The 10th event of the sixth season of the Monday Night Racing (MNR) league was held on Monday, January 16th at Daytona International Speedway using the ARCA cars. This was race two of the first round of the Season 6 playoffs.
This season, there isn’t a race that proved to be as important as this week at Daytona. Round one of the Monday Night Racing playoffs consists of Super Late Models at Richmond last week, ARCA cars at Daytona this week, and Porsche 911 RSR’s at Watkins Glen next week. The bottom four drivers in points after Watkins Glen are eliminated from the playoffs, and I found myself in a deep points hole after getting taken out at the white flag last week. I’m not comfortable enough at road courses to be able to rely on a good finish next week for points, so I knew I had to go to Daytona and have a good run.
I spent the past weekend at the real-life Daytona International Speedway watching ARCA Menards Series preseason testing before tackling the virtual high banks myself just a few days later. After watching the real pros do their thing, most notably Brayton Laster rocketing to the top of the time sheets as the fastest Chevy driver, I was ready for Monday’s MNR race.
I qualified fourth on Monday evening, which I was very content with. As the green flag flew, I immediately drove to the lead and led the first lap. After several laps of battling for the lead, I fell to third position, the second car on the bottom lane. The ARCA cars on iRacing get gridlocked easily, which makes clearing cars in the opposite lane a challenge.
I maintained my position in the top 3-4 for 33 laps, before bringing my Shaq Eye Gear #98 machine to pit road for the first set of green flag pit stops. Everything went smoothly on pit entry until I reached my box, which wasn’t visible on my screen due to a graphics error on my computer. With the pit box not appearing until I had already passed, I had to slide the car sideways and throw it into reverse to back into my pit box. This cost me valuable time on the track, and I ended up cycling out to 26th position, roughly 20 seconds behind the leaders.
George Balfanz Jr. and I worked together well to propel ourselves to the lead of our 7-8 car pack and begin reeling in the lead drivers. We cut massive gaps into the time difference before the first caution of the race bunched everyone back up.
I restarted just inside the top 20 with 33 laps remaining, and I wasted no time moving back to the front. After only a lap I was already back inside the top 10 and continuing to pick up positions.
Using the speed of the outside lane, I worked with NASCAR Xfinity Series driver Anthony Alfredo to push ourselves clear into first and second, and back down to the inside lane. I stayed glued to Anthony’s back bumper before the second caution of the race on lap 80/90.
I was involved in this caution but thankfully remained unscathed. Two lap cars decided to hold their ground on the bottom lane, which forced me to stay pinched behind them or try to move into the middle lane to pass them. At the same time as I moved up the track, NASCAR Truck Series driver Rajah Caruth moved down the track into the same spot. We ultimately ran out of space going for the same “real estate” in a racing deal, which sent Rajah and several lap cars spinning.
Most of the field, including myself, were low on fuel in the closing laps of the race. It was going to be borderline on all of us making it to the checkered if we went even a lap or two into overtime, but I decided to gamble and stay on the track to assume the race lead for the restart with 8 laps to go. I fell to 2nd position before another caution flew before the completion of the lap.
This time, I restarted in second position with 3 laps remaining. I needed this to remain green flag to the checkered, or I would be in a major fuel concern. I didn’t get the best jump on the restart, but got a big run off of turn two and pulled even with the leader DJ Cummings. I was middle three wide for the lead as we hit two laps to go.
The last few laps turned into a battle of air, with everyone up front trying to side-draft the cars around them to gain any ground possible. We remained three wide at the white flag, with the lead car on the inside pulling clear in turn 3.
My spotter and crew chief duo Robert Dorman and James Pike kept reminding me to stay in the middle lane, as it tends to get a better run off the corner than the other lanes. I side-drafted as hard as I could and got a massive run off of turn four, and with the help of a push from Justin Mellilo behind me, edged out DJ Cummings for the win by just two-hundredths of a second at the checkered as the rest of the field crashed behind me.
This win locks me into the Round of 8 in the Monday Night Racing playoffs. The league visits Watkins Glen next week with the Porsche 911 RSR, which I thankfully don’t have to stress through because of my win this week. Catch all of the action from Watkins Glen next Monday, January 23rd, live on Eric Estepp’s YouTube or the Podium eSports accounts at 7:45 PM EST.