Kettelle notches first win; Coca-Cola Series playoff field set

Finally, after 63 tries, a race winner.

Brandon Hayse Kettelle made his eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series debut in 2012, and after a wild finish at Talladega Superspeedway Tuesday night, he scored his first-career victory in his 63rd start.

The race also marked the final stop in the regular season before the playoffs, where the top eight drivers in points will advance to compete for the championship title and a $100,000 first-place prize.

Christian Challiner started on pole for the 94-lap event, which featured three-wide racing abound from start to finish. Much of the race belonged to Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Graham Bowlin and Malik Ray, who led a combined 29 laps. Jimmy Mullis, who entered the night just 14 points out of the playoffs, put his Richmond Raceway eSports Toyota out front for 27 laps in hopes fellow bubble drivers ran into trouble – something not unreasonable to expect at the biggest and fastest track on the circuit.

Kettelle Wins Talladega 2020
Brandon Hayes Kettelle burns it down after winning at virtual Talladega Superspeedway.

The action was intense, yet clean; the race featured two complete rounds of green-flag pit stops. A single caution slowed the field with under 10 laps to go – but it was a significant one for the championship picture.

Logan Clampitt, who entered the evening 24 points safely inside the playoffs, ran into trouble with 18 laps to go when his Burton-Kligerman Esports Toyota made contact with Garrett Lowe’s car, sending Clampitt into the wall, sustaining heavy damage. No caution flew for the incident, which also included a wild save by Dylan Duval, but the true drama came later.

As the pack raced to lap Clampitt’s damaged car 10 laps later, his No. 99 made contact with John Gorlinsky and Jake Nichols, sending both Clampitt and Nichols hard into the outside wall, effectively putting an end to any hopes Clampitt had left of making the top eight.

Bob Bryant, Clampitt’s teammate, led the field to the ensuing restart, setting up for a mad dash to the finish – all with the promise of the playoffs on the line. Quickly, the field fanned out to its usual three-wide formation, with Bryant, Nick Ottinger, and Kettelle leading the grooves.

At the checkered flag, Kettelle’s middle lane had enough momentum after a push from Eric J. Smith to inch Kettelle’s Ford just ahead of Bryant at the right time, earning Kettelle the victory.

Meanwhile, a crash at the finish line jumbled up the running order one final time, sending multiple cars airborne in spectacular fashion. (This is Talladega, after all.)

None of the action behind him, including the playoff points battle, mattered to Kettelle, who entered the race 34th in points. It was finally – after 63 races – his time to head to Victory Lane. His previous best finish was a runner-up at Daytona in 2013.

Even team owner Clint Bowyer joined in to congratulate his driver.

Smith finished second, while Bob Bryant scored a career-best third-place finish. Bobby Zalenski and Jimmy Mullis rounded out the top five.

Meanwhile, in the playoff bubble battle, a loss for Clampitt was a gain for Mullis, who remained in contention to capitalize on Clampitt’s misfortune. Mullis’ fifth-place finish was enough to clinch the final playoff spot by eight points over Clampitt, who came up just shy of making the playoffs for the third year in a row.

For Kettelle, though, the celebration that’s eight years in the making is just beginning.

The most exciting action is still to come as the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series playoffs begin Oct. 13 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval.

Race Results

Talladega Race Results Coke Series 2020