Race Weekend Central

Bobby Zalenski Stays Ahead of Wrecks to Dominate Coke Series at Richmond

Bobby Zalenski is a perennial playoff contender in the Coca-Cola iRacing Series, and he took a big step forward in his 2023 title hunt by winning the Richmond 130 at Richmond Raceway. Zalenski led 92 of 130 laps in his No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota on the way to his 12th career Coke Series win, tying him with Keegan Leahy for fifth on the all-time series win list.

“Obviously, the car was a rocket, so I got to thank everybody on my team for all of their hard work,” Zalenski said after the race.

2014 series champion Michael Conti came home second in the No. 8 JR Motorsports Chevrolet, with Jimmy Mullis in third, Nick Ottinger in fourth, and Leahy completing the top five.

“Yeah, no complaints, a really good tonight for the No. 8 car,” Conti said. “I didn’t quite have enough for Bobby, but we were pretty close on pace.”

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TONIGHT’S ACTION

Zalenski’s dominant night began in qualifying by winning the 12th pole of his Coke Series career. The Fresno, California native made the most of his speed early on, leading the opening 35 laps and building a gap of over two seconds over Ottinger.

The opening caution of the night came out on lap 34 for a turn-one incident involving Joey Brown in the No. 14 and last week’s winner Steven Wilson in the No. 10 Smithfield Ford. The entire field went down pit road under the yellow, and Ottinger was fast enough to exit pit lane first and assume the race lead.

Ottinger led the next 24 laps until the yellow flag flew for the second time in the race on lap 59 for a multi-car crash that included the No. 41 of Dylan Duval and the No. 12 of Garrett Manes. This set off another round of pit stops, with Collin Bowden staying out to take the lead in the No. 69.

From here, the complexion of the race changed entirely, with six cautions over the course of 33 laps. Several drivers got caught up in crashes during that stretch, among them being Femi Olatunbosun in the No. 43 Charlotte Phoenix Toyota. After being a part of the race’s fifth caution, Olatunbosun expressed frustration when asked how to best avoid the wrecks.

“Be around people who have eyes and a brake pedal,” Olatunbosun said to McCandless in a mid-race interview.

The sloppy racing prompted race control to implement single-file restarts for the final 30 laps. The change largely worked, with only two cautions in that span. The final yellow came at 16 laps remaining for an incident at the back of the pack between Malik Ray in the No. 7 and Tyler Garey in the No. 66. On the ensuing restart with 10 laps left, Zalesnki got a good jump and did not look back to cap off his dominant night at Richmond.

ODDS AND ENDS

  • Paint Schemes of the Race
    • Brandon McKissic celebrated Women’s History Month by recognizing women in NASCAR with a special pink scheme on his No. 36 Letarte eSports Chevrolet.
    • Zack Novak continued a trend of throwback paint schemes on his No. 75 with a nod to the King himself Richard Petty and his classic STP paint job. Novak moved up from his 38th starting spot to place 13th.
  • Vicente Salas took his sim racing skills to the real world, running in and winning a Late Model Stock race at Hickory Motor Speedway in Hickory, N.C., last Saturday.
  • Points Standings Update
    • Zalenski became the fourth different winner in four races, vaulting up to sixth in the points and third in terms of playoff seeding.Ottinger gains command of the points lead at 122, with Conti just three points behind and Graham Bowlin eight points back.
    • Atlanta winner Wilson finds himself mired back in 23rd in the points, which means that his win currently does not count towards playoff eligibility as race winners must be in the top 20 in points to qualify for the playoffs.

NEXT UP

The Coca-Cola iRacing Series returns in two weeks on Tuesday, April 11 when the series travels to the Autodromo Nazionale Monza road course in Italy. It will mark the first time that the Coke Series has raced at a track outside of North America. Coverage will begin at 8:30 p.m. ET on Twitch.tv/iRacing, YouTube.com/iRacing, and eNASCAR.com.

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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