They say Pocono Raceway drives like a road course. Maybe that’s why road-racing expert Bobby Zalenski found himself in Victory Lane Tuesday night after a ‘Tricky Triangle’ triple-overtime thriller in the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series.
Defending champion Nick Ottinger qualified on pole for the first time in 2021, hoping to rebound from a tough start to the season. Ottinger’s William Byron eSports machine led the opening 11 laps until fellow series veteran Brad Davies took over the top spot.
Davies and JR Motorsports teammate Michael Conti swapped the lead until pit strategy came into play, some drivers electing to shorten the first segment of the race, while others opted to pit every 30 laps of the 90 scheduled circuits. A handful of outliers — namely Matt Bussa, Brian Schoenburg and Zack Nichols — decided to press their luck and run as far as possible without pitting.
While the race had a green-flag feel to it and no clear favorite emerged as strategy unfolded, the caution fell for the first time with 19 laps to go after Ashton Crowder sent Keegan Leahy for a spin.
The crash was just a sign of what was to come in the closing laps.
The Leahy crash washed away the strategy element as the field came to pit road for fresh tires — a major break for Brian Schoenburg, who found himself restarting in second place on equal footing with the heavy hitters, including Zalenski, who inherited the lead.
As laps wound down, the caution count — along with the feeling of intensity throughout the pack — increased. A five-car crash mid-pack led to a restart where Mode Motorsports teammates Matt Bussa and Jake Nichols tangled. Multi-car crashes arising from close-quarters pack racing deep in the field continued to pepper the closing laps — and into overtime. And second overtime. And third overtime.
Series rules allow for three attempts at overtime, and any subsequent caution-causing crash before the white flag ends the race. That’s just the rule that was invoked when Chris Shearburn, Caine Cook and Michael Conti stacked up on the final restart, Zalenski still out in front when the caution flew.
Zalenski brought his Letarte Esports Chevrolet back to the start-finish line under caution to pick up his ninth-career victory, tying Keegan Leahy for sixth-most all-time. It was Zalenski’s third oval victory; his six others came in consecutive road-course races from 2017 to 2020.
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) June 23, 2021
Charlotte winner Ray Alfalla came home second, while winner at Circuit of The Americas, rookie Mitchell deJong, finished third. Ashton Crowder and Bob Bryant rounded out the top five.
The win for Zalenski was his first of 2021, making him the 10th different winner in 10 Coca-Cola iRacing Series races this season. With 10 drivers making the playoffs in August and a win-and-in playoff format, it’s going to place additional emphasis on victories for drivers who want a piece of the $300,000 pie.
YES!! GIMMIE THAT! pic.twitter.com/bffZnTEq1s
— Bobby Zalenski (@bobbyzalenski) June 23, 2021
Letarte Esports joins 23XI Racing as the only team to put both its drivers in Victory Lane this season, following teammate Chris Shearburn’s Apr. 27 Kansas win.
— Steve Letarte (@SteveLetarte) June 23, 2021
The Coca-Cola iRacing Series is back in action next Tuesday for the first-ever visit to Road America.