February 9th, 2021 by Chris Leone
18 years to the day after his boss, Dale Earnhardt Jr., won the NASCAR Cup Series Shootout at Daytona International Speedway, JR Motorsports driver Michael Conti marked the occasion by putting a different red #8 Chevrolet in victory lane.
For Conti, though, Monday night’s triumph may have had bigger implications. By winning the first eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series points race of the 2021 season, the former series champion and 2020 Championship 4 driver has effectively punched his ticket into this fall’s playoffs. More impressively, he did it despite qualifying 38th in the 40-car field.
“I’m over the moon with that one,” Conti said after the race. “Anybody that knows me knows that plate tracks are not my specialty. I admittedly don’t know what I’m doing half the time. But going into the race with everything that Dale, JR Motorsports, Chad Wheeler, and everybody has put behind me in this offseason, I knew I had to step up my game.
“In years past, I played it safe and stayed in the back, and it’d get to three by three and we couldn’t go anywhere. Tonight, we almost did the same thing, but about 15 laps in, I told my crew chief ‘we’re going to go for it, if we wreck, we wreck.’ Some things went our way, and I’m super excited to get the victory and not have to worry about winning our way in for the next several months.”
Series veteran Michael Guest was second in his debut for Jim Beaver eSports, utilizing a two-tire pit stop to take the lead and hanging on to push Conti after the field caught him. Jake Matheson proved his top-five finish in last week’s non-points Clash was no fluke for Williams Esports, as he crossed the line third. Team Dillon Esports’ Corey Vincent and Kligerman Sport’s Isaac Gann completed the top five.
While the race went caution-free just as it had last year, two major incidents caught up some of the field’s heavy hitters along the way. Early-race contact between former series champions Ryan Luza and Zack Novak ended their hopes at good finishes, with renowned superspeedway racer Malik Ray also taking on heavy damage. The second wreck came on the final lap, with Conti’s close friend and roommate Logan Clampitt spinning from the front of the middle lane and much of the lead pack getting caught up.
Monday’s event featured NASCAR president Steve Phelps giving the command to start engines. During the pre-race show, the revised Road to Pro ladder to make it to the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series was also unveiled. The Road to Pro Qualifying Series has been split into two parts, with the second half featuring just the top 70 drivers from the first half. The top 20 of that group will join the bottom 20 of the eNCiS in the renamed Road to Pro Contender Series, with the top 20 of that group earning spots in the big show for 2022.
eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series results from Daytona International Speedway were as follows:
|14||27||10||Graham A. Bowlin||Ford||100||-4.860||2||43.609||23|
|32||8||29||Zack Nichols||Ford||99||-1 L||6||43.470||5|
|33||5||1||Ashton Crowder||Toyota||99||-1 L||0||43.522||4|
|34||33||33||Taylor Hurst||Chevrolet||99||-1 L||0||43.368||3|
|35||14||67||Allen Boes||Chevrolet||99||-1 L||0||43.799||2|
|36||17||37||Derek Justis||Chevrolet||98||-2 L||0||43.376||1|
|37||18||47||Brian Schoenburg||Chevrolet||97||-3 L||0||43.379||1|
|38||20||4||Ryan Michael Luza||Ford||81||-19 L||0||44.022||1|
|39||23||11||Malik Ray||Ford||34||-66 L||0||43.896||1|
The eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series season returns to Tuesdays for the remainder of the season, starting with February 23’s visit to Homestead-Miami Speedway. Luza and Chris Shearburn split the victories as the series visited the popular track twice last year. Coverage will kick off at 8:30PM ET with iRacing Countdown to Green, while the race will begin at 9PM ET on eNASCAR.com/live, iRacing.com/live, and NASCAR and iRacing social media channels.