November 2nd, 2020 by Chris Leone
Two long-awaited firsts were in store for Nick Ottinger and Chris Shearburn on Monday night, as the 2020 eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series season wrapped up at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Shearburn scored his first career victory in his 71st career start, but Ottinger outdueled Bobby Zalenski, Michael Conti, and Ryan Luza to become the first $100,000 series champion, finally shedding the label of winningest driver in series history without a title and taking home the largest share of the $300,000 series purse.
“I’ve got a good team behind me, man,” Ottinger, overwhelmed by emotion, told NBC Sports’ Parker Kligerman after crossing the line fourth. “We got bit by the tire strategy a little bit, but we had to try something. We had the third best car, probably. I couldn’t have predicted that! All the hard work this year, to have William (Byron, team owner) believing in me this year… it’s the real deal.”
The first half of the race was clean and green, with the Championship 4 all qualifying in the top 10 and running in the top five early on before Conti attempted to go for an alternate strategy and stayed out longer. As most of the field, including Luza and Zalenski, began their second set of green flag pit stops, the first caution flew for Alex McCollum and Brad Davies, and not long after, a spin for Jarl Teien directly in front of Michael Conti led to the second caution.
Conti and Ottinger stayed out, saving a set of tires and establishing premier track position in third and ninth while Zalenski and Luza pitted, until a second spin for Teien caused an immediate third caution. Three, four, and five wide were the norm after the next green flag, as Zalenski rocketed to the front of the pack with his fresh tires.
With 15 laps to go, Luza clawed his way up to fourth, following Zalenski, Keegan Leahy and Ray Alfalla. He got past Leahy, but stalled out running side by side with Alfalla until making contact with seven laps to go, nudging Alfalla into the wall. That allowed Luza to finally get to Zalenski’s bumper, where he’d take the lead with four laps to go.
But a straightaway later, it all went wrong. Luza began to block, trying to keep the spot, but right as Zalenski tried to turn into Turn 3 and Luza tried to move up a lane, Zalenski’s left front fender clipped Luza’s right rear, sending him careening into the outside wall.
With the first attempt at overtime looming, Conti and Ottinger pit for their final set of tires. A frenetic first attempt ended with a caution just short of the finish line thanks to a multi-car accident in Turn 4, with Ottinger and Conti getting up to 12th and 13th. The cars with fresher tires were less successful at gaining spots in the second attempt, but another caution for an incident that put Brandon Kettelle on his roof kept them from getting to the white flag a second time.
But Shearburn, another driver on fresher tires, took the lead from Zalenski before the third and final attempt at a green flag finish, stealing control of the last restart. Despite scraping the wall earlier in the race, Ottinger had the better car than Conti, and was the stronger challenger. He muscled through the middle in the first corner, pulling to Zalenski’s bumper and going three wide in the final corner to make the $100,000 pass. Shearburn, Chris Overland, and Eric Smith crossed the line in the top three spots, as Ottinger became the first driver since 2016 not to win the title by winning the finale.
“It’s been a long time coming,” said Shearburn of his first career victory. “I feel like I’ve let a lot of wins slip through my fingers, especially this year, and the luck certainly hasn’t been on my side. But for once, one time, I finally caught a break. The traffic on the first restart probably let me get the win more than anything. It’s amazing.”
Full results from the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway were as follows:
|3||16||9||Eric J. Smith||Ford||147||3||-0.921||30.999||39|
|21||13||18||Graham A. Bowlin||Toyota||147||0||-2.787||30.984||20|
|31||5||53||Ryan Michael Luza||Ford||147||58||-7.864||30.984||12|
|33||30||51||Malik Ray||Toyota||141||0||-6 L||31.233||8|
|34||32||14||Brandon Kettelle||Ford||140||0||-7 L||31.097||7|
|35||28||66||Jarl Teien||Chevrolet||136||0||-11 L||31.124||6|
|36||36||4||Santiago Tirres||Chevrolet||17||0||-130 L||31.236||5|
|37||25||15||Michael Guariglia||Ford||15||0||-132 L||31.622||4|
Unofficial final eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series standings are as follows:
|4||Ryan Michael Luza||3012||20||3||6||0||2694||383|
|11||Graham A. Bowlin||490||20||0||2||2||2677||90|
|26||Eric J. Smith||382||20||0||3||0||2714||3|
|40||Jeremy R Allen||113||10||0||0||0||1172||0|
The eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series season finale from Homestead-Miami Speedway will air as a one-hour condensed broadcast on Sunday, November 8 at 7:30PM ET, directly after the real-world NASCAR Cup Series champion is crowned at Phoenix Raceway. For more information