Coming off the heels of the historic eNASCAR PEAK Antifreeze iRacing Series Draft, undrafted free agent Taylor Hurst led 45 of 50 laps to win the preseason test race at Daytona. In a race that saw back-to-back “Big One’s” early on, Hurst started 4th and took the lead early and was largely uncontested the entire race. For the majority of the race and through to the end, Richmond Raceway eSports driver Jimmy Mullis stayed behind the all-black car of Taylor Hurst exerting their dominance on the inside line.
Despite repeated attempts throughout the race, especially from drivers like Keegan Leahy and Michael Conti, the outside line never was able to hold momentum to be a threat to the leaders. Although, there was one lead change that occurred from the high line and that was in the opening laps when Hurst had a great push from Mullis and then dropped down in front of the #62 G2 eSports Chevy of Leahy. Considering no one else was able to get more than a fender ahead on the outside just shows how tuned in Taylor Hurst’s car was for the night.
“With the current speedway package, it’s extremely difficult to get the outside cars to stick close enough together to create the amount of momentum needed to clear the inside lane of cars, ” 2014 eNPAiS Champion Michael Conti said. “At one point we were even with Hurst and Mullis on the inside, but the momentum eventually died and we slowly faded backward. No one was truly committed to helping anyone tonight…You’ll see a similar struggle in the 250 next week, no doubt.”
One factor in the lack of outside momentum that drivers noted was car damage, as it slows down the cars in the high speeds of Daytona especially if they are leading the draft. That made some drivers, like Eric J. Smith, believe the outside still can be productive, “It comes down to teamwork. My car was definitely slower from damage occurring on the second caution, and nobody really wanted to work with damaged cars, so I saw a lot of free for all until the end. The outside works, and I know it’ll work next week.”
While others noticed the high number of damaged vehicles in the pack, that didn’t always change the opinion that the inside line is the way to go, “I expect the bottom to win the race this year, ” last year’s Daytona winner Nick Ottinger said. “Any time we had an outside line formed, it was just a mix of 2-3 cars closed tight and a few car lengths back there would be another 2-3 cars that could pull up to the car ahead. That would be too much space between to make any gains up in the top line.”
Some drivers even gave up on the outside line entirely, and it worked out for them in the end, “I tried using the outside to get to the front,” undrafted free agent Adam Benefiel said. “It always seemed we would get a good run at first but it would always stall. So after the yellow, my guys and I decided to stay committed to the bottom and just fill the holes when people moved up.” Benefiel came home 3rd at the end of the night.
Indeed, the wrecks at the beginning of the race played a huge factor. The first “Big One” occurred on Lap 11 when JR Motorsports driver Brad Davies (#88) went a little wide in turn 2. 4-time and defending champion, Ray Alfalla, held his line and got into the left rear of the 88 and spun him. Alfalla slid down collecting Dylan Duval and Nick Ottinger which caused Ottinger’s #47 JTG-Daugherty Chevrolet to slam nose first into the outside wall. “Saw a lot of aggressive moves to form a solid top line,” Ottinger said. “Unfortunately, someone misjudged getting into the left rear of the 88 and we were in the wrong spot at the wrong time. It’s a product of plate racing.”
Malik Ray had nowhere to go and smashed into Ottinger, ending his day as well. Chris Overland had started on the Pole in the randomized starting grid, but dropped to the rear early on. He was down on the infield pavement to avoid the incident when he was knocked by Duval’s spinning car.
This led to the first of two cautions in the event, which gave everyone the chance to make their one and only pit stop for the race. All except for the #4 of Nathan Lyon. When the green flag flew, Lyon put a gap between him and the field. The problem was, it was too big of a gap. Once the draft picked up speed, they caught up to him too quickly and caused the inside line to all check up. Renegades driver Garrett Lowe didn’t have enough time to react and got into the back of Conti, then got turned around by Benjamin Nelson. Lowe slid up into the wall and there was a complete road block for all the cars behind him, damaging at least half of the 34 car field.
“I saw the wreck in front of me and I slowed down and basically got caught in an accordion effect, ” Burton Kligerman eSports driver Ashton Crowder said. “Sadly, that’s something you can’t really avoid at Daytona.”
As stated earlier, the wreck started with an accordion that went from the leader Nathan Lyon on down to JR Motorsports driver Michael Conti who made a pretty good save to keep himself from being in the accident, “As we caught the leader, who had jumped out to a huge lead after the restart, we had to check up on the bottom, but unfortunately for the two guys immediately behind me, they didn’t have enough time to react and ultimately wrecked because of that.”
There was another startling incident late in the race, nearing 10 laps to go when Casey Tucker came up on Chris Shearburn in the tri-oval. Tucker slid into the infield pavement and grass and slammed hard into the inside wall in very similar fashion to Kyle Busch’s famous incident several years ago in the Xfinity Series. Tucker’s car flipped over on his roof and back on all 4 after the hit. Shearburn was able to keep going and since the crash happened off the racing surface, there was no caution.
Once all the smoke cleared from the 2 separate Big One’s, at least 7 of the 18 drivers in the race that were selected in last week’s draft were effectively out of contention. That opened the door for all of the undrafted free agents to shine and show their potential. One such driver was Brandon Hayse Kettelle who ran up front the majority of the race and was the first driver to try and make a move for the win coming to the white flag.
