The 2021 season has been absolutely miserable for the most-winningest driver in eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series history.
With seven finishes outside the Top 20 in eight races, Ray Alfalla was having one of those years where absolutely nothing seemed to go right. Alfalla crashed at Daytona, had server issues at Homestead, got dumped at Vegas, was slow at Atlanta, was off at Auto Club, and frustrated at Richmond. He survived at Kansas but then got annihilated at COTA.
It’s been 364 days since his last victory came at Atlanta Motor Speedway, but it was Alfalla who took everyone by surprise as he passed Malik Ray for the lead with eight laps to go at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Tuesday night to collect the victory in the Coca-Cola 300.
“How about that?” Alfalla said. “Rowdy Energy in victory lane for the first time, and VRS is back. I said the panic button was pressed before the race… We made all of the right adjustments there. We were having connection issues and we had to let people go. We kind of got stuck behind some guys and things weren’t looking too good. We caught a good break there on one of the yellows, came back to the front and we had a good piece.”
The win makes a total of 26 on Alfalla’s career, his first of 2021, and his second at Charlotte. With the win, Alfalla becomes the first driver in series history to win multiple races at the venue.
Kansas was Alfalla’s best result on the season before Tuesday night, but now he can strut around as the ninth different winner in nine races in the 2021 season.
“We actually found a lot of speed after the Kansas race,” Alfalla said. “Then we went to COTA and a bunch of stuff happened there. We knew we were going to have good speed by the time we got to the next oval. I couldn’t have predicted it after the first run with all the issues we were having, but we’re back in victory lane.”
UNPREDICTABILITY IS SO PREDICTABLE
The longest race of the season, the Coca-Cola 300 is also the only race with a title sponsor, albeit the same sponsor the series holds for entitlement. 23XI Racing teammates Keegan Leahy and Mitchell deJong locked out the front row during qualifying and led the field to the start of the 200-lap event.
An early caution set the stage for a split strategy should the race go green until the end. Some drivers opted to go for a three-stop pit strategy to maximize the number of laps on fresh virtual tires, but most drivers went for a two-stop strat. Leahy led the field of drivers going for three while Steven Wilson was the leader of the two before he sped on to pit road, ultimately ruining his chances at his first career victory.
Vicente Salas took over the lead of the two-stoppers in place of Wilson and looked to have the edge should it stay green, but just past halfway, all of that went out the window as the second caution flew for equipment issues on the 79 of Ryan Doucette.
Salas and Leahy were back on similar strategies now with XSET teammates Casey Kirwan and Ryan Luza in the mix. The Spacestation duo of Salas and Malik Ray also found themselves close with Alfalla, Dylan Duval, Michael Guest, and Garret Manes all battling up front.
A few more yellows sent the race into a tizzy with many drivers getting taken out left and right. There were seven in total for 27 laps of pacing. Manes ended up as a casualty after Luza got loose and checked him up, collecting many in the process.
In the final stint of the race, just before the final caution flew for Isaac Gann, Malik had managed to get the better of Leahy for the race lead. On the final restart, Malik and Luza ran side by side for multiple laps before Malik finally prevailed.
As the laps wound down, Alfalla threw it into overdrive and started picking them off one at a time. With 10 to go, Alfalla was right on Malik’s bumper, and after dirty air from the damaged car of Brad Davies upset the handle of the SSG No. 11, Alfalla made the move underneath and into the lead, the final of 16 lead changes.
ISAAC GANN THE COMPANY MAN
Late in the going, Isaac Gann wound up on the wrong side of a power slide through Turn 4, eventually losing control and collecting himself and others in the mayhem.
Throughout the race, however, Gann was clearly the best running Chevy driver through the event, running as high as sixth before his eventual retirement on lap 174.
When asked what happened in the incident, Gann instead used the opportunity to thank his sponsors at Kligerman Sport, stating his frustration at the end of the interview. “I don’t have a lot of good to say,” Gann said. “I’m just going to not say anything that might get myself in trouble. I think there is a lot of processing to do for a lot of different reasons. There’s a lot of people out there that already have opinions on what is going on, so I’m just not going to say anything.”
What he could be talking about specifically, it’s not exactly determined. The Chevrolets seemed off all night, as at one point, Gann was the only driver in the camp running inside the Top 20, running 14th.
TIME FOR A BREAK
It will be nearly one month until the next race on the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series calendar when the series heads to Pocono Raceway on 22nd June for the tenth round of the season. It will be the ninth trip since 2011 to the “Tricky Triangle” in Long Pond, PA.
The series didn’t run there in 2020, but in 2019, Jimmy Mullis was able to capture victory over Casey Kirwan and Malik Ray.
Heading into Pocono, there are nine winners, eight of them currently eligible by their point standing currently inside the Top 20. The only winner currently outside the Top 20 is Alfalla, 37 points below the cutoff.
Before that, however, the eNASCAR Pro Invitational Series will go off next week at the fictional (for now) Chicago Street Course. That will be the final race of the series that will take place on FOX Sports. NBC Sports will take over the second half of that season, their schedule is still unannounced at this time.
Back to the next race at Pocono, the Countdown to Green will air at 8:30 p.m. ET with the race broadcast kicking off at 9:00 p.m. ET over at eNASCAR.com/live.
CHARLOTTE MOTOR SPEEDWAY – TOP 10 RESULTS
- 51 Ray Alfalla – Joe Gibbs Racing – 200 LAPS
- 11 Malik Ray – Spacestation Gaming +1.913 sec
- 4 Ryan Luza – XSET Gaming +2.208 sec
- 32 Keegan Leahy – 23XI Racing +2.405 sec
- 90 Zack Novak – Richmond Raceway Esports +2.484 sec
- 9 Michael Guest – Jim Beaver Esports +2.717 sec
- 41 Dylan Duval – Stewart-Haas Esports +2.836 sec
- 38 Casey Kirwan – XSET Gaming +3.374 sec
- 10 Graham A. Bowlin – Stewart-Haas Esports +4.801 sec
- 17 Steven Wilson* – Roush Fenway Gaming +4.893 sec
PLAYOFF STANDINGS AFTER CHARLOTTE MOTOR SPEEDWAY
- 32 Keegan Leahy – 23XI Racing – 1 win
- 97 Logan Clampitt – William Byron Esports – 1 win
- 8 Michael Conti – JR Motorsports – 1 win
- 4 Ryan Luza – XSET Gaming – 1 win
- 36 Chris Shearburn – LETARTE Esports – 1 win
- 55 Vicente Salas* – Spacestation Gaming – 1 win
- 77 Bob Bryant – Kligerman Sport – 1 win
- 23 Mitchell deJong* – 23XI Racing – 1 win
- 9 Michael Guest – Jim Beaver Esports – 221 points
- 3 Corey Vincent – Team Dillon Esports – 205 points
TEAM STANDINGS – TOP 10 AFTER CHARLOTTE MOTOR SPEEDWAY
- 23XI Racing (23, 32) – 436 points
- William Byron Esports (25, 97) – 409 points
- XSET Gaming (4, 38) – 387 points
- LETARTE Esports (36, 83) – 375 points
- Kligerman Sport (44, 77) – 360 points
- Roush Fenway Gaming (6, 17) – 353 points
- Stewart-Haas Esports (10, 41) – 352 points
- Team Dillon Esports (3, 33) – 344 points
- Jim Beaver Esports (9, 15) – 338 points
- MODE Motorsports (24, 75) – 335 points
*Denotes Rookie of the Year Contender