The first real test of iRacing’s edition of the NASCAR NEXT Gen cars took place on Tuesday night (1st March 2022) in Round 2 of the 2022 eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series season. After 100 laps around Las Vegas Motor Speedway, JR Motorsports’ Michael Conti collected the victory, his first of the year and the 12th of his career.
In the closing laps, the 2014 Champion Conti was able to pull out to over a three-quarters of a second lead over Nick Ottinger (William Byron eSports) en route to his first victory at the 1.5-mile D-shaped oval. Conti led twice, leading 75 of the 100 laps and scoring the win with ease. Ottinger finished second and Charlotte Phoenix’s Graham A. Bowlin rounded out the podium.
“I’m beyond ecstatic,” Conti said post-race. “The amount of preparation that went into this car was like nothing I’ve done in a very long time. I’m just thankful that I had the guys around me to help me get here and to have this kind of performance.”
Only days after moving into his new abode, Conti christened the corridors with his first win since the season opening race in 2021 at Daytona. In the post-race media scrum, Conti alluded that the car fits his driving style more and that he feels more confident than he has in the past couple of seasons.
Conti joins Femi Olatunbosun as the second winner on the year. As long as both stay within the Top 20 in the standings and there are less than 10 winners, both should be locked into the playoffs. Olatunboson followed up his Daytona win with a 10th place finish at Las Vegas.
TEAM CONTI ON TOP
For the second week in a row, Ottinger took the pole time and led the field to the green flag. Ottinger looked strong early, but his teammate Conti was nipping on his tail for the majority of the opening stint, trying to ward off contenders like Ryan Luza behind.
At lap 20, the lead shifted over to Conti and for the most part, he never looked back. Luza was able to follow through into the runner up spot for a time, but Conti never relented while the field stayed green flag racing.
Only once was Conti challenged, and it came during the only round of pit stops around halfway. Conti lost the lead to Darik Bourdeau (eRacr) but quickly took it back a few laps into the restart. “Going into pit stops, I don’t expect to keep my spot,” Conti said to Traxion.GG post-race in media availability. “When (Bourdeau) got by, I was like, ‘well, I’m just going to go pass him again’ and there was really no doubt, no hesitation.” That’s how confident Conti was in his piece on Tuesday night.
The other Team Conti drivers stayed in the conversation throughout the first part of the race. Ottinger dipped back as low as sixth, but was able to work his way back forward. His William Byron eSports teammate Logan Clampitt was in the top half of the field for the first three quarters of the race, but then disaster struck and ended his night early.
NEXT GEN UNPREDICTABILITY
There were a lot of hopefuls who had their chances cut short through the night. The NEXT Gen package, true to real life, proved to have a streak of unpredictability throughout the night. The first major victim was Williams Esports’ Donovan Strauss.
On lap 14, Strauss brought out the second caution of the event when he drifted up into the quarter panel of LETARTE Esports’ Dylan Ault and subsequently spun towards the infield. His speed and trajectory brought him back into the field and the impact with Taylor Hurst and Brian Mercurio sent the hotshoe rookie tumbling through the air. It didn’t stop there.
Garrett Lowe (Wood Brothers Racing), Derek Justis (iRacing Motorsports), both of the 23XI Racing drivers Mitchell deJong AND the defending champion Keegan Leahy, all found themselves losing the car underneath them, resulting in heavy hits with walls and other competitors.
Even still, there hadn’t been a big one… well, until there was. At lap 77, the bubble burst towards the front of the field.
As Bowlin and Bourdeau stacked up the field behind them, Clampitt went low to the apron to avoid. Meanwhile, Stewart-Haas eSports’ Steven Wilson was trying to not get run over by the cars behind him. As Clampitt moved back onto the racing surface, the two made contact and the melee was on. Wilson, Clampitt, Bourdeau, Vicente Salas (Williams Esports) and more were all heavily damaged.
The only teams that looked to have a handle were the ones out front, those Team Conti drivers who led 94 of the 100 laps in the race.
STANDOUT TEAMS IN WEEK 2
JR Motorsports collected their first win of the season by virtue of Conti. The result, combined with a 16th place recovery from Briar LaPradd, moved the team up into third overall in the team standings. The former top team, Stewart-Haas eSports, struggled with damage throughout the event as Wilson limped to 22nd. Dylan Duval got damage early and finished 18th. They’ve now fallen to second overall.
The new top team comes in the form of XSET, as Luza and Casey Kirwan brought the Red, White, and Black colors home to dual Top 5 finishes. Luza, a four-time winner at the Las Vegas venue, was the defending winner of the race with Kirwan coming home second last season. The two were strong again and their efforts land them at the top of the pile exiting.
Other teams in the conversation so far include Elliott Sadler Esports as Garrett Manes backed up his runner-up effort at Daytona with a seventh on Tuesday. Also in the mix is Jim Beaver Esports. Blake Reynolds sits fourth in the standings after an 11th place effort, but his teammate Michael Guest also managed an eighth place run.