“The way with our current draft package, it makes building runs very hard,” Kettelle said. “So for the last 6 or 7 laps I was trying to figure out how much of a run I could get on Mullis…I was just hoping the outside would form. Unfortunately the net-code on the last lap cost us another Top-5 at the plate tracks.” In Turn 3, it appeared Kettle got loose from ghost contact called “net-code” which means that there was a slight technical error that caused an incident. Essentially, one computer says one car is at a certain spot on the track while another competitor’s computer says its at a different spot. The conflicting internet communication then sometimes results in an apparent collision when visually, the contact can’t be seen. This is what caused Kettelle’s car to slide up into the wall while trying to improve his chances at a best possible finish while Taylor Hurst cruised to the exhibition race victory.
All in all, the practice race to start the year proved useful for many teams as it allowed them to perfect their setup for next week’s season opener. “We learned a lot for sure,” Ashton Crowder said. “Always great to be able to test out your car before the regular season starts. We were very tight on entry, so we will take some notes and have an even better car next week!”
“I know our #47 team produced a solid setup for our Dash that we will definitely take to the season opener,” defending race winner Nick Ottinger said. “We need to qualify up front and stay there. If we do, our #47 Kroger Chevy ZL1 will be very hard to beat.”
Understandably so, most of the talk surrounding the start of the 2019 season is how the new NASCAR and eSport teams will be playing a role both on and off the track after the first ever draft where 24 of the 40 drivers were selected. While it wasn’t seen much in the Dash, the general expectation among the drivers is that teammates will work together more next week. “Despite all the teams,” Eric J. Smith said. “It seemed to me like there wasn’t a ton of cooperation and I expect that to change by the first race on the 12th.”
“You’re going to have a lot of drafted teammates out there that have not worked with each other prior to this race,” Conti said. “Luckily for me, Brad Davis and I have worked together in the past, so we’ve already got a pre-existing relationship. The same can be said for the two Wood Brothers drivers of Alfalla and Overland.”
One of the highlights among the Top-5 finishers was Adam Benefiel who hopes that his successful night, as well as other undrafted free agents, sent a message for prospective teams to pick them up sometime this season, “I hope it did. But honestly this series is overflowing with talent but being undrafted you kind of feel like you got a chip on your shoulder. So it felt great to go out and have a run like that.” Benefiel was one of 6 undrafted free agents to finish in the Top-10 of the draft. Only 18 of 24 drafted drivers participated in the preseason Dash race, that consisted of a 34-car field.
Going into the season, Michael Conti is one of the clear favorites to contend for what would be his 2nd series championship. Last season, he won 2 of the 4 playoff races and kept up with Ray Alfalla and Ryan Luza in the championship race at Homestead but unfortunately ended in a crash. Conti spoke about his confidence towards this season, “After how well we ended last season, I’m as confident as I’ve ever been! We’re rolling into this year with the same group of guys that we worked with last year, so I’m expecting the performance and results to be just as good or better than what we saw at the end of 2018. We’ve got some stiff competition as always, but being that our guys have worked together for two full seasons, when a lot of other competitors are entering 2019 with a new group around them, we have a huge leg up on the competition. We need to capitalize on that and use that to our advantage!”
The 2019 eNASCAR PEAK Antifreeze Series starts on Tuesday, February 12 at 9pm ET at Daytona International Speedway. It can be seen on iRacing.com, Racespot.tv, and Twitch, as well as the YouTube iRacing eSports Network. Nick Ottinger is the defending winner of the race and Ray Alfalla enters as defending champion after winning a record 4th title in 2018.
Full Dash Results:
|2||7||46||Jimmy Mullis||Richmond Raceway eSports||Toyota||-0.050|
|4||3||62||Keegan Leahy||G2 eSports||Chevy||-0.174|
|7||22||8||Michael Conti||JR Motorsports||Chevy||-0.742|
|8||5||80||Brandon Hayse Kettelle||Privateer||Chevy||-1.072|
|9||15||37||Christian Challiner||JTG Daugherty Racing||Chevy||-1.382|
|10||8||51||Eric J. Smith||Privateer||Chevy||-1.457|
|11||14||14||Casey Kirwan||Clint Bowyer Racing||Ford||-1.459|
|12||30||79||Nickolas Shelton||Clint Bowyer Racing||Ford||-13.521|
|13||25||5||Matt Bussa||Williams eSports||Toyota||-19.497|
|16||1||16||Chris Overland||Wood Brothers Racing||Ford||-19.667|
|17||27||17||Michael Guest||Roush Fenway Racing||Ford||-19.740|
|22||16||77||Ashton Crowder||Burton Kligerman eSports||Toyota||-31.835|
|23||6||36||Chris Shearburn||Privateer||Chevy||-1 Lap|
|24||24||88||Brad Davies||JR Motorsports||Chevy||-1 Lap|
|25||20||24||Cody Byus||Privateer||Chevy||-1 Lap|
|26||2||28||Garrett Lowe||Renegades||Ford||-8 Laps|
|27||33||7||Ryan Lowe||Privateer||Chevy||-10 Laps|
|28||17||19||Casey Tucker||Privateer||Ford||-12 Laps|
|29||12||20||Jake Nichols||Joe Gibbs Racing||Toyota||-13 Laps|
|30||11||6||Zack Novak||Roush Fenway Racing||Ford||-34 Laps|
|31||23||47||Nick Ottinger||JTG Daugherty Racing||Chevy||-37 Laps|
|32||19||42||Dylan Duval||Privateer||Chevy||-38 Laps|
|33||18||21||Ray Alfalla||Wood Brothers Racing||Ford||-38 Laps|
|34||28||90||Malik Ray||Richmond Raceway eSports||Toyota||-40 Laps|