Move over, Bobby Zalenski. There’s a new king of the road in the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series: Mitchell deJong.
Circuit of The Americas hosted the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series for the first time in history Tuesday night. Few expected it would mark the end of the Zalenski road-course-domination era that dated back four years, but Mitchell deJong put together a flawless race to score his first-career series victory in just his eighth start.
Complete dominance.@MitchelldeJong1 is the real deal 👀
Your COTA winner.pic.twitter.com/oKDDTBohdS
— 23XI Racing (@23XIRacing) May 19, 2021
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) May 19, 2021
DeJong, the 23XI Racing rookie, qualified on pole for the third time of the season at the 20-turn road course. This was no run-of-the-mill lap, however; he bested Zalenski, the road-course ace, by a remarkable three tenths of a second — the first time since 2017 that somebody other than Zalenski qualified first on a road course.
It turned out deJong’s conquering of Zalenski in qualifying was a harbinger of what was to come.
In the first turn of the first lap, defending Coca-Cola iRacing Series champion Nick Ottinger and Zalenski made contact under braking, sending Zalenski’s Letarte Esports Chevrolet spinning in front of the field and causing damage to both vehicles — the unthinkable option for the driver considered untouchable on the road. Zalenski, the odds-on favorite to win his seventh straight road-course race, found himself effectively knocked out of contention, while 23-year-old deJong — the supposed new road ringer in town — sped off to safety ahead of the pack.
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) May 19, 2021
The rookie drove like a veteran as the pack spread out over the course of the race’s first run, slowly extending his gap over Jimmy Mullis in second place.
Around the halfway point of the 34-lap race, drivers made their lone pit stop for fresh tires and a tank of fuel. Cold tires caught Keegan Leahy off guard while exiting pit road; he slid his 23XI Racing Toyota off-track into a barrier, losing valuable time and track positions in a race that featured no full-course cautions — the standard for the Coca-Cola iRacing Series at road courses.
A successful pit stop meant a smooth-sailing second half for deJong, who continued to stretch his lead, consistently running laps faster than the field.
He never looked back in the end, bringing home the checkered flag after leading all 34 laps.
The success at COTA is nothing new for deJong, who picked up an X Games gold medal in the RallyCross Lites Final in 2014, beating drivers including 2020 NASCAR Xfinity Series champion Austin Cindric.
A distant 17 seconds behind deJong, Jimmy Mullis finished second for Richmond Raceway eSports, his third-consecutive road-course runner-up. Graham Bowlin dodged the first-lap crash to score a third-place finish for Stewart-Haas eSports.
Zalenski clawed his way back to finish fourth in the end, ending his six-race streak of road-course wins.
Roush Fenway Racing rookie Steven Wilson rounded out the top five.
DeJong’s victory also marks the eighth different winner in eight races in 2021. A win in the regular season prioritizes a driver for a spot in the playoffs — and a shot at the champion’s $100,000 payday — but with only 10 drivers advancing into the playoffs, it’s quite likely drivers may need to rely on points as a fallback. In other words, should three more drivers win over the course of the next seven races, a win alone might not be enough to advance.
NASCAR’s three national touring series — the NASCAR Cup Series, Xfinity Series, and the Camping World Truck Series — visit the Austin, Texas track for the first time this weekend.
The Coca-Cola iRacing Series visits the virtual Charlotte Motor Speedway next week for Round 9 of the season, where rookie Kollin Keister scored an upset victory last year.