Clint Bowyer Racing, Charlotte Phoenix and Joe Gibbs Racing are all within earshot of the lead as the series moves on to its third race in two weeks.
NEXT UP: ATLANTA (?)
The next track on the schedule is Atlanta Motor Speedway, but the question is, will it be the new version or the old? As it stands at time of publication, there has been no announcement regarding any release of the new configuration of Atlanta on the iRacing service. It is Week 12 currently and a new build (and new content) are expected next week. I guess we’ll have to stay tuned and keep it pinned.
Whichever version they go to, Atlanta has a storied history in the Coca-Cola series. 2022 will be the 10th race at the venue and three of the drivers in the field will be looking to double up on Atlanta victories. Matt Bussa (Mode Motorsports), Ray Alfalla (Joe Gibbs Racing) and Clampitt have all won in the last three visits. Will they be able to score another one at the new or old track, or can someone else steal one away?
Tune in at 8:30 p.m. ET on 15th March to see it all unfold. Things will kick off with the Countdown to Green for a half-hour before the main cast starts at 9:00 p.m. ET. The broadcast will be available at eNASCAR.com/live or on the iRacing Social Channels.
RACE #2 – LAS VEGAS TOP 10 RESULTS
|1||2||8||Michael Conti||JR Motorsports||100 LAPS||75||40|
|2||1||25||Nick Ottinger||William Byron eSports||+0.774 sec||19||35|
|3||17||48||Graham A. Bowlin||Charlotte Phoenix||+0.950 sec||0||34|
|4||6||4||Ryan Luza||XSET||+0.956 sec||0||33|
|5||20||95||Casey Kirwan||XSET||+0.961 sec||0||32|
|6||25||3||Corey Vincent||Team Dillon Esports||+1.034 sec||0||31|
|7||14||31||Garrett Manes||Elliott Sadler Esports||+1.208 sec||0||30|
|8||21||9||Michael Guest||Jim Beaver eSports||+1.253 sec||0||29|
|9||33||69||Collin Bowden||eRacr||+1.892 sec||0||28|
|10||27||79||Femi Olatunbosun||Clint Bowyer Racing||+3.457 sec||0||27|
POINTS AFTER RACE #2 – LAS VEGAS
|1||8||Michael Conti||JR Motorsports||1 WIN|
|2||79||Femi Olatunbosun||Clint Bowyer Racing||1 WIN|
|3||31||Garrett Manes||Elliott Sadler Esports||65 pts|
|4||15||Blake Reynolds||Jim Beaver eSports||57 pts|
|5||46||Jimmy Mullis||Rise eSports||56 pts|
|6||95||Casey Kirwan||XSET||55 pts|
|7||4||Ryan Luza||XSET||52 pts|
|8||10||Steven Wilson||Stewart-Haas eSports||49 pts|
|8||18||Bobby Zalenski||Joe Gibbs Racing||49 pts|
|8||41||Dylan Duval||Stewart-Haas eSports||49 pts|
TEAM STANDINGS AFTER RACE #2 – LAS VEGAS
|1||4 | 95||XSET||91 points|
|2||10 | 41||Stewart-Haas eSports||82 points|
|3||8 | 88||JR Motorsports||79 points|
|3||2 | 31||Elliott Sadler Esports||79 points|
|5||9 | 15||Jim Beaver eSports||77 points|
|6||14 | 79||Clint Bowyer Racing||73 points|
|6||43 | 48||Charlotte Phoenix||73 points|
|8||18 | 51||Joe Gibbs Racing||72 points|
|9||23 | 45||23XI Racing||62 points|
|10||16 | 21||Wood Brothers Racing||53 points|
LAS VEGAS BOX SCORE:
- Seven cautions for 27 laps
- Three lead changes among three drivers
Nick Ottinger (0-19), Michael Conti (20-46), Darik Bourdeau (47-52), Conti (53-100)
- Most laps led: No. 8 Michael Conti (75)
- Fastest lap: No. 4 Ryan Luza (Lap 85, 29.610 secs)
- Rookie of the race: No. 69 Collin Bowden (9th place)
2022 ENASCAR COCA-COLA IRACING SERIES SCHEDULE
|15-Mar-22||3||Atlanta Motor Speedway||100|
|12-Apr-22||5||Bristol Motor Speedway DIRT||25/120|
|26-Apr-22||6||Dover Motor Speedway||120|
|24-May-22||8||Charlotte Motor Speedway||100|
|31-May-22||9||World Wide Technology Raceway||120|
|16-Aug-22||13||Watkins Glen Int’l||35|
|13-Sep-22||PO1 | 15||Bristol Motor Speedway||175|
|27-Sep-22||PO2 | 16||Talladega Superspeedway||70|
|11-Oct-22||PO3 | 17||Homestead-Miami Speedway||100|
|25-Oct-22||C4F | 18||Phoenix Raceway||110|