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  • Writer's pictureJustin Prince

Tale of Two Races: Roush-Fenway Gaming drivers in tough spot after rough trip to The Magic Mile

A pair of finishes outside the top 20 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway has put both Roush-Fenway Gaming drivers into a tough position heading into the final couple races of the regular season.

Steven Wilson, who came into The Magic Mile with a four-race top 10 streak, finished in 28th place after being involved in a mid-race crash down the frontstretch. His teammate, Nathan Lyon, finished in 36th position after an internet outage took him out of contention early.

Richmond Raceway eSports driver Jimmy Mullis came away with the victory.

The race result dropped Roush-Fenway Gaming from sixth to 10th place in the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series team standings.

“It’s not where we want to be exactly, but I think improvements can be made,” said Wilson.

Qualifying in the series has always been tight and that remained the case at New Hampshire. The top 11 drivers were separated by a tenth of a second, with Letarte eSports driver Chris Shearburn claiming the pole with a 28.906.

At the start of the session, Lyon was given a scare. He was almost dropped from the iRacing server.

“It psyched me out,” said Lyon. “I was looking at the Q Bar going red and missed where I needed to be on entry to Turn 3 and almost wrecked.”

Wilson and Lyon went on to qualify in 22nd and 29th respectively.

“I personally lost a couple tenths through Turn 1-2,” said Wilson. “I missed the corner a bit, then thunder footed off.”

The troubles for Roush-Fenway Gaming started in the opening laps of the race. As Wilson was battling for 16th place with Wood Brothers Gaming’s Garrett Lowe, Lyon had to fight with his internet. The St Louis, Mo.,-based driver had settled into 31st place when his car started to blink around the track on Lap 8. He soon got shuffled out of the bottom line by Derek Justis and Bob Bryant.

As the issue intensified, Lyon was soon back in 40th. By Lap 19, he was gone.

“The internet kept cutting in and out almost every hour,” said Lyon. “I’ve been home for the past four days ever since a storm knocked out our power for a minute. I was hopeful it would last but I wasn’t surprised when it cut out for five minutes during the race.

“I was just frustrated. I knew it was a good track and felt like if I stayed out of trouble, I had a good points day coming.”

Lyon did not make it back into the server to return to the race track until Lap 45.

As that went on, Wilson was slowly moving through the pack. After a Lap 24 crash involving Ryan Doucette, Ashton Crowder and Malik Ray occurred in Turn 3 and a sequence of pit stops, the Cedar Rapids, Iowa-based competitor found himself in 14th place.

Wilson then kept moving forward. He passed Jake Nichols from the top of the track on Lap 33, then sliced down low to battle with Bobby Zalenski for more than five laps. After passing Zalenski, he scrapped with Mullis for 11th spot. By the time the second caution came out on Lap 52, he was inside the top 10.

“The car was much better than expected going into the race,” said Wilson. “I just rtied all I could to gain some spots and seemed I had the bottom rolling.”

As Wilson ran inside the top 12 after the ensuing restart, Lyon was trying to stay out of the way. His mindset was to ride in the back and hope for cautions to come out.

Unfortunately for Lyon, it was his teammate who was part of the trigger for one.

On Lap 88, while battling with Elliott Sadler eSports driver Garrett Manes off Turn 4, Wilson hit the left rear fender of Manes. The two tangled together for a few moments before sliding across the frontstretch.

Manes locked up his brakes and spun to the inside of the track, just narrowly avoiding the wall.

Wilson was not as lucky in the incident.

Wilson wiggled for several seconds, narrowly missing Ray Alfalla’s car before slamming his front nose into the inside wall. Matt Bussa locked up his brakes hard, barely avoiding the left side of Wilson’s car. Wilson then came to a stop a few feet after the start and finish line.

“Seemed Manes either tried going back under Graham after he came up or the air got him loose, causing him to come down,” said Wilson.

As Wilson came to a rest down the frontstretch, Lyon came to a slow crawl across the stripe.

“I was bummed to see Steven involved,” said Lyon. “He’s had such a good season so far, but when I saw how many cars it took out, I knew his race wasn’t over.”

Wilson kept going after the incident. He ran in 30th position for much of the next run before the caution flew again on Lap 122. During that yellow however, he, McLaren Shadow’s Allen Boes and Jim Beaver eSports’ Caine Cook all elected to stay out on 30-lap old tires.

“We had one set of tires left and it was either stay in 30th with the same tires as the field or try something different and see how it pans out,” said Wilson. “Anything but a win is worthless.”

Wilson slid quickly to fourth place in the span of a lap and a half before a massive pileup collected several cars behind him.

After staying out for the Lap 126 caution, he was swallowed and bounced around by the pack.

On Lap 132, Wilson was bumped sideways while fighting for seventh after contact between Alfalla and Manes into Turn 1. Wilson nearly saved the car before snapping right into Manes and the outside SAFER barrier. Bob Bryant was also involved in the incident.

No caution was thrown during that sequence.

Wilson went on to run in the back for the final stages of the race, having to dodge multiple cars during a stretch that had five cautions in the final 29 laps.

With the 36th place finish, Lyon has now dropped to 29th in the series standings. After scoring his worst finish this season, his focus is to put in a lot of work and stay out of trouble.

“I had a rough summer stretch last year too and came back to get in top 20 in points before the final caution at Homestead,” said Lyon. “A big variety of tracks are coming up. I just need to take one race at a time.”

With Wilson being one of the highest-ranked non-winning drivers in the points standings, he has one goal in mind.

“Sending it for P1 is all that matters in the next two races,” said Wilson.

Next time out, 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.

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