Firecracker 400 field nearly set; Alek Martinez to take on ‘Last-to-First’ challenge

The Top 88 is now the qualified 42 plus one more provisional spot to be determined for the 2023 Firecracker 400. Pole Sitter Alek Martinez will take on the ‘Last-to-First’ challenge.

After two days of Qualifying, the field for eRacr.gg’s main event, the 2023 Firecracker 400 presented by the Thrustmaster T818, has been determined up to the 42nd starter, with only one more spot to be determined through the eRacr.gg Provisional. The field for the Firecracker 200, a consolation two days prior, is also set.

One of the largest iRacing oval community events out there, put on by Landon Cassill, Parker Kligerman and Joshua Mendoza of eRacr.gg, took an entry list of nearly 360 drivers and consolidated it to the Top 88 after eight Preliminary Rounds last week.

Now, only 42 are left for the main event. The next 43 on the timing sheet will take on the 200. The eRacr.gg provisional 43rd starter for the 400 will be announced in the coming days. In past eRacr.gg events, this provisional has included NASCAR drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kyle Busch.

Pole Qualifying (Night One)

On the first night, 86 of the Top 88 drivers took to the 2008 version of Daytona International Speedway in the 1987 NASCAR Cup Series Stock Cars to determine only the first part of the roster. 20 drivers would lock in from the first night with 22 more to be determined on the second night.

Realistic weather conditions played a big factor in each driver’s run. The track temperature would fluctuate as clouds would befall the area, each of the three sessions having their own air temperature and humidity, as well as track usage state as the night progressed, all based on official METAR data coming out of the real-world Daytona Beach, Florida area,

Alek Martinez went out in the first session and laid down the fastest lap of the night, taking over the pole position from Kevin McAdams and staying there throughout. Will Norton would set the second fastest time later in the night in the final session, just 0.002 seconds off Martinez’s time of 42.593 seconds.

There were a few crashes, not too many that were serious, but eRacr.gg also has a “backup car policy” where if a competitor wrecks in their qualifying attempt, they will need to start from the rear in a virtual backup car. Only one driver falls under this policy this year, and it was eRacr.gg’s own Collin Bowden, who qualified in but also barrel-rolled following his lap completion.

Martinez, meanwhile, opted to take the Whitz “Last-to-First” challenge, which means he will instead start 43rd instead of from first for the main event for a chance to win a bigger cash bonus of $10,000 in addition to the prize for winning in general, $2,000 of the $12,500 purse.

20 drivers were locked from that point forward, and the remaining 68 drivers outside of that would have a choice to make. They could sit on their time and hope it’s good enough, or they could opt to re-qualify on night two to improve on that time.

The Top 20 times from Pole Qualifying Night 1:

POSDRIVERLAP TIME
1Alek Martinez42.593 secs
2Will Norton42.595 secs
3Malik Ray42.597 secs
4Kevin McAdams42.599 secs
5Michael P Frisch42.599 secs
6Sander Nijhof42.601 secs
7Brandon Hawkin42.603 secs
8Cosmin Ioaneșiu42.605 secs
9Michael Guest42.606 secs
10Casey Kirwan42.609 secs
11Eric J. Smith42.613 secs
12Phillip Cecil McCandless42.614 secs
13Daniel Buttafuoco42.618 secs
14Collin Bowden42.619 secs
15Parker White42.621 secs
16Justin Bolton42.621 secs
17Nate S Stewart42.622 secs
18Colton Salek42.622 secs
19Shawn M. Butler42.623 secs
20Bryan Blackford42.623 secs

Bump Qualifying (Night Two)

A total of 25 drivers opted to sit on their times of the 68 that were not locked in. The original bubble of 42nd originally belonged to Jordan Werth, but with Werth, along with Timmy Holmes, Garrett Manes and the defending winner Michael Cosey Jr all opting for a re-run ahead of him, that moved the cut line even further.

