2020 Series Champion Nick Ottinger collected the win at Talladega Superspeedway on Tuesday in the penultimate round of the 2021 eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series season. It was Ottinger’s first victory of the season and the 17th of his career, breaking his tie with Ryan Luza for second most wins of all-time.
With two spots left in the Championship 4 battle, Ottinger’s triumph took a win-and-in scenario away from the eight drivers still vying for their shot a title this season. The final two spots went down to the points with Mitchell deJong and Ottinger’s William Byron Esports teammate Logan Clampitt stepping up to take them.
Clampitt knew he could advance if his teammate scored the victory. The race came down to strategy as the final 94 laps played out green until the end. Besides Ottinger, Clampitt worked together with his backend alliance members Michael Conti, Matt Bussa and Bob Bryant, all knowing that if one made it, the others would likely fail to advance. The strategy gave them all the best fighting chance, but it was Clampitt who took advantage and the seat in the title fight.
A few seconds behind the leaders, deJong only needed an eighth place finish or better to advance in any situation. No matter what the six drivers in the lead pack did, as long as he stayed tucked in eighth between his backend alliance members Keegan Leahy and Bobby Zalenski, he would advance through.
The Championship 4 consists of deJong, Clampitt, Leahy and Zalenski. The four will go to battle against one another in two weeks at Texas Motor Speedway.
NOT YOUR AVERAGE TALLADEGA RACE…
In past superspeedway races in the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series, action is usually three-wide, 13 rows deep. While pack racing presents its own form of gridlock, what the virtual race fans were treated to on Tuesday night was a completely different way to not be able to pass. From the drop of the rag, the race was on to get to the yellow line.
The one and only caution flew right after completing the first lap. Michael Guest thought he saw a hole in front of Ray Alfalla. By the time he made the move, Alfalla occupied the space. The two went spinning and were relegated to the back of the field.
On the ensuing restart, Jake Nichols assumed control as the rest of the field got into a single file line behind. The combo breaker move came on lap 22 when the Team Conti and Drill Aisle drivers shook up the race by pitting earlier than anyone else. On average, the seven drivers were gaining multiple tenths per lap. Other drivers started petitioning others to pit with them as they realized what the Conti/Aisle group had done. It was too late, however, and the only way to catch back up with them would be a caution.
The caution never came.
RELEGATION LINE STATUS
With The Championship 4, the other six playoff drivers and 11th place driver Casey Kirwan all locked above the relegation line coming into Talladega, nine more spots were still up for grabs among a plethora of drivers from 12th to 27th in the standings.
Three more spots were locked in as three more drivers were eliminated from making the Top 20. Ottinger, along with Guest and Steven Wilson will be able to breathe easy at Texas in two weeks. Corey Vincent is almost locked in, currently in 15th, but unofficially just needs to start to claim a place on the 2022 series roster.
Ryan Luza and Dylan Duval are looking pretty good to advance back into the series. Luza needs a 32nd place finish or better to clinch the Top 20 while Duval must finish 30th or better. Zack Novak and Garrett Lowe are also looking ok in their quest to reclaim a Coke Series ticket. Novak needs a finish of 19th or better at Texas while Lowe needs to be 15th or better.
Rookie contender Garrett Manes currently sits on the bubble position. Manes has a two point advantage over Nichols, a three point advantage over Alfalla, and 18 points over Blake Reynolds. Technically, Chris Shearburn is mathematically eligible as well, but he will need a win, a 32nd or worse from Manes, a 30th or worse from Nichols, a 29th or worse from Alfalla and and 11th or worse from Reynolds to have a chance.
Everyone else 25th or below in the standings will have to try their hand in the Road To Pro Contender Series in a few weeks.
The finale will take place at Texas Motor Speedway on 12th October. All four drivers will be attempting to win their first career eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series championship. While Clampitt (2016), Leahy (2019) and Zalenski (2020) are all runner-ups to the cup, deJong is trying for a title in his first season. The last rookie to make it to the title round was Luza back in 2017, and he ended up winning the thing.
This will be the first time since the inaugural 2010 season that the champion will be decided at a track other than Homestead-Miami Speedway. The 2010 finale came at Charlotte Motor Speedway, but it wasn’t a four-driver winner-take-all race like Texas is set to be.
In the 11 previous races at the venue, none of the Championship 4 have ever won. Leahy notably has a pole position to his credit in 2018. With the Coanda teammates collecting more than half of the poles in the 2021 season, it is likely that Leahy or deJong will find themselves leading the field to green in two weeks.
While the Coanda trio all have multiple victories on the season, Clampitt’s sole win came at a 1.5-mile venue at Atlanta Motor Speedway. That could mean that he has a slight advantage in having the cookie-cutter win in his back pocket. Couple that with the fact that he doesn’t have to face two teammates in order to win the title, and Clampitt could be the favorite.
The season will conclude with an earlier pre-race show likely starting around 8:00 p.m. ET on 12th October. A new champion is crowned after the race kicks off at 9:00 p.m. ET, live on eNASCAR.com or on the iRacing social channels.
TOP 10 RESULTS AT TALLADEGA
- 25 Nick Ottinger – William Byron Esports – 94 LAPS
- 97 Logan Clampitt – William Byron Esports +0.059 sec
- 77 Bob Bryant – Kligerman Sport +0.161 sec
- 75 Matt Bussa – Mode Motorsports +0.205 sec
- 8 Michael Conti – JR Motorsports +0.827 sec
- 88 Brad Davies – JR Motorsports +0.943 sec
- 83 Bobby Zalenski – LETARTE Esports +4.308 sec
- 23 Mitchell deJong – 23XI Racing +4.390 sec
- 32 Keegan Leahy – 23XI Racing +4.482 sec
- 2 Garrett Manes – Elliott Sadler Esports +4.558 sec
PLAYOFF STANDINGS AFTER TALLADEGA
- 83 Bobby Zalenski – LETARTE Esports – Darlington winner
- 32 Keegan Leahy – 23XI Racing – Bristol winner
- 23 Mitchell deJong – 23XI Racing +11 points
- 97 Logan Clampitt – William Byron Esports +10 points
- 75 Matt Bussa – MODE Motorsports -10 points
- 10 Graham A. Bowlin – Stewart-Haas Esports -22 points
- 77 Bob Bryant – Kligerman Sport -28 points
- 46 Jimmy Mullis – Richmond Raceway Esports -36 points
- 8 Michael Conti – JR Motorsports -40 points
- 55 Vicente Salas – Spacestation Gaming -47 points
LEAD CHANGES: 5 among 6 drivers
LAP LEADERS: Vicente Salas (Pole, 0), Jake Nichols (1-26), Casey Kirwan (27), Femi Olat (28-37), Nick Ottinger (38-57), Mitchell deJong (58-66), Nick Ottinger (67-94)
BEST LAP: Corey Vincent – 47.501 secs
ONE Caution for 3 Laps