Series rookie, Eric J. Smith, won his first career eNASCAR PEAK Antifreeze iRacing Series race at Auto Club Speedway Tuesday night in dramatic fashion. Smith came from sixth to first on the last lap and led the only lap that really matter, the last one.
NASCAR’s first and only officially sanctioned eSport World Championship Series delivered an amazing race with a spectacular finish previewing NASCAR’s brand new aero package even before the real world series heads to California this coming weekend. The results were as planned by NASCAR….EXCITING!
With the leaders side-by-side on the last lap coming off Turn 2, 20 year old Illinois native Smith decided to take the high line. JTG Daugherty Motorsports’ Nick Ottinger went three wide with Flipsid3 Tactics’ Ryan Luza and Renegades’ Corey Vincent. Luza and Vincent made slight contact off turn two, ending with Vincent spinning down into Ottinger, taking them both out of the fight.
Luza emerged from the scuffle with a mostly clean car but the contact had robbed him of vital momentum. Smith used the opportunity to surge ahead on the outside down the backstretch with G2 Esports driver Keegan Leahy splitting Luza three wide on the bottom. Smith and Leahy entered Turn 3 wheel to wheel, with Smith nearly cutting down in front of Leahy.
The two stayed locked together through Turn 3 but Smith started to edge slightly ahead as the pair worked through Turn 4 and onto the home straight. Leahy began to inch back closer but ran out of race track as the field crashed behind with Smith the winner by .019 seconds over Leahy.
"I don’t know how to explain it," said Smith. "The package was nuts, everyone was super aggressive."
Luza slipped to third, nipping the Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota of Bobby Zalenski by two-thousandths of a second. Matt Bussa from Williams Esports completed the top five.
The debut of the 2019 aero package made for tight, intense racing throughout the field. The decrease in horsepower kept the field tightly bunched and increased parity, with no driver leading more than 32 of 100 laps.
JRM’s Michael Conti started on pole before Ottinger moved past on the outside, shuffling Conti back. Things went from bad to worse for Conti on Lap 17 when a slight misjudgment led to contact with Smith which sent Conti for a slide through the grass past the start-finish line. Despite no caution flying for the incident, Conti played pit strategy and caught a yellow flag after the first round of pit stops, allowing him to salvage some track position. He hung with the front group despite his slightly older tires and ground out an eighth-place finish.
During the first stint, it was Roush Fenway vs. JTG Daugherty as Ottinger and Zack Novak traded the lead. Novak held the top spot through the second stint but a caution on Lap 66 brought the leaders to pit road and Vincent inherited the lead with a fast stop.
The last 30 laps were caution filled as drivers became ultra-aggressive in their passing attempts. Vincent did an admirable job holding the lead on the short sprints until the final lap incident.
Novak and Luza are tied for the championship lead after three weeks with both drivers yet again running at or near the front for much of the evening. Leahy is five points back in third and is the only driver to score top-five results in all races thus far. Zalenski finds himself 14 points adrift followed by Jimmy Mullis in fifth, 17 points behind. Defending series champion Ray Alfalla had hoped to bring Wood Brothers Racing better results thus far, but bad luck and lackluster speed have him back in seventeenth place in the standings after three races.
With the first race on the 2019 package in the books, the series heads back to a 1.5-mile track as Texas Motor Speedway. The tighter turns in Texas should lead to more lifting, and the strong aero push seen at Auto Club Speedway will force drivers to find alternate lines if they hope to make progress through the field. Will the new package give us another surprise winner, or will Texas play out closer to races of years past? Be sure to catch the action on the iRacing Esports Network in two weeks to find out!
|1||31||Eric J. Smith||100||1||Running||N/A|
|2||8||Keegan Leahy||100||0||Running||G2 eSports|
|3||9||Ryan Michael Luza||100||3||Running||Flipside Tactics|
|4||13||Bobby Zalenski||100||0||Running||Joe Gibbs Racing|
|5||5||Matt Bussa||100||0||Running||Williams F1|
|6||16||Zack Novak||100||28||Running||Roush Fenway Racing|
|7||18||Ray Alfalla||100||0||Running||Wood Brothers|
|8||1||Michael Conti||100||10||Running||Jr Motorsports|
|9||21||Jimmy Mullis||100||0||Running||Richmond Raceway eSports|
|11||22||Nickolas Shelton||100||0||Running||Clint Bowyer Racing|
|12||27||Jake Nichols||100||0||Running||Joe Gibbs Racing|
|14||23||Logan Clampitt||100||0||Running||Burton Kligerman eSports|
|15||37||Malik Ray||100||0||Running||Richmond Raceway eSports|
|16||6||Jarl Teien||100||0||Running||G2 eSports|
|19||24||Ashton Crowder||100||0||Running||Burton Kligerman eSports|
|20||33||Benjamin W. Nelson||100||0||Running||N/A|
|23||17||Casey Kirwan||100||0||Running||Clint Bowyer Racing|
|27||3||Brian Schoenburg||100||2||Running||Williams F1|
|28||36||Timmy Hill||100||1||Running||Flipside Tactics|
|34||32||Michael Guest||100||0||Running||Roush Fenway Racing|
|37||19||Chris Overland||93||0||Running||Wood Brothers|
|38||4||Brad Davies||93||1||Running||Jr Motorsports|
|40||26||Brandon Hayse Kettelle||74||0||Running||N/A|