Jimmy Mullis has put on a magical performance at New Hampshire Motor Speedway to win his third consecutive race at the track.
The Richmond Raceway eSports driver has become the 11th different winner in the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series this season, putting him into the 2021 playoffs for the time being. The victory guarantees at least one driver with a win will not make the postseason.
It is also the first time Sunoco has gone to victory lane as a sponsor of a car in the series.
Jake Nichols, Michael Conti, Zack Novak and Graham Bowlin rounded out the top five.
Mullis said on social media after the race that it was “one of, if not arguably, the biggest win” of his career.
“Man, it’s unreal,” said Mullis post-race in an interview with announcer Tim Terry. “It’s been a pretty rough year on and off the track and this past week has been really tough. To pull this off is huge. It’s huge for our team, it’s huge for Richmond Raceway eSports and I couldn’t be happier to be back in victory lane at New Hampshire.”
Chris Shearburn of Letarte eSports started the day off strong by scoring his fourth career pole award with a 28.906. Keegan Leahy, Conti, Taylor Hurst and Ryan Luza completed the rest of the top five starting spots.
Shearburn led the first 51 laps of the race before being passed by Conti right as a yellow flag came out. The caution was for Brian Schoenburg, who made contact with Anthony Burroughs down the frontstretch, sending him spinning by the flagstand.
Tire strategy gambles started to come into play during that time when Spacestation Racing’s Vicente Salas and William Byron eSports’ Logan Clampitt elected to take two tires for track position.
Salas drove as hard as he could after the restart, pulling away by as much as 10 car lengths before Conti started reeling him in. Clampitt meanwhile was immediately moved into the heart of the pack.
On Lap 66, Conti started driving wheel to wheel with Salas. The two nearly grazed doors several times during the long battle. All the fighting allowed Novak, Luza and Garrett Manes to close up to them to make it a five-car fight for the lead. Conti finally cleared Salas on Lap 72.
Salas soon after started falling off fast, immediately being passed by Novak and Luza before fighting Manes and Mullis for fourth place for several laps. After dropping to fifth, Salas decided to pit for tires on Lap 82.
Soon after unlapping himself, he got a big break.
Steven Wilson, who entered the race with a four-race top 10 streak, collided with Manes off Turn 4, sending both cars sliding across the frontstretch. Manes spun to the inside of the track, just narrowly avoiding the wall. Wilson was not as lucky in the incident, slamming his front nose into the inside wall.
The crash cycled Salas to the front of the field.
Mullis took the lead on Lap 96 after powering his way past Salas on the inside of Turns 1 and 2. He then had to fend off JR Motorsports’ Conti, who was able to nearly match his lap times for much of the run.
Then on Lap 121, attrition started to pop up.
Jim Beaver eSports driver Caine Cook was turned down the backstretch by Graham Bowlin, sending him spinning to the apron below.
After the ensuing restart, the big one struck the field.
On Lap 126, Luza was four-wide when he grazed the door of Cook, sending Luza sideways. The XSET car slid into the outside wall before bouncing into the path of Matt Bussa. As that went on, Ray Alfalla and Garrett Manes touched doors, sending Manes into the front nose of Nick Ottinger.
The track was blocked by the multiple incidents down the frontstretch. Several championship competitors, including Salas, Bobby Zalenski, Taylor Hurst, Dylan Duval and Garrett Lowe were involved in the carnage. Overall, the incident collected more than a quarter of the field.
There were five caution flags in the span of 29 laps to close out the 151-lap race.
Conti said he was super happy with the effort put into the car. He was also happy to finally get the result he felt he deserved.
“That was a tough one,” said Conti. “These short tracks, they usually come down to a lot of cautions at the end and short green flag runs. I think honestly that was our car’s strength tonight versus Jimmy. We could never get enough laps at the end to make a run at him.”
Nichols, who had a career-best finish at the one-mile track, passed Conti on the final lap to take second away on the outside. He said that moment of the race was crazy.
“I knew we had to get around Novak. I knew if we got to his outside, we had a chance at something,” said Nichols. “Our Mode Mediahouse Ford Mustang was on rails … it took so much effort last night to get this car where it needed to be.”
Next up, the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series heads to Nashville Superspeedway for the 2021 All-Star Race on July 27. The next points-paying event is at Watkins Glen International on August 3.