Zalenski Steals First Win of 2021 eNASCAR Playoffs at Darlington

Zalenski Steals First Win of 2021 eNASCAR Playoffs at Darlington

The eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series playoff opener at Darlington Raceway was Mitchell deJong’s race to win—until it wasn’t.

A caution in the closing moments of the scheduled 183-lap distance trapped the hard-charging deJong behind Bobby Zalenski and Ryan Luza, who had been on a different pit strategy and were attempting to conserve, as he attempted to reclaim the lead. But deJong’s advantage went away as almost the whole field pit for the green-white-checkered, and Zalenski outlasted his fellow Californian across multiple overtimes to take his 10th career victory, guaranteeing the Letarte eSports driver a spot once again in this year’s Championship 4.

“I can’t believe that happened!” Zalenski said after the race. “I usually don’t get those kinds of strategy calls to go my way, (but) I’m in the Championship 4 again. I didn’t expect to win this race. It’s a big relief, especially because the next two races are Bristol and Talladega. I didn’t see this coming at all, but sometimes luck goes your way.”

Tuesday night marked deJong’s fifth pole in 15 races this season, as he started alongside 23XI teammate and fellow playoff driver Keegan Leahy, who won at Darlington last year. But deJong, whose pair of victories this season came on road courses (at Zalenski’s expense), proved he was plenty motivated to finally take a checkered flag on an oval by checking out on the field in the early stages of the race. Only a pair of back-to-back cautions slowed down the race around midway, one seeing Kligerman Sport’s Bob Bryant spin in his first playoff race, and the other involving Zalenski and former Darlington winner Ashton Crowder of Elliott Sadler eSports.

The final laps were shaping up to be plenty dramatic, as differing pit strategies saw deJong and defending series champion Nick Ottinger work their way through a field of cars in conservation mode. But contact between Brad Davies and Garrett Manes with less than 10 laps to go threw a wrench in that works, and none of the front-runners wanted to take the risk of going through overtime on old tires and low fuel.

Spacestation Gaming’s Malik Ray stayed out to lead the field to the first overtime, but immediately pulled out of the way after starting the race to let the playoff drivers go; it proved not to affect the outcome as a stackup half a lap later led to another caution before the field took the white flag. The second restart was much cleaner, with deJong having a cleaner shot at Zalenski for the lead, but he wouldn’t be able to make the winning move work in Turns 3 and 4. Instead, Zalenski would cross the line first, scoring his second win of the year after a triumph at Pocono Raceway and taking the pressure off until the season finale at Texas Motor Speedway in October.

eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series results from Darlington Raceway were as follows:

Fin.

St.

No.

Name

Manufacturer

Laps

Interval

Led

Best

Pts

1 14 83 Bobby Zalenski Chevrolet 189 33 28.380 40
2 1 23 Mitchell deJong Toyota 189 -0.136 120 28.285 35
3 8 38 Casey Kirwan Ford 189 -0.488 5 28.375 34
4 7 4 Ryan Michael Luza Ford 189 -0.822 6 28.333 33
5 11 46 Jimmy Mullis Toyota 189 -0.947 0 28.337 32
6 3 25 Nick Ottinger Chevrolet 189 -1.197 0 28.445 31
7 26 75 Matt Bussa Ford 189 -1.409 0 28.565 30
8 12 97 Logan Clampitt Chevrolet 189 -1.543 7 28.579 29
9 10 55 Vicente Salas Ford 189 -1.862 0 28.771 28
10 35 66 Blake Reynolds Chevrolet 189 -2.074 0 28.604 27
11 6 8 Michael Conti Chevrolet 189 -2.126 2 28.509 26
12 9 90 Zack Novak Toyota 189 -2.140 0 28.702 25
13 4 10 Graham A. Bowlin Ford 189 -2.252 0 28.640 24
14 15 3 Corey Vincent Chevrolet 189 -2.258 0 28.716 23
15 21 41 Dylan Duval Ford 189 -2.402 0 28.866 22
16 37 77 Bob Bryant Chevrolet 189 -2.509 0 28.804 21
17 32 9 Michael Guest Ford 189 -2.513 0 28.734 20
18 17 24 Jake Nichols Ford 189 -2.643 0 28.794 19
19 5 36 Chris Shearburn Chevrolet 189 -2.759 0 28.806 18
20 16 51 Ray Alfalla Toyota 189 -2.904 2 28.661 17
21 30 18 Femi Olat Toyota 189 -2.955 0 28.684 16
22 27 21 Garrett Lowe Ford 189 -3.200 0 28.916 15
23 29 79 Ryan Doucette Ford 189 -3.321 0 28.896 14
24 39 47 Brian Schoenburg Chevrolet 189 -3.381 0 28.741 13
25 13 1 Ashton Crowder Toyota 189 -4.050 0 28.809 12
26 34 2 Garrett Manes Toyota 189 -4.531 0 28.772 11
27 22 6 Nathan Lyon Ford 189 -4.531 0 29.039 10
28 31 15 Caine Cook Ford 189 -5.197 1 28.932 9
29 28 88 Brad Davies Chevrolet 189 -5.363 0 28.535 8
30 18 33 Taylor Hurst Chevrolet 189 -5.373 0 28.807 7
31 24 52 Jake Matheson Ford 189 -5.515 0 29.092 6
32 40 11 Malik Ray Ford 189 -5.855 2 28.703 5
33 33 14 Blade Whitt Ford 189 -6.184 0 28.800 4
34 2 32 Keegan Leahy Toyota 189 -6.385 11 28.802 3
35 19 16 John Gorlinsky Ford 189 -6.662 0 28.975 2
36 23 44 Anthony Burroughs Chevrolet 187 -2 L 0 29.020 1
37 25 67 Allen Boes Chevrolet 183 -6 L 0 28.992 1
38 20 17 Steven Wilson Ford 176 -13 L 0 28.886 1
39 38 37 Derek Justis Chevrolet 161 -28 L 0 28.672 1
40 36 29 Zack Nichols Ford 74 -115 L 0 29.319 1

 

The eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series playoff grid is as follows:

  1. Bobby Zalenski, 1 playoff win
  2. Mitchell deJong, 2041 points
  3. Jimmy Mullis, 2035
  4. Matt Bussa, 2033
  5. Logan Clampitt, 2032
  6. Vicente Salas, 2031
  7. Michael Conti, 2029
  8. Graham Bowlin, 2027
  9. Bob Bryant, 2024
  10. Keegan Leahy, 2006

The eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series playoffs continue in two weeks’ time at Bristol Motor Speedway, with any other playoff driver who can win that race guaranteed to join Zalenski in the Championship 4. 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. Evan Posocco, Steve Letarte, and Parker Kligerman will be on the call for the remainder of the 2021 season. For more information on iRacing and for special offers, visit www.iRacing.com.

Images via Justin Melillo

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