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From the (Virtual) Driver’s Seat: Monday Night Racing in the NASCAR Next Gen at Pocono

Photo Credit: James D. Gibson

The 12th event of the sixth season of the Monday Night Racing (MNR) league was held on Monday, January 30th at Pocono using the NASCAR Cup Series Next Gen. This was the first race of the Round of 8 in the playoffs. 

The pressure is on starting this week, with any playoff winner over the next two races automatically advancing to the Championship 4. 

I participated in both league practice races on Sunday night, which helped me get more comfortable with the car. I wasn’t totally happy with my speed but it could’ve been much worse. I was at least in the mix. 

As Monday night rolled around, I started picking up more speed. I felt like I was one of the quickest cars in race pace but still lacked a little in qualifying speed. I qualified in the 5th position, which I was extremely happy about. Fifth place more than exceeded my qualifying expectations. 

I spent the first 20 laps of the race battling it out for positions 3-7. The name of the game was tire saving, but over-saving the right front tire melted the right rear tire and vice versa. At the end of the first run, I was one of the quickest drivers on the track before the caution. 

My race took a quick turn for the worst on the second restart. On lap 33 I found myself in the middle of three wide going into turn two. The car on my outside pinched me down while the car on the inside washed up off the bottom, and I ended up getting spun. Thankfully everyone managed to miss me as I was spinning, so aside from the track position I lost, I was moderately alright. 

The next 35 laps were about as straightforward as it gets. I had one goal: pass as many cars as possible. I cut into my deficit about as well as I possibly could have, driving all the way back well inside the top 20. A caution with 13 laps remaining threw a major curveball into everyone’s race. 

After a discussion with my spotter/crew chief duo Robert Dorman and James Pike, we decided to play the strategy game under caution. I took right-side tires only and restarted 4th with inside of 10 laps to go. We had to do something different to have any shot at the win or at least get track position back. I fell to 9th after the first lap back green but maintained my fight inside the top 10 until another caution set up a restart with three to go. 

The fight was on as we made it to two laps to go, but carnage struck down the back stretch exiting turn one. After almost completing the pass for 7th and setting sail on 6th, a non-playoff driver crashed me and took me entirely out of a shot for a good finish. The points swing was massive, from having what would’ve been a huge buffer in points for next week, now I will enter -7 on the cut line going into the elimination race at Chicagoland. 

Monday Night Racing heads to Chicagoland with the NASCAR Trucks next Monday, February 6th. You can catch all of the action live on Eric Estepp’s YouTube or the Podium eSports socials at 7:45 PM EST.

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