After 17 races — and three overtime restarts, to boot — it all came down to a matter of feet for Tucker Minter on Tuesday night.
Refusing to pit and surrender his lead through five different cautions over the race’s final 11 laps and three OTs, Minter — a rookie on the series — repeatedly held off a charging field, and when the race-ending caution came out, barely held a lead over Bobby Zalenski to win at virtual Phoenix Raceway in the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series’ third playoff race.
With the victory, Minter books a spot in the Championship 4, the quartet of drivers who will race for the series championship at virtual Homestead-Miami Speedway on Sept. 26. The in-person event will be held at the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, N.C., with the winner taking home $100,000.
“I told (my crew chief and spotter) that we just gotta have a plan and we’re gonna stick with and we’re gonna make peace with it, and we decided if there was a caution with 10 to go we weren’t gonna pit,” Minter said of the decision to say out when the caution flew with 11 laps remaining.
“I was frustrated … when everybody (pitted) behind me, but I just did everything I could to time the restarts the best I could and just got very fortunate with the cautions being … right when I needed them.”
On the race’s final restart, Minter and his No. 33 Chevrolet held the lead heading down the back straightway with two laps to go. He blocked a big run by Zalenski on the low side, which allowed Casey Kirwan to make a move on the high side. Minter then slid up to block Kirwan and Zalenski made his move low. But as Zalenski’s No. 18 Toyota made it to Minter’s door and appeared ready to pass the leader just before the white flag, another caution came out.
Because it was the third and final restart, the yellow ended the race. Officially, Zalenski finished runner-up by 0.281 seconds followed by the No. 95 Chevy of Kirwan in third, 0.485 seconds behind Minter. Jordy Lopez’s No. 3 Chevy and Garrett Lowe’s No. 15 Ford rounded out the top five.
The finish was a particularly bitter one for Zalenski and Kirwan, as both needed a win to advance to the final race. Instead, Minter will be joined by fellow playoff race winners Nick Ottinger and Lowe, with Steven Wilson rounding out the field as the only driver to qualify on points.
“Twice in the last two restarts I’m under Tucker, and he’s out of here, I’m going, and if anybody is on my outside in Turn 1 on the white flag they’re getting sent up the track,” a frustrated Zalenski said of how close he came to passing Minter on the last two restarts.
“Gosh man, I just did not have luck on my side in these playoffs,” Zalenski added. “One bad thing happens in Michigan … and we have to win today. … Man, if that last caution didn’t come out, I’m pretty sure I would’ve won.”
–Field Level Media
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