Tucker Minter may be a rookie in the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series, but he has certainly not raced like one. In fact, Minter will be racing for the championship in his rookie season after his third win of the season in the Logitech G 120 at Phoenix Raceway.
Minter took the lead for good with 25 laps to go, stayed out while others pitted with 12 to go, and then held off fierce challenges from Bobby Zalenski and defending champion Casey Kirwan in three overtimes to punch his Championship 4 ticket.
“I can’t believe it,” an ecstatic Minter said post-race. “We had just a great car. The race I was like I got to execute, I got to be there. I did everything I could to time the restarts as best as I could.”
Zalenski needed a win to make it back to the Championship 4, but he came up one spot short in second.
“The last two restarts, I was under Tucker and he’s out of here and I’m going,” Zalenski said. “I just did not have luck on my side in these playoffs.”
As for Kirwan, third place was not enough to make the Championship 4, as he will be unable to defend his eNCCiS title from 2022.
“It was just disappointing,” a dejected Kirwan told Steve Letarte afterward. “I felt like we did everything we could. [Phoenix] is just a very tough track to pass at.”
Minter joined Garrett Lowe and Nick Ottinger in winning his way to the Championship 4. As for the fourth and final spot, Steven Wilson took it on points by virtue of his sixth-place finish at Phoenix and runner-up finishes at Michigan and Dover the previous two weeks.
Yellow was the color of the evening at Phoenix, as the race featured a whopping 14 caution flags.
Starting on the pole for the fifth time in the past eight races, Ottinger fired off well on the start to lead the first 10 laps before the race’s opening caution on lap 11. The yellow flag flew due to Tyler Garey spinning out following contact near the start/finish line with Darik Bourdeau and Daniel Faulkingham.
On the next green flag run, Minter moved up to second and pressured Ottinger for the race lead but could not find his way to the lead. On lap 22, the yellow flag came out for a chain reaction wreck on the backstretch that included another playoff driver in Jimmy Mullis.
This led to a shakeup in the running order with various pit strategies, as several drivers stayed out under the caution while Ottinger came out with four tires back in 12th. Kaden Honeycutt assumed the race lead in his No. 17 RFK Racing Ford.
While playoff drivers avoided one wreck on lap 27, three of them were not so lucky on lap 33 as Mullis, Wilson, and Michael Guest all suffered significant damage on a backstretch crash. This accident required repairs and cost them valuable track position.
“Car’s probably killed,” a dejected Wilson said in a mid-race interview. “We’re going to hope for a miracle here. Nothing I can do about it.”
As the middle of the race played out, new faces made their way to the front, most notably Zalenski and Michael Conti. On lap 51, the two elite drivers went three-wide with Honeycutt for the race lead, and it was ultimately Zalenski who crossed the stripe out front.
Yet another yellow at the race’s halfway point would alter strategy. While Zalenski stayed out, most everyone else got fresh tires, putting him in a vulnerable position on older rubber.
The field once again crashed with 57 laps left, this time involving playoff drivers Mullis and Jordy Lopez, who was the last driver in the Championship 4 at the time.
Starting with 45 laps to go, the race finally settled into a longer green flag run. This allowed Kirwan to use fresher tires to track down and eventually pass Zalenski after fierce between the two. Kirwan’s lead, however, was fairly short-lived as Minter made his way back into the picture and took the point with 25 laps remaining.
The 33-lap green flag stretch ended with 12 laps remaining as the ninth caution came out for a Corey Vincent spin. Minter stayed out under the yellow, but almost everybody else came down pit road for service. Mullis also stayed out on a gamble to give himself one more chance at a walk-off win.
Minter held off the field before another caution with seven laps left. This led to a shootout with two laps remaining, but inevitably, a mid-pack wreck set the stage for overtime. Kirwan spun from second but was able to maintain his track position as it occurred after the caution came out.
The race required all three overtime periods, each featuring fierce racing for the win between Minter, Zalenski, and Kirwan, but each time Minter hung onto the lead as a caution came out behind them, ending the race under yellow.
ODDS AND ENDS
- Paint Scheme of the Week
- Conti introduced the final throwback scheme of his farewell, paying homage to the first ever paint job of his eNCCiS career back in 2012.
- iRacers in Real Life
- It has been a great eNCCiS season for Lowe, and that success has carried over to the real racetrack. Lowe picked up his first Late Model win at the Lonesome Pines Speedway in Virginia a few days ago.
The 2023 eNCCiS champion will be crowned in two weeks on Tuesday, September 26 in a 100-lapper around Homestead-Miami Speedway. The Championship 4 drivers will compete live from the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, N.C. 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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