With a playoff berth on the line, Matt Bussa scored his second career eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series victory, winning at Michigan Int’l Speedway on Tuesday night in dramatic fashion.
On the final lap, Bussa went from fifth to first to score the upset and lock himself into the 2021 playoff field. As the 13th different winner in 14 races on the season, Bussa had to knock out Las Vegas Motor Speedway winner Ryan Luza to secure his playoff spot.
It’s been almost three years since Bussa scored his first career victory at Atlanta Motor Speedway. He also faced playoff elimination on that day in September 2018. Now a multi-time winner in the series, Bussa will compete against nine other drivers, eight of which will be vying for their first career championship as well.
THE LOGITECH G CHALLENGE 100 AT MICHIGAN
After a full regular season of unpredictable racing, 100 laps at Michigan would decide this year’s playoff field. 12 drivers had already visited victory late at this point, but only 10 could compete for the championship. Five of those drivers were locked in for certain, so the final five spots would come down to seven winners and ten drivers still with an outside shot within points range.
Logan Clampitt put his Logitech G Chevrolet on the pole position and led early on. With the race looking to be clean and green early on, differing strategies would come into play early on. Clampitt and a handful of others opted to pit at the one-third mark of the race. A two pit stop strategy meant fresh tires longer but at the cost of two trips down pit road.
Just before halfway and the eventual pit stops from the majority of the field, the caution flew after Garrett Manes rear-ended Caine Cook. The resulting incident completely changed the complexion of the race.
The incident included both Vicente Salas and Ryan Luza, two drivers who came into Michigan inside the playoffs but not safe from elimination. Luza was too wounded to continue. He could still make the playoffs as long as there was no new eligible winner at the end of the race.
After a few more yellows, the final restart saw Keegan Leahy leading with Bussa, Casey Kirwan and Zack Novak all looking at a potential playoff berth, Kirwan took a look with three laps to go, but he backed out of it to prevent an incident with Leahy. The slow-up allowed Jake Matheson to get into second. Matheson couldn’t make the playoffs no matter what, but a win at this level is still a huge accomplishment.
Matheson got his fender alongside Leahy on the backstretch of the last lap. The two made contact and that sent Leahy spinning. Bussa saw the opportunity and made his move into Turn 3. Matheson squeezed him low but couldn’t hold it, allowing Bussa to pull away and score the win.
Bussa only needed to win and score 18 more points than Luza to make the playoffs. With Luza’s last place finish, Bussa outscored him by 39 points, more than enough to move into a playoff position.
THE PLAYOFF FIELD
Mitchell deJong, the only two-time winner on the season, will have the advantage entering the playoffs as the top seed. Watkins Glen winner Graham A. Bowlin scored the most points in the regular season and enters the playoffs as the second seed. Keegan Leahy, Michael Conti and Bobby Zalenski were all locked in entering Michigan as well.
Logan Clampitt moves up to take the sixth seed with his 18th place finish. Jimmy Mullis takes the seventh seed after a seventh place finish. Vicente Salas was caught up in the same wreck that took out Luza, but he had enough points to be the eighth seed. Bussa’s win springs him into the ninth seed over Bob Bryant, the tenth and final seed.
Only Conti has won a series championship in this field of playoff drivers. Both Conti and Bussa are the veterans of the field, having been in the series for the most seasons. On the opposite end, both deJong and Salas enter the playoffs as rookies, although deJong is no stranger to iRacing World Championships.
Only four drivers will compete for a title. A win in the next three races at Darlington, Bristol or Talladega will advance that driver to the Championship 4 race at Texas. At least one driver will get in via points, but as it’s been all season long, a win will be most important in order to become the 2021 eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series champion.
THE RELEGATION LINE
For everyone else in the field, their focus over the next four races is to stay above the 20th place cutoff line. Even the three winners outside the playoffs, their wins don’t guarantee their spot on the 2022 roster. Luza still sits on the positive side of the relegation line, currently 19th. Ray Alfalla and Chris Shearburn are currently straddling the line on the wrong side, currently 22nd and 23rd, respectively.
