DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – For the second year in a row, the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series season opener at Daytona Int’l Speedway went caution-free, but it again ended in mass chaos on the final lap.
After a dazzling display of mostly three-wide racing for all 250 miles, contact between Jim Beaver eSports’ Michael Guest and William Byron eSports’ Logan Clampitt in turn four as the field raced toward the checkered flag led to a multi-car pileup that collected most of the 40-car field.
When the smoke finally cleared, it was JR Motorsports’ Michael Conti – the 2014 series champion – who raced to the finish line unchallenged for his 11th career win and first at the World Center of Racing.
In doing so, Conti became the 13th different Daytona victor in the 12-year history of the Coca-Cola Series. It marked the first superspeedway triumph of his career since he joined the tour a decade ago.
He also locked himself into the playoffs with the win, in the first year of the series utilizing a win-and-you’re-in postseason format, similar to the postseason rules in NASCAR’s three national divisions.
“I’m sure everybody saw it after the race, but I am over the moon with this win,” said Conti. “Anybody that knows me can tell you that plate tracks are not my specialty. I admittedly don’t know what I’m doing half of the time in them, but going into the race tonight with everything that Dale (Earnhardt Jr.) and JR Motorsports, Chad Wheeler, and everything that everybody’s put behind me during offseason … I knew I had to step up my game.
“In years past, I played it safe. I stayed in the back and then we’d get to the end and it’d be three by three and I couldn’t go anywhere,” Conti added. “Tonight, we almost did the same thing. I qualified poorly; we got a bad gust of wind, and I started in the back and was going to play it safe. And then about 15 laps in, I told Adam (Benefiel), my crew chief, that we needed to go for it. And if we wrecked, we wrecked, but there was too much of an upside potential to just sit there and not try to get the victory.
“Some things went our way. We had some lucky breaks, the pit cycles were good, and I got a hell of a push by Michael Guest there at the end. I can’t thank him enough, because without him, I definitely would not have been able to pull that off.”
The intensity of the race hit fever pitch with 22 to go, after the final round of green-flag pit stops wrapped up and the lead pack cycled out with Conti leading the inside lane, Clampitt guiding the middle groove and Ottinger pacing a handful of cars around the far outside of the 2.5-mile oval.
The latter won the series championship last year with the support of the former pair, roommates who race together out of the same room on a weekly basis, meaning all three were working together in the closing stages to control all three lanes and settle the battle for the win among themselves.
With masterful precision, the trio kept any other challengers from sliding up in front of them to capitalize on any runs in the draft, holding their positions through the white flag and back to turn three.
However, in the final corner, Guest washed up a half lane and contacted Clampitt’s Chevrolet, sending Clampitt spinning in front of the field as Conti snuck through down low and raced home to victory.
Guest got sideways on the apron but gathered his Ford Mustang up and followed Conti to the line as the runner-up. The official margin of victory was .420 seconds.
Series rookie Jake Matheson crossed third, followed by active series Ironman Corey Vincent and another rookie-of-the-year contender in Isaac Gann.
Bobby Zalenski, Podium 500 winner Casey Kirwan, Vicente Salas, Chris Shearburn and Brad Davies filled out the top 10.
Contact between Ryan Luza and Malik Ray on the backstretch working lap 31 led to a multi-car incident that, surprisingly, did not bring out a yellow flag. It did, however, collect several contenders for the win.
Among them was 2019 series champion Zack Novak, who was later penalized for failing to maintain minimum speed and disqualified as a result. He was credited with last – 40th – in the final results.
Race two of the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series season takes place at the virtual Homestead-Miami Speedway on Feb. 23, back in the tour’s traditional Tuesday night timeslot.
Coverage of the event begins at 9 p.m. ET on enascar.com/live and iRacing’s streaming platforms.
To view complete race results, advance to the next page.