The new bubble time would be Dylan Basen at a 42.665 second lap time. Three other drivers that stood on their times, include Kyle Putz, Matt Bussa and Mitch Drewnowski (who failed to show on both nights), were automatically eliminated from making the 400 on time.

Qualifying started with the other no-show from night one – Dylan Ault. He and the other 21 drivers in the first session were not able to break into the Top 42, and that wasn’t unusual as the order that everyone qualified on the second night was in reverse from the results of night one, meaning the slower drivers went first.

John Gorlinsky put down the fastest lap of that first session, but it was still 0.003 seconds too slow, which meant it would be down to the final 21 drivers in the second and final session of the night, a group filled with many top drivers and hopefuls.

Names would start getting locked in as they went down the order. The first driver to break through was Connor Harrington, who finally bumped out Basen, but didn’t go fast enough to secure his spot. Sure enough, by the end of the night, Harrington was bumped out in a tie-breaker with two other drivers.

Blake McCandless set a blistering lap that would have put him 13th on the first night, locking in immediately. McCandless was arguably one of the few drivers that ended up with better weather on the second night, most others having to slog through a hotter track temperature with less chance of a cloud covering the track.

Nick Ottinger, Seth DeMerchant, Ryan Doucette and Nathan Lyon all put down laps that were good enough to transfer in, knocking out a few that hoped their time would stick, including Bobby Zalenski, Jordan Herrley, Thomas Miller and Nathan Rabideau. Michael Conti also bumped in but was a late lock as the night wound down, a catalyst for Harrington bumping back out along with Kollin Keister.

The final three qualifiers would all be eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series contenders, and strange enough, none of them would transfer through. Timmy Holmes would have had to re-attempt as his lap was bumped anyway, but a spin through the grass intentionally had his laps all completely disallowed.

Both Garrett Manes and Michael Cosey Jr would have made it if they didn’t withdraw their times. Neither were able to match that or improve, which left Conor Horn as the final qualifier into the show. Cosey Jr will not get a chance to repeat his win from 2021.

firecracker 2021 cosey jr earnhardt jr

21st – 42nd results from Bump Qualifying Round 2:

POSDRIVERLAP TIME
21Blake McCandless*42.617 secs
22Nick Ottinger*42.620 secs
23Ray Alfalla42.625 secs
24Blake Reynolds42.625 secs
25Larry Pace42.626 secs
26Matthew Zwack42.628 secs
27Eddie Kerner42.628 secs
28Logan Helton42.628 secs
29Chris Overland42.631 secs
30Brandon Hayse Kettelle42.632 secs
31Seth DeMerchant*42.636 secs
32Jake Nichols42.637 secs
33Femi Olatunbosun42.637 secs
34Ryan Doucette*42.639 secs
35Teemu Toikka42.640 secs
36Kyler Wynn42.641 secs
37Corey A Carpenter42.645 secs
38Nathan Lyon*42.647 secs
39TJ Burske42.648 secs
40Justin Lance Nasseir42.648 secs
41Michael Conti*42.649 secs
42Conor Horn42.650 secs
Most of the times above were stood on from the first night. Those who re-attempted on night 2 are marked with *.

The 42nd spot resulted in a three-way tie between Horn, Kollin Keister and Connor Harrington. By the rulebook, it is Horn but there are rumblings that the final spot is still being looked at by eRacr.gg administrators.

While the guaranteed purse is still $12,500, with Martinez taking the ‘Last-to-First’ Challenge by Whitz, there’s an extra $10,000 that only he can win along with the $2,000 that’s already slated to the winner of the main event. The winner of the 200 also earns $500.

Next up in the Firecracker festivities is that Firecracker 200 consolation race for those who missed out on the Top 42. It starts on Monday, 24th July, at 8:00 pm ET. The main event, the Firecracker 400 presented by the Thrustmaster T818, will take place on Wednesday, 26th July, at 8:00 pm ET.

For more information on the Firecracker 400, visit eRacr.gg.

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