On the Coca-Cola iRacing Series’ throwback night at Darlington, Casey Kirwan threw it back to Tony Stewart with not only the paint scheme on his No. 95 XSET Chevrolet, but also with his driving on the way to the fifth win of his eNASCAR career.
This win came in his 100th start in the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series.
“Tony [Stewart] was my childhood hero growing up, and to run the throwback to his championship year was an honor,” Kirwan said.
Kirwan, the defending Coca-Cola Series champion, bounced back from an early incident, gained track position through clever strategy during green flag pit stops, and held off some of the series’ best en route to his second win of the season.
“I think everyone saw that first caution there, and I thought we would be in trouble,” Kirwan said post-race. “The car was not badly damaged, but with how bad we slid the tires in that wreck, I was scared on that long run, but we still had really good speed.”
2020 series champion Nick Ottinger came home second, followed by 2014 champion Michael Conti in third. Polesitter Graham Bowlin crossed the line in fourth, and Malik Ray utilized an overcut strategy to leapfrog forward and complete the top five.
“I could have navigated the positions a little bit better,” Ottinger reflected in his post-race interview with Alan Cavanna. “I needed to get around the 7 a lot quicker. I used a little bit more of my tires to try and get by him.”
Bowlin led the opening three laps, but he quickly surrendered the lead to Matt Bussa. Shortly thereafter, on lap 8, the first caution of the night came out when Daniel Faulkingham in the No. 54, Femi Olatunbosun in the No. 43, and Kirwan in the No. 95 made contact on the front stretch. In front of them, Dylan Duval hit the wall in the No. 41, creating an accordion leading to the bigger wreck behind him.
When the green flag flew again on lap 12, the race settled into a long green flag run, and Bussa would dictate the pace out front. Bussa led 36 straight laps before giving up the top spot to Ottinger on lap 40.
The green flag pit cycle commenced on lap 51 when the No. 75 of Zack Novak hit the pit lane. Some drivers pitted earlier, such as Kirwan on lap 56, while others stretched their fuel to the limit, including Ryan Luza and Ray, who were the last to pit on lap 78. Once Luza and Ray pitted, Kirwan cycled through to the race lead.
The yellow flag finally flew again with 28 laps to go in response to Olatunbosun and Kaden Honeycutt getting into the wall in turns 1 and 2, ending an 81-lap green flag run. On the ensuing pit stops under caution, different pit strategies would come into play. Garrett Lowe and Ray stayed out, while Bobby Zalenski and Collin Bowden put on two tires. That left Kirwan as the first one off of pit road with four fresh Goodyear Eagles.
The race went back green with 23 to go, but only two laps later, the race’s third — and final — yellow flag flew as Honeycutt got caught up in a crash again following contact with Kollin Kiester that collected a few others, including Wyatt Tinsley and Vicente Salas.
This set the stage for a 17-lap sprint to the finish, with Ray leading the field back to green on older tires. Ray fought valiantly, but he lost the lead to Kirwan with 14 laps remaining. Ottinger had a harder time getting by Ray, clearing him with 11 laps to go; however, Kirwan opened up a one-second gap on Ottinger by that point.
Ottinger slowly ate into the gap, getting as close as three car lengths behind Kirwan, but facing dirty air, his pursuit stalled as Kirwan took the checkered flag at the Track Too Tough To Tame.
“I was starting to hang on for dear life those last few laps. It was just enough, and we won at Darlington. It’s crazy,” a relieved and victorious Kirwan said afterwards.
TOP FIVE THROW BACK PAINT SCHEMES
- The Darlington race also doubled as the Coke Series’ throwback week, and that can only mean one thing: a plethora of throwback paint schemes. It was no easy task, but here are our top 5 nostalgic paint jobs of the night:
- 5) No. 7 Ray – Ray’s Jim Beaver eSports Ford paid homage to Kyle Busch’s Pedigree paint scheme from his first season with Joe Gibbs Racing in 2008.
- 4) No. 69 Bowden – The Suffolk, Va., native drove the 2000 Exide livery of fellow Virginian Jeff Burton on his eRacr Chevrolet.
- 3) Sadler eSports (No. 1 Darik Bourdeau and No. 27 Cody Byus) – We could not pick just one for this spot, as Sadler eSports knocked it out of the park with both of their designs. Bourdeau piloted a 2005 Kevin Harvick scheme in honor of Harvick’s final season of Cup Series competition, while Byus brought back a look from Kasey Kahne’s winningest Cup Series season in 2006.
- 2) Kanaan eSports (No. 11 Parker White and No. 66 Tyler Garey) – Just because it is an eNASCAR throwback weekend does not mean the throwback schemes have to be NASCAR-related. For example, White and Garey’s Tony Kanaan eSports Toyotas were both decked in the iconic 7-Eleven colors from his owner’s IndyCar career.
- 1) No. 88 Kevin King – Speaking of tributes to owners, that is exactly what King did with the top throwback scheme of the night. His No. 88 JR Motorsports Chevrolet sported a similar look to Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s AMP Energy paint job from his early years with Hendrick Motorsports.
ODDS AND ENDS
- The Countdown to Green crew announced a change to this season’s Coke Series schedule, with the Chicago Street Course replacing Watkins Glen International on June 27. The Chicago Street Course made its Coke Series debut in last season’s All-Star Race, and iRacing proved instrumental in the design and testing of the layout for the NASCAR Cup Series’ Chicago Street Race taking place this Fourth of July weekend.
- Kirwan became the 12th different winner in 14 Coke Series races at Darlington, which has been on the schedule since the inaugural season in 2010. Ray Alfalla is the only multi-time winner at Darlington with three victories.
- Point Standings Update
- Conti maintains a lead of 14 points over Ottinger while Kirwan moves up to third in the standings as the third multi-race winner of 2023, alongside Conti and Zalenski.
- Meanwhile, at the top-20 relegation line to stay in the Coke Series next season, Tinsley currently holds a three-point edge over Keister.
The Coca-Cola iRacing Series continues in two weeks on Tuesday, May 30, with 100 laps at the virtual Charlotte Motor Speedway. Coverage will begin at 8:30 p.m. ET with Countdown to Green presented by Wendy’s, followed by the green flag shortly after 9 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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