Tuesday night’s eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series action may have produced not only one of the best finishes of the 2021 season, but also one of its most surprising winners. Mind you, it’s not that Graham Bowlin, who entered the night second in points for Stewart-Haas Esports, was a surprising winner in general; he’s been one of the most consistent drivers in the series all season. Instead, it’s more a matter of where he did it.
Bowlin qualified on the pole, led most of the race outside of pit stops, and held off furious charges from both Letarte Esports’ Bobby Zalenski and 23XI’s Mitchell deJong to win on a road course on Tuesday night, as Watkins Glen International returned to the eNASCAR calendar for the first time in five years. It was the first career victory for the Texas native, and it allowed him to assert an all but guaranteed playoff spot on a night where, coming in, there were no remaining spots on the grid for winless drivers.
After outqualifying deJong by just .019 seconds, Bowlin took advantage of a frenzied first lap that allowed both Zalenski and Roush Fenway Racing’s Steven Wilson to climb into second and third. From there, Bowlin would settle into the lead, where he’d need to spend much of the next 50 laps driving the race of his life.
Early pit stops would be the biggest threat to changing up track position, as most drivers elected to take their lone stop of the race well before the halfway point, but by pitting a lap earlier than Zalenski, Bowlin would not only maintain the top spot, but also gain some more of a cushion as Zalenski lost over a second and briefly fell into deJong’s clutches.
From there, the two road course aces would battle with everything they had to catch Bowlin, but to no avail. Zalenski would be the first to try, but like the first half of the race, couldn’t do much once he finally got to Bowlin’s bumper. deJong would get past Zalenski in the closing stages and would come even closer, even bumping Bowlin twice coming out of the Bus Stop in the final lap, but Bowlin would once recover.
Undeterred, deJong would stay on pace and make one more attempt at the pass from the outside going into the final corner. The duo would touch, and deJong would slide up into the outside retaining wall. Bowlin would drive on to take the victory, with Zalenski sliding past deJong for second in the drag race to the finish as well.
The eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series playoff grid through 13 rounds is as follows:
- Mitchell deJong, 2 wins
- Graham Bowlin, 1 win
- Keegan Leahy, 1 win
- Bobby Zalenski, 1 win
- Michael Conti, 1 win
- Vicente Salas, 1 win
- Logan Clampitt, 1 win
- Jimmy Mullis, 1 win
- Bob Bryant, 1 win
- Ryan Luza, 1 win
The eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series regular season winds down in two weeks’ time at Michigan International Speedway, with a race victory the last chance for a select group of drivers to force their way into the 10-driver playoff field. As always, coverage begins with iRacing Countdown to Green at 8:30PM ET, with the racing action picking up at 9PM ET on eNASCAR.com/live and iRacing’s social media channels. For more information on iRacing and for special offers, visit www.iRacing.com.
Images via Justin Melillo