucky break and got his lap back. The pair of playoff drivers were not having their best runs at this point, running 32nd and 33rd for a good portion of the second stint.
On that second run, Leahy admittedly backed up the field as to not run into as much lapped traffic. That was, of course, after he maintained the lead from a surging Clampitt who was able to get around deJong for the runner-up spot.
Luza started catching up and found himself within striking distance with about 25 to go, but he said after the race that he used up everything he had to pass deJong for third. With just over 15 laps remaining, Ashton Crowder was tapped by Dylan Duval and sent spinning. The field pitted for the final time and the race would resume with just over 10 to go.
CALAMITY STRIKES FORMER CHAMPION
The final caution flew almost immediately after the last before that. Steven Wilson slid off the corner up into Zalenski and the back across the track. Michael Conti attempted to miss the carnage by going low, but the errant Wilson bounced across the No. 8’s nose and hard into the inside pit wall.
As Conti pinballed back up into traffic, a pair of McLaren Shadow drivers had nowhere to go and were collected. Others also received some damage, such as two other playoff contenders Vicente Salas and Graham A. Bowlin. The resulting damage to Conti was enough to earn a meatball flag, ending his chances early.
Sitting 37 points below the cut line unofficially, Conti will need to win at Talladega to make the Championship 4 again in 2021. He is the only driver without a points path to the title race with one race to go in the Round of 10.
HOW ABOUT THEM POINTS?
With Leahy able to hold off Clampitt on the final restart, the point situation is a bit convoluted hading into Talladega.
Leaving Bristol, two of the four championship spots are spoken for. With both Leahy and Zalenski locked in, another driver could join them in the win column. If not, both of the other drivers will make the title fight based on their point position. If a playoff driver not named Leahy or Zalenski does win, then only one point position will be on the line.
The top driver in points is deJong. deJong unofficially holds a 15 point advantage over fifth place, but only seven points over fourth should there be a new winner. He can clinch his place into the Championship 4 no matter what with a eighth place finish or better at Talladega.
That’s the only driver with such a luxury. Everyone else will have to decide their own fate.
Clampitt sits as the final spot above the cut line. If there’s no playoff winner below him, he can clinch with a ninth place finish or better. If there is, he will need to outpoint deJong by eight points and hold off the others behind.
The others behind include Matt Bussa, Bowlin, Salas, Mullis, Bryant and Conti. With the final playoff race set at Talladega, anything can happen, and probably will.
TALLADEGA NIGHTS IS NEXT
The other half of the Championship 4 will be decided in two weeks at Talladega Superspeedway. Last season, the 2.66-mile oval decided the Regular Season standings, but this year it will decide the final four. Talk about a wildcard race!
TOP 10 RESULTS AT BRISTOL
- 32 Keegan Leahy – 23XI Racing – 250 LAPS
- 97 Logan Clampitt – William Byron Esports +0.283 sec
- 4 Ryan Luza – XSET Gaming +0.549 sec
- 23 Mitchell deJong – 23XI Racing +0.772 sec
- 51 Ray Alfalla – Gibbs Gaming +0.982 sec
- 38 Casey Kirwan – XSET Gaming +1.228 sec
- 83 Bobby Zalenski – LETARTE Esports +1.348 sec
- 10 Graham A. Bowlin – Stewart-Haas Esports +1.441 sec
- 25 Nick Ottinger – William Byron Esports +1.611 sec
- 66 Blake Reynolds – McLaren Shadow +1.643 sec
PLAYOFF STANDINGS AFTER BRISTOL
- 83 Bobby Zalenski – LETARTE Esports – LOCKED, 1 win
- 32 Keegan Leahy – 23XI Racing – LOCKED, 1 win
- 23 Mitchell deJong – 23XI Racing +15 points
- 97 Logan Clampitt – William Byron Esports +8 points
- 75 Matt Bussa – MODE Motorsports -8 points
- 10 Graham A. Bowlin – Stewart-Haas Esports -11 points
- 55 Vicente Salas – Spacestation Gaming -15 points
- 46 Jimmy Mullis – Richmond Raceway Esports -20 points
- 77 Bob Bryant – Kligerman Sport -24 points
- 8 Michael Conti – JR Motorsports -37 points
LEAD CHANGES: 0 among 1 driver
LAP LEADERS: Keegan Leahy (1-250)
BEST LAP: Keegan Leahy – 14.492 secs
THREE Cautions for 14 Laps