July 24th, 2019 by Jason Lofing
Jimmy Mullis took his Richmond Raceway eSports Toyota Camry to victory lane at Pocono Raceway, coming out on top in the second overtime of what was an eventful, crash-filled Week 12 of the 2019 eNASCAR PEAK Antifreeze iRacing Series. The victory, his first of the season, enabled Mullis to jump from ninth to sixth in series points, putting him within the eight-driver playoff field with two races before the cutoff.
Mullis found himself third going into the two-lap shootout behind Clint Bowyer Racing’s Casey Kirwan and Flipsid3 Tactics’ Ryan Luza. On the restart, Mullis, with help from teammate Malik Ray, closed right to the bumper of Kirwan entering Turn 1. Kirwan slid high on exit, giving Mullis the momentum down the straightaway. The pair stayed side-by-side in Turn 2, but Mullis prevailed in Turn 3 and pulled away to win by .655 of a second.
Kirwan finished second, followed by Ray, who came from 39th on the grid. Joe Gibbs Racing’s Bobby Zalenski wound up fourth after leading 12 laps and Garrett Lowe, who spun to cause the first caution of the day, worked his way back up to fifth for Renegades.
The evening was challenging for both incoming points leader Keegan Leahy and last week’s winner Zack Novak, as both front runners found trouble that led to a poor result. Leahy started on pole and led eight laps, but after the Lap 10 restart, found himself in the middle of a three-wide battle for the lead by Novak and Nick Ottinger entering Turn 2. Upon entering the corner, Leahy and Ottinger touched, sending Ottinger spinning and collecting nearly a dozen drivers in the resulting melee. Leahy received heavy damage as he was not able to avoid Ottinger’s spinning machine, and he limped to a 27th place finish.
The chaos up front handed Novak and Luza the front row positions on the restart, and the two looked to jump away and settle the race amongst themselves. However, the timing of the caution brought fuel mileage into play and neither Novak nor Luza were able to stretch their fuel far enough to make it on one stop.
Even with the strategy, Luza and Novak looked to be in good position to challenge for the win, but Chris Shearburn’s crash brought out the caution on Lap 61, just after the two made their final pit stops. Both drivers stayed out under the yellow since they had barely any laps on their tires and reassumed the lead.
Another quick caution slowed the pace again but, with laps winding down on the Lap 72 restart, Novak was hit and shuffled out of the race for the lead and later was caught up in a crash, finishing 35th. Luza avoided the crashes, but the aero package kept cars close on restarts and allowed for big runs down the straightaways, so he was not able to pull away.
Luza’s sixth place finish, combined with Leahy’s issues, has given him the points lead again with two races to go in the regular season. Luza’s lead stands at 25 points over Leahy, with Lowe 31 points back in third. Blake Reynolds sits an additional two points adrift in fourth while Zalenski holds fifth over Mullis. Ottinger currently holds eighth, which is the last transfer spot into the playoffs, but only has a single point over Novak. Both are well clear of tenth-place Christian Challiner, who found trouble with Michael Guest on the final lap.
With only two regular season races remaining before the playoffs, the series heads to Michigan International Speedway for what might be one of the wildest races this season. The 2019 aero package will likely make it possible to run wide open around the track, even in traffic, which could lead to an unlikely winner. With playoff positions on the line, surviving and running well at Michigan is key for drivers on the bubble. Who will visit victory lane? Tune into the iRacing eSports Network on Facebook, Twitch, and YouTube in two weeks’ time to find out!