Nobody who was in the Top 20 entering Michigan fell out at the conclusion of the event. Jake Nichols, with his third place finish, is only 13 points behind Manes for 20th. Manes, along with Luza and Garrett Lowe, are in the danger zone as far as points are concerned.
Nichols poses the biggest threat to kicking one of them out by season’s end. However, guys like Alfalla, Shearburn, Blake Reynolds and Taylor Hurst are all within a race. Any of those five could swing above the cutoff line at the conclusion of Darlington.
NEXT RACE: DARLINGTON
It’s not a throwback event, but the next race up on the schedule to open the Round of 10 is Darlington Raceway. The historic oval has been on the schedule every single year that this series has existed. Ray Alfalla is the only multi-time winner at the track, a three-time winner in 2012, 2014 and 2017. Nick Ottinger, Michael Conti, Ashton Crowder and Keegan Leahy also have Darlington victories.
The action kicks off at 8:30 p.m. ET / 1:30 a.m. BST with the iRacing Countdown to Green. Racing will commence around 9:00 p.m. ET / 2:00 a.m. BST over at eNASCAR.com or on the iRacing social channels.
TOP 10 RESULTS AT MICHIGAN
- 75 Matt Bussa – MODE Motorsports – 100 LAPS
- 52 Jake Matheson – Williams Esports +0.173 sec
- 24 Jake Nichols – MODE Motorsports +0.232 sec
- 8 Michael Conti – JR Motorsports +0.246 sec
- 90 Zack Novak – Richmond Raceway Esports +0.269 sec
- 38 Casey Kirwan – XSET Gaming +0.312 sec
- 46 Jimmy Mullis – Richmond Raceway Esports +0.342 sec
- 51 Ray Alfalla – Gibbs Gaming +0.360 sec
- 21 Garrett Lowe – Wood Brothers Gaming +0.464 sec
- 44 Anthony Burroughs – Kligerman Sport +0.610 sec
PLAYOFF STANDINGS AFTER MICHIGAN
- 23 Mitchell deJong – 23XI Racing – 2 wins
- 10 Graham A. Bowlin – Stewart-Haas Esports – 1 win
- 32 Keegan Leahy – 23XI Racing – 1 win
- 8 Michael Conti – JR Motorsports – 1 win
- 83 Bobby Zalenski – LETARTE Esports – 1 win
- 97 Logan Clampitt – William Byron Esports – 1 win
- 46 Jimmy Mullis – Richmond Raceway Esports – 1 win
- 55 Vicente Salas – Spacestation Gaming – 1 win
- 75 Matt Bussa – MODE Motorsports – 1 win
- 77 Bob Bryant – Kligerman Sport – 1 win
TOP 10 TEAM STANDINGS AFTER MICHIGAN
- 23XI Racing (23, 32) – 659 points | 3 wins
- Stewart-Haas Esports (10, 41) – 589 points | 1 win
- William Byron Esports (25, 97) – 568 points | 1 win
- XSET Gaming (4, 38) – 565 points | 1 win
- Richmond Raceway Esports (46, 90) – 551 points | 1 win
- LETARTE Esports (36, 83) – 543 points | 2 wins
- Kligerman Sport (44, 77) – 536 points | 1 win
- JR Motorsports (8, 88) – 521 points | 1 win
- MODE Motorsports (24, 75) – 515 points | 1 win
- Roush Fenway Gaming (6, 17) – 504 points
LEAD CHANGES: 15 among 10 drivers
LAP LEADERS: Logan Clampitt (32), Matt Bussa (19), Ray Alfalla (16), Keegan Leahy (11), Michael Conti (9), Dylan Duval (5), Casey Kirwan (4), Jake Nichols (2), Jake Matheson (1), Taylor Hurst (1)
BEST LAP: Michael Conti – 38.145 secs
FIVE Cautions for 15 Laps