Casey Kirwan edges out Zack Novak at Pocono in a Razor-Thin IRacing finish

Casey Kirwan, driver of the #95 Chevrolet XSET, entered the 12th race of the Coca-Cola iRacing Series season at Pocono Raceway in a precarious position.

Despite finishing fourth in regular season points, Kirwan was only ninth in playoff standings as he was yet to win in 2022.

Kirwan changed that most dramatically by edging out Zack Novak and his #5 Rise eSports/Weis Chevrolet by a bumper in a side-by-side finish at the end of a third and final eNASCAR overtime period to get his first win of 2022. This is Kirwan’s third career win in the Coke Series, as he has won one win each in 2019 and 2020.

“I’m pretty sure I lost about 30 years of my life after that race,” Kirwan joked in his post-race interview with Evan Posocco and Blake McCandless. “We have definitely raised our elbows. I love Zack [Novak], and he’s one of the cleanest guys you can run. It wasn’t the person I wanted to use, but this format wins awards, not consistency.

For Novak, Pocono is his fourth runner-up finish in the last five races, and this could arguably be his most heartbreaking runner-up yet. When discussing the finish after the race, Novak was upset, but understood the situation he and Kirwan were in at the finish.

“I wouldn’t have done it that way, but you gotta do what you gotta do,” Novak said. “He didn’t outright destroy me, but I wouldn’t approach it that way.”

Defending series champion Keegan Leahy had a commanding view of the finish from third place in his #45 Virtual Racing School/23XI Racing Toyota.

“I wasn’t going to get to them in Turn 3, so my plan was to give myself the availability to go deep if they got into the wall,” Leahy said of that strategy on the final lap. .

The race was quiet in its early stages. Pole sitter Taylor Hurst took control and built a gap of about half a second over the rest of the field. Hurst would stay in first place for 16 laps until Nick Ottinger made the pass for the lead in his #25 Logitech/William Byron eSports Chevrolet. From there Ottinger stayed in focus for 12 laps until Kirwan came out on top for the first time and passed Ottinger with authority on lap 29.

As the drivers neared the halfway point, green-flag pit stops started rolling by and rocking the field. When Derek Justis became the last driver to stop on lap 37, it was Mitchell deJong who took the lead in his #23 Logitech/23XI Racing Toyota.

A few laps later the race complexion changed again when Liam Brotherton spun after contact with Ray Alfalla to bring out the first warning. Most of the field took the warning as an opportunity to service, with only four drivers left out, led by Collin Bowden in the #69 eRacr.gg Chevrolet.

In the restart that followed, business really started to pick up. Bowden hung out for a few laps on old tires before Kirwan got around him on Lap 47. Kirwan’s return to the lead was short-lived, however, as Derek Bourdeau took the lead on Lap 49 just as the warning went out. The second yellow flag was due to an accident involving several cars in Turn 2, Vicente Salas having had the worst of it.

The race turned green again with eight laps to go, and on that same lap Kirwan quickly pushed past Bourdeau to regain the lead. The green flag didn’t stay long, as a front wreck involving Ottinger, Bowden and Steven Wilson prompted the race’s third caution on lap 55.

When the race returned to green with two laps to go in regulation, Kirwan set sail with a lead of several car lengths over Novak. Kirwan was only yards away from taking the white flag when a massive pile-up occurred in the back half of the field at Turn 3. This led to yellow flag number four and paved the way for eNASCAR overtime.

The first period of overtime didn’t come halfway before Kollin Kiester spun Michael Guest’s front bumper at the start of the Long Pond Straightaway to pop the race’s fifth warning flag. Once again, Kirwan is expected to fend off Novak and the rest of the field in an overtime restart.

The second overtime saw the lead change hands, as Novak made a deft pass into Turn 2 of the Tricky Triangle to pass Kirwan. Seconds later another wreck in the middle of the field involving a dozen cars put the field under yellow flag for the sixth time.

This set the stage for the third and final overtime restart. Novak got a good launch from the restart zone, but Kirwan was able to side-by-side with him in Turn 3. Novak cleared Kirwan to come white flagged.

Last time out, Kirwan dived to the bottom again in Turn 3, and this time he and Novak stayed side by side as they exited the turn to return to the checkered flag. This set up a door-to-door, bumper-to-bumper finish reminiscent of Ricky Craven and Kurt Busch at Darlington Raceway in 2003, with Kirwan playing Craven and Novak playing Busch.

Donovan Strauss and Bourdeau rounded out the top five at Pocono. Sixth through 10th positions went to Bobby Zalenski, Malik Ray, Guest, Femi Olatunbosun and Garrett Manes respectively.

Everything and nothing

  • Earlier today, NASCAR announced that its first-ever race on the streets of Chicago will take place next year on July 2. Coca-Cola iRacing Series driver Matt Bussa took part in the announcement event with an on-site simulation rig. Bussa and NASCAR Cup Series driver Bubba Wallace did laps around the virtual street course on the simulation platform. Over the past year, iRacing has played a significant role in digitizing the streets of Chicago and testing the course, including an eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series race last summer, won by James Davison.
  • Paint scheme of the week: Dylan Ault’s #40 Chevrolet Letarte eSports sported a new look, advertising Wendy’s and their hot, crispy fries.
  • When it comes to iRacing at Pocono, parity reigns supreme. Kirwan is the ninth different winner in nine races at Pocono for the Coke Series. The other winners are Zalenski, Jimmy Mullis, Cody Byus, Allen Boes, Michael Conti, Alfalla, Jon Adams and Steve Seehan.
  • Watch the playoffs: With just two regular season races remaining, Kirwan becomes the ninth different winner in 2022, moving him from bubble to firmly in the playoff grid. Novak is the only playoff spot still available on points.

Next race: On Tuesday, August 2, the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series will hold its annual All-Star race on the virtual Chicago Street Course. The next regular season race is on the Watkins Glen International road course on Tuesday, August 16. Both races will start at 9 p.m. ET and will be broadcast live on eNASCAR.com/live, YouTube.com/iRacing and Twitch.tv/iRacing.


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