August 21st, 2019 by Jason Lofing
Casey Kirwan passed Zack Novak with five laps remaining to earn his first eNASCAR PEAK Antifreeze iRacing Series victory as the series returned to Bristol Motor Speedway after a several-year hiatus. Kirwan, who started seventh, first took the lead during the final green flag run, and used lap traffic and the bottom groove to make the winning pass, giving Clint Bowyer Racing its first win in the process.
Kirwan took the lead on Lap 174 and immediately began to pull away from the field, building a lead of nearly two seconds. However, with 50 laps to go, Novak moved into second position and closed the gap to under one second. The gap stayed relatively steady for the next 20 laps until a crash occurred in front of Kirwan. Novak capitalized, taking the lead as the race stayed green and Kirwan dipped to the apron in avoidance.
Despite the setback, Kirwan kept pressing. With Novak committed to the top groove, Kirwan would have to use the bottom to complete his winning pass. With five laps remaining, Novak got caught up behind Dylan Duval, who was racing to stay on the lead lap. Kirwan made the move to regain the lead, and extended the gap to .733 seconds at the finish. Michael Guest joined Novak, his Roush Fenway Racing teammate, in the top three, and Blake Reynolds and Taylor Hurst completed the top five.
Renegades’ Corey Vincent led the field to the green flag, but couldn’t even lead the first lap, as G2 Esports’ Keegan Leahy got the jump on him and led 43 laps to set the pace early. Nathan Lyon and Logan Clampitt, who had the best long-run cars, later ran Leahy down.
Lyon took over and proceeded to dominate the middle of the race, leading 118 of 250 laps. But his stellar run came undone by pit strategy, as he decided to stay on the track instead of pitting during a caution at Lap 163. With tires nearly 25 laps old, Lyon had little chance on the long run that followed, and he slowly fell down the leaderboard to finish 20th.
The race was clean for Bristol standards with only five caution flags, though there were a handful of other incidents where the race stayed green. The track widened out quickly after the green flag, with most drivers preferring the top or middle grooves. But drivers like Kirwan, who set their cars up to turn on the bottom, had a definite advantage, especially on worn tires.
Bristol also marked the end of the regular season and the playoff field of eight drivers is set. Team Dillon Esports’ Blake Reynolds earned the distinction of regular season champion despite not winning a race, beating out Ryan Luza, Bobby Zalenski, and Garrett Lowe for the honor. Those four will be joined by Leahy, Michael Conti, Novak, and Jimmy Mullis, who edged Nick Ottinger by 11 points to earn the eighth and final playoff berth.
Darlington Raceway will play host to the opening race of the 2019 playoffs, with all eight drivers looking to punch their ticket to the finale at Homestead Miami-Speedway. With three wins each, Luza and Novak are the early favorites, but in the playoffs anything can happen, and one bad race is all it takes to potentially fall out of contention. Who will show they are a contender at NASCAR’s toughest track? Find out next week when the playoffs get underway at the track Too Tough to Tame!