October 11th, 2019 by Chris Leone
Zack Novak held off an intense challenge from Keegan Leahy coming off the final corner at Homestead-Miami Speedway to score the 2019 eNASCAR PEAK Antifreeze iRacing Series championship on Thursday night. Novak qualified second and took the checkered flag by .15 seconds after a tooth and nail battle for the win, defeating Leahy, Bobby Zalenski, and Blake Reynolds for the $40,000 grand prize.
“That was a grind,” an overjoyed Novak said after completing his victory donuts on the front stretch. “All season long and tonight, that was a grind. I can’t believe I’m in this position. When I first got in this series three years ago as a 15-year-old, I never thought this moment would happen.”
Thursday’s race marked the first championship event to air live on NBCSN’s NASCAR America, after a pair of eNASCAR all-star events earlier this summer. The largest share of a $100,000 purse was on the line for the winner, as well as a test day in both a US Legends car and NASCAR Pinty’s Series car with Canada’s Best Racing Team. All four incoming championship contenders were looking for their first-ever series title.
Three of the Championship 4 qualified in the top four spots, with Leahy and Novak on the front row and Zalenski starting fourth. The trio fought for the lead early on, with Leahy pacing the first portion of the race and Novak making the pass later. Reynolds pit earliest of the group as the field battled tire wear and managed to gain a handful of spots when the field cycled through the first round of stops, moving into the top five as Leahy and Zalenski retained the top two spots, and Novak made it four drivers in the top five at halfway.
A Lap 81 caution saw Nickolas Shelton and Phillip Diaz got together coming off of Turn 4 just before a second round of green flag pit stops. Leahy got off pit road first, just ahead of Ryan Luza and Novak. Luza shot to the lead on the restart, but Leahy recovered to pull side by side just before Corey Vincent spun teammate Garrett Lowe to cause another caution.
After a heated battle on the second restart, Jimmy Mullis, Novak, and Luza separated themselves from the pack while the remaining three title contenders beat on each other for top five spots. But the field would bunch up once again after an incident between Brandon Hayse Kettelle, Brad Davies, and Nathan Lyon with 20 laps to go led to a final round of pit stops for the full field.
Novak, Luza, Leahy, Vincent, and Zalenski restarted at the front of the field with 15 laps to go, as the field went up to five wide behind them. Novak and Leahy battled neck and neck, with neither driver able to pull more than a car length ahead. Leahy grabbed the lead on Lap 129, and both drivers traded the point on Lap 134 before Novak reclaimed the spot for good.
Novak will be honored at the real-world Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series finale from Homestead next month as the winner of the biggest prize in iRacing history. His final tally includes $40,000 for the championship and additional weekly winnings, including bonuses for four race wins. The 2020 championship schedule, which will see the series prize pool expand to $250,000, will be revealed in the coming months. For more information on iRacing and for special offers, visit www.iracing.com.