Mitchell deJong’s road course prowess played a big factor in his breakthrough 2021 rookie season, and it may have just saved his 2022 season.
deJong led 33 of the final 45 laps of Watkins Glen International to claim his third career eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series victory, all of which have come at road courses. He won at Circuit of the Americas and Road America last season.
“It’s unbelievable,” dejong said. “Last year, the road courses went really well for me, but this season has been more of a struggle. Today, we had some good prep, and the cards kind of fell in place for us. I am so excited. It is such a great feeling.”
— Justin Melillo (@justinmelillo) August 17, 2022
The race’s opening laps produced a great deal of drama and shook up the playoff picture. Ray Alfalla, a four-time series champion, came into Watkins Glen with a race win but a tenuous hold on the top 20. Alfalla lost that hold when he crashed his No. 51 Joe Gibbs Racing/Virtual Racing School Toyota on the opening lap with the No. 43 of Kollin Kiester and Collin Bowden in the No. 69.
He then wrecked again on lap two just off the carousel after contact with Zack Novak. Alfalla wound up 36th in the running order and now sits outside the top 20 for playoff eligibility and to avoid relegation to a lower series.
“I was just in the wrong place at the time,” Alfalla said. “We knew we had a tough challenge with the road course. This is really unfortunate.”
So MUCH happening early on! A Lap 1 Turn 1 debacle puts Playoff hopefuls like Novak and Alfalla in trouble, then they touch and Ray could be on the outside looking in. MEANWHILE Bobby Zalenski is hanging on barely over Mitchell deJong!#eNASCAR | @iRacing pic.twitter.com/MtuQ7N6IZg
— Justin Melillo (@justinmelillo) August 17, 2022
Bobby Zalenski led the early laps in his No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing/Interstate Batteries Toyota, but deJong was on his bumper almost the whole time in the No. 23 23XI Racing/Virtual Racing School Toyota. Zalenski fended him off for 12 laps, but finally surrendered the lead to deJong on lap 13 and would never see the top spot again.
A series of green flag stops from laps 30-32 did little to change the complexion of the race. Zalenski came down pit road on lap 30, looking to gain an edge by pitting earlier. deJong pitted from the lead on lap 32 and came out with a comfortable lead of nearly five seconds on Zalenski. From there, deJong hit his marks lap-after-lap on his way to the checkered flag.
“Mitchell [deJong] was just a lot faster in a couple of key corners,” Zalenski said. “I tried battling as much as I could. It sucks, but we’ll go and try to win at Darlington [Raceway].”
Graham Bowlin came in as the defending race winner at Watkins Glen, having bumped his way by deJong in 2021. A repeat victory near the Finger Lakes of New York was not meant to be for the driver of the No. 48 Charlotte Phoenix Toyota, as Bowlin brought it home in third place.
“It was pretty tough honestly,” Bowlin said. “We got to pit stops, and it was just me and Steven [Wilson], and then I made the move in the last corner. The car was really fun to drive like 25 laps plus. I really liked it.”
Steven Wilson, a two-time winner in 2022, placed fourth, and Pocono Raceway race winner Casey Kirwan rounded out the top five.
Odds & Ends
- Paint Scheme of the Week: Liam Brotherton donned a throwback scheme on board his No. 2 Elliott Sadler eSports/Next Level Racing Chevrolet honoring Marcos Ambrose on the 10-year anniversary of his dramatic 2012 NASCAR Cup Series win at Watkins Glen over Brad Keselowski. Brotherton, however, was unable to replicate Ambrose’s success, settling instead for a 26th-place finish.
- Speaking of noteworthy paint jobs, Brian Mercurio’s No. 36 Letarte eSports Chevrolet sported a black-and-orange look promoting eNASCAR’s College iRacing Series. The series gives college esports teams in the United States and Canada an opportunity to compete for up to $60,000 in prize money throughout fall and spring seasons. The fall 2022 season for the College iRacing Series kicks off on Sept. 6 at the virtual Homestead-Miami Speedway.
— Elliott Sadler eSports (@SadlerEsports) August 16, 2022
Running it back in the #eNASCAR @NACEOrg iRacing College Series colors for tonight's @eNASCARCocaCola race at Watkins Glen! Car feels good, hoping to put it all together for a solid result.#LETARTEeSports | @NACEOrg | @BarrVisuals
— Brian Mercurio (@Dr_Bob41) August 16, 2022
|Steven Wilson||2 Wins|
|Nick Ottinger||2 Wins|
|Michael Conti||2 Wins|
|Casey Kirwan||1 Win|
|Matt Bussa||1 Win|
|Graham Bowlin||1 Win|
|Mitchell deJong||1 Win|
|Femi Olatunbosun||1 Win|
|Garrett Lowe||1 Win|
|Bobby Zalenski||+ 3 points above cutline|
|Zack Novak||-3 points below cutline|
|Blake Reynolds||-6 points|
deJong locks himself into the playoffs with the victory. Despite not securing the win, Zalenski was the beneficiary of his JGR teammate Alfalla’s misfortune, holding the only spot currently available on points by a slim margin over Novak and Blake Reynolds, with the regular season finale at Darlington looming ahead.
The regular season will wrap up in two weeks with a 120-lapper around the virtual Darlington Raceway. The drivers of the Coca-Cola iRacing Series will tackle the Track Too Tough to Tame on Tuesday, Aug. 30. The coverage begins at 9 p.m. ET, and it will be broadcast live on eNASCAR.com/live, YouTube.com/iRacing and Twitch.tv/iRacing.
About the author
Andrew Stoddard joined Frontstretch in May of 2022 as an iRacing contributor. He is a graduate of Hampden-Sydney College, the University of Richmond, and VCU. He has a new day job as an athletic communications specialist at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Va.
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