Denny Hamlin Racing’s Casey Kirwan made the most of two overtimes to get the job done Tuesday in the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series race at Michigan International Speedway.
Chris Shearburn started on pole for the third time in his career Tuesday, driving for Letarte eSports. Action started quickly in the Irish Hills as Jeremy Allen and Nick Ottinger tangled on the second lap, collecting second-place starter Malik Ray, ending the night for the trio hoping for strong runs with the playoffs just six races away.
After the early caution, the race went mostly green and free from carnage – though that certainly meant no lack of action on track.
There was no clear favorite to win the race, with the tight pack-racing-esque package keeping lead cars together with no car able to drive away from the field. Caine Cook, Jarl Teien, Graham Bowlin, Ray Alfalla, Bobby Zalenski, Kollin Keister, and Michael Guest – just to name a few – spent time at the top of the leaderboard in the race that featured 29 lead changes among 15 total race leaders.
The majority of the field opted for a strategy of splitting the 100-lap race into two halves, pitting at around the halfway point in the race – even though doing so meant cutting things close on having enough fuel in the tank to make it to the finish.
With Kirwan leading the way, a caution with two laps to go when Phil Diaz and Bowlin tangled changed the complexion of the race entirely: a once-green, tire-saving race turned into a battle of survival under the ensuing caution, with drivers opting for a multitude of strategies.
While Keister, Justin Bolton and Brian Schoenburg chose to stay out on old tires and hope for the best on a late-race run to the finish, most cars behind changed tires in hopes doing so meant more speed through the corners.
The first driver on newer tires was G2 Esports rookie Alex McCollum, chasing his first career victory. On the first overtime restart, McCollum quickly made his way to the point on fresh tires. With the white flag in sight, another multi-car crash, this time involving Justin Bolton, Nathan Lyon and others, slowed the race, meaning McCollum wasn’t going to walk away with a win quite yet.
On the final restart, Kirwan moved swiftly past McCollum to reclaim the lead – and he’d never look back. While runners-up McCollum, Alfalla, and others crashed at the start-finish line, Kirwan sped ahead to victory.
The race marked Kirwan’s second-career win and his first for Denny Hamlin Racing – the first team to put both drivers in Victory Lane in 2020.
McCollum salvaged a second-place run – his career best – while Alfalla, Shearburn, and Christian Challiner rounded out the top five.
— Denny Hamlin (@dennyhamlin) July 29, 2020
2. TIME. WINNER. Unbelievable night. Finally got @DHR_eSports @dennyhamlin @Jumpman23 into victory lane. This is more like it. Perfect timing for my 21st birthday on thursday. We were 60 points out of the TOP 20 in points 5 races ago. We're now 32 points out of the playoffs. ?? pic.twitter.com/aEYVdKqpZ5
— Casey Kirwan (@CaseyKirwan23) July 29, 2020
The win was a welcome sight for Kirwan, who’d struggled in the first half of the season. Heading into Michigan, he found himself 21st in points, outside the end-of-year relegation window, meaning he wouldn’t be guaranteed a ride in 2021. After the victory, he vaulted to 13th in points, 32 points away from a playoff position with five races remaining in the regular season.
The eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series heads next to the Daytona International Speedway Road Course for the first time in series history on August 11.