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P.E.A.K. Recap: Takeaways from Chicagoland

The stars of the eNASCAR PEAK Antifreeze iRacing Series visited the virtual Chicagoland Speedway Tuesday night for Round 10 of the 2019 season. Keegan Leahy put on a dominant performance, leading 87 of the race’s 134 laps.

Here are four takeaways — the P.E.A.K. — of the latest PEAK iRacing Series race.

P: Playoff Hopefuls Rise to the Occasion

For the first time all season, there have been no wild points swings around the playoff bubble. It seemed for most of 2019 a driver could find themselves third in points one week and 12th the next — a nerve-wracking situation for drivers competing to stay in the top eight to compete for a championship from August to October.

After Chicagoland, there’s now an 11-point separation between eighth-place Nick Ottinger and ninth-place Jimmy Mullis — and then 12 more back to Brad Davies in 10th. Of course, one bad run by a playoff contender could give Mullis or Davies a chance to capitalize, but solid runs are starting to pay dividends for drivers like Blake Reynolds, Garrett Lowe and Michael Conti, even though none of them have found Victory Lane yet this year.

E: Extraordinary Rebound for Malik Ray

PEAK iRacing Series rookie Malik Ray had an eventful evening — one that resulted in his career-best finish.

Ray, racing for Richmond Raceway Esports, missed the start of the race due to connection issues, forcing the No. 90 to start on pit road a lap down — rejoining the race in front of the field.

A check-up mid pack resulted in an early caution — the only of the night — and put Ray’s Sunoco Toyota back on the lead lap, though still mired in 39th position.

On the ensuing 126-lap green-flag run to the finish, Ray passed perhaps more cars than anyone else, surviving two rounds of green flag pit stops and a close-quarters battle with Ray Alfalla late in the race to finish eighth — his career-best.

Malik Ray Alfalla

With his finish, Ray moved to 16th in points — 71 points behind the playoffs cutoff — but five ahead of the 20th-place cutoff that guarantees a ride for the 2020 season.

A: Awful Luck for Matt Bussa

With the season Matt Bussa’s had recently, it’s tough to remember he contended for the championship last season.

Following a crash when Adam Benefiel had trouble entering pit road Tuesday night, Bussa exited his hometown race early and now finds himself three points on the wrong side of the 20th-place cutoff.

83 5 Crash First Part

To contrast the first half of 2019 with the second for the Williams Esports driver, he had an impressive 9.8 average finish on the season following Race 5 in Richmond. Since then, he’s finished 33rd at Talladega, 27th at Kansas, 30th at Charlotte, missed the race at Sonoma, and finished 35th at Chicagoland — a dismal 31.3 average finish, not counting Sonoma.

With four races before the playoffs, Bussa can’t realistically make it to the top eight this year, so he’s set his sights on 2020.

K: Keegan Leahy is really good right now.

Not only did Tuesday night’s race at Chicagoland mark the second win in three races for Keegan Leahy of G2 Esports, but perhaps more impressive is his rise to the points lead.

Heading into Charlotte three races ago, Leahy found himself second in championship standings, 40 behind a seemingly untouchable Ryan Luza. In a short time, Leahy’s now on top by two points — thanks to a win at Charlotte, a solid fourth-place effort at Sonoma, and now his second victory of the year in Chicagoland. Luza, on the other hand, didn’t finish at Sonoma and hasn’t visited Victory Lane since snapping a 20-race top-10 streak with a DNF at Kansas.

Also noteworthy about Leahy’s win Tuesday was the fashion in which he dominated. His 6.2-second margin of victory over Corey Vincent was the only race on an oval track in 2019 where second place wasn’t within a second of the leader at the checkers.

62 Burnout

When you can say, “Sorry I made the race a little boring, maybe” in your post-race interview, you know you’re doing something right.