Dylan Duval has reached a career milestone of 100 race starts in the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series.
The Stewart-Haas eSports driver has become the 15th driver in series history to compete in 100 races or more after finishing ninth at iRacing’s virtual Kansas Speedway on Tuesday.
Duval’s finish had come after having to battle several factors, including struggling with the handling of the car and nearly crashing two times.
His teammate, Graham Bowlin, finished in fifth.
“It really does feel great, this is a big accomplishment for me personally,” said Duval. “It's an elite group, you look at some of those names that have made it to that milestone and most of them are household names of this series.”
Edward Burch, who started spotting for Duval in 2016, was happy for his driver to reach that milestone. Burch has also spotted Cody Byus, Kevin King and Kenny Humpe in the past.
“It's pretty cool. Not many drivers are good enough to stay in the series that long,” said Burch. “I just wish we could have gotten him a win so his winning percentage didn’t dip below one per cent.”
Duval got his first opportunity to design a car for Stewart-Haas eSports as part of the special milestone.
The Halifax-based driver had started designing in 2016. He said he had designed a third of the paint schemes in the series back then. He has created logos for companies locally. Duval has also recently designed a paint scheme for Byus to race with for the 2021 eNASCAR Road to Pro Qualifying iRacing Series season.
The paint scheme included a special tribute for his grandmother, Judy Walsh-Duval, who had died a few days before the race. Duval included her name on the side of the car as well as above the door.
“Graphic design has been a hobby and passion of mine for a long time. Honestly, it started with iRacing when I first joined,” said Duval. “Something I've always wanted to do was design a scheme for a real-life NASCAR team and hopefully someday see that design on the actual track. With my connections to Stewart-Haas Racing through the Coca-Cola Series, I figured this would be the perfect opportunity for me to try to get my foot in the door … Up until last season when I joined Stewart-Haas eSports, I had always run my own designs in the series. It was definitely cool to get back into that creative space.”
It was an eventual race for Duval, who started in the 13th position.
He battled for that position until Lap 16, when the car started to bobble in the corners. Duval said before the race he had been confident about the short and long-run speed of the car, but a little concerned about the mid-run pace.
During that first mid-run, Duval dropped back several positions, being passed by cars on the bottom of the racetrack as he rode in the top line. By his first pit stop on Lap 40, he had dropped to 19th position.
“It just was way too loose for me to make good time with,” said Duval. “Realistically, I think I was like a 15th place car which isn't horrible but I definitely would've liked to have had more pace. Emotions ran high, passing was extremely difficult which made for a tense race to say the least.”
After a majority of the stops cycled through, Duval found himself in 14th when he went three-wide with Blake Reynolds and Derek Justis. Justis got in the door of Reynolds’s car, sending Justis sliding sideways in the corner. The JTG Daugherty Racing driver barely missed Duval’s right front fender as he saved his car during the incident.
Then, in a check-up incident on Lap 62, Duval hit the back of Allen Boes’s McLaren Shadow car, damaging his fender in the process. Bowlin then slid sideways behind him as he came across Cook’s nose trying to avoid Duval’s back bumper.
The race then changed for Duval and a majority of the field on Lap 78.
John Gorlinsky of Wood Brothers Gaming attempted to go in-between Bowlin and Duval coming out of Turn 2. Gorlinsky came across the front end of Duval’s car and spun down the track, collecting Kligerman Sport’s Bob Bryant.
Then, after the following restart, the big one struck after Mitchell DeJong and Logan Clampitt appeared to make contact heading into Turn 3 while battling for second place. Clampitt had driven to the inside of DeJong along the white line before the 23XI car started to slide on entry.
DeJong then slid sideways for several seconds before snapping to the right and into Bobby Zalenski and Ryan Luza.
Cars scattered across the track as a cloud of smoke covered all the lanes in Turn 3, making it hard for competitors to make it through the chaos.
Both Stewart-Haas eSports cars made it through the 18-car incident with no damage.
Duval said Burch had an emergency for a few minutes right before the crash.
“I saw the wreck happening pretty early, which is a lot of the reason I was able to get slowed down in time to safely avoid it,” said Duval. “I didn't have a spotter, so I was essentially blind for a lot of it. Smoke was everywhere, I saw them sliding up the track in front of me, so I dove to the apron which got me sideways. So I slid through a lot of the carnage, but thankfully we made it through it without being completely destroyed.”
Duval felt his race was smooth from that point on.
“I probably could have been close to a top five without the nose damage from the wrecks, but I'm still thrilled with our ninth place finish,” said Duval. “We certainly needed it.”
Duval first competed in the series in 2012, making his debut at Darlington Raceway by finishing 23rd place. He raced in nine races that season with a best finish of fourth at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
“There was a time I never thought I'd get to race full-time in this series,” said Duval, who took part in eight races the following two seasons. “In my early years, I struggled to get into the series, I kept qualifying for the (Pro Series. Which essentially granted you a few starts in the eNCCiS back then. That was my story for three years. Once I finally qualified for the series through the 2015 Pro Series where I finished 3rd in the standings, everything just started to click for me.”
He eventually became a full-time driver in the series starting in 2016, when he won at Indianapolis Motor Speedway after leading nine laps. Duval finished fifth in the championship standings that campaign with three top fives and nine top 10s.
“My 2016 season was not only a career high for me, but it gave me the confidence of knowing that I can do this,” said Duval.
The following season, missed the playoffs by a couple positions and finished 10th overall.
“Since then it's been a little rough,” said Duval. “A lot has changed and the competition has picked up. I felt like 2019 and the second half of 2020 we really struggled for pace. This year however, I've felt great about our cars. We just haven't had any luck at all recently.”
Duval is now focused on trying to win again. He said he wants to win more than ever. It has been 72 races since his last win.
“We've had some pretty horrible luck these past two seasons with Stewart-Haas eSports,” said Duval. “They've been absolutely incredible to me, and it kills me knowing that we've not got the results we should have or that this team deserves. I just can't thank them and our partners Smithfield and Abruzzi Racewear USA enough for their continued support. I absolutely love our group and want to see us in victory lane regardless if it's me or my teammate Graham Bowlin. This team and our partners deserve it.”
Duval’s next race of the 2021 eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series season takes place at the virtual Circuit of the Americas on May 18th. Coverage can be seen live on iRacing’s social media platforms and eNASCAR.com starting at 8:30 p.m. ET.