Graham Bowlin brought home his first-career eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series victory Tuesday night at Watkins Glen International in dramatic fashion after holding off a hard-charging king of the road, Mitchell deJong, in the closing laps.
Bowlin qualified his Stewart-Haas eSports Ford on pole for the third of his career. His qualifying lap came as a bit of a surprise, besting road-racing juggernauts Bobby Zalenski and Mitchell deJong, who have combined to win every road-course pole since 2018.
A chaotic first lap resulted in Bowlin at the point, Zalenski closely in tow, while deJong, who’d won both road races in the season and was largely considered the favorite to win, fell off pace.
Zalenski kept Bowlin honest throughout the opening run, keeping his Letarte eSports Chevrolet on the No. 10’s back bumper. The series sophomore showed no signs of cracking up front, despite pressure from Zalenski, the six-time road-course winner.
Bowlin opted to pit on Lap 21, just before the halfway mark of the 50-lap event, while Zalenski made his lone visit to the pits a lap later. Little changed the makeup of the race, however; the No. 10 continued to hold a gap on the No. 83.
As the lap count dwindled, the battle between Bowlin and Zalenski raged on, both with much at stake—for Bowlin, it meant a first-ever victory and a spot in the playoffs; for Zalenski, preventing Bowlin from winning would save teammate Chris Shearburn from falling out of a potential shot at the championship.
But, in the closing laps, this year’s king of the road came to play.
Despite a slow start, rookie deJong mounted a charge late, pouncing past Zalenski for second with five laps to go. The only repeat winner of the season, deJong swept the road courses this season, grabbing victories at the inaugural trips to Circuit of The Americas and Road America; a win at The Glen would complete the sweep.
On the final lap, with Bowlin still out in front, deJong attacked, bumping the No. 10 twice in the carousel, which held on to the lead. deJong mounted one final charge in the last corner, entering wide alongside Bowlin, who defended his position, ending up with the No. 23 making contact with the tire barriers with the finish line in sight.
A battle for the ages! ⚔️
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) August 4, 2021
Bowlin held on to score his first-career Coca-Cola iRacing Series victory in his 33rd start, keeping Zalenski and deJong—the winners of every road race since 2017—behind. Zalenski grabbed second after deJong’s brush with the wall, while Steven Wilson and defending series champion Nick Ottinger rounded out the top five.
The victory assures Bowlin, the 12th different winner in 13 races, a spot in the 10-driver playoffs—for him, a sigh of relief in a season jam-packed with unique winners that had him balancing in a precarious bubble position as the highest-ranked driver without a win entering the night.
— Stewart-Haas eSports (@SHR_eSports) August 4, 2021
By a single point, Bowlin takes over the lead in the standings from Keegan Leahy, while Kansas winner Shearburn and Charlotte winner Ray Alfalla remain outside the top 20 in points. The duo of veterans will need to find a way into the top 20—and fast—if they want to compete for a $100,000-to-win championship with eligibility from their victories this season.
The eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series concludes its regular season Aug. 17 for the Logitech G Challenge 100 at Michigan International Speedway. Following the race, 10 drivers will secure their spots in the four-race series playoffs, which run through the championship finale at Texas Motor Speedway on Oct. 12.