In His 94th Try, Malik Ray Tastes eNASCAR Glory

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Malik Ray celebrates his first career eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series win at the virtual Atlanta Motor Speedway Tuesday night. (Photo Courtesy of Spire Motorsports)

HAMPTON, Ga. – After years of trying, close calls, and near misses, Malik Ray finally found eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series victory lane in a thriller Tuesday night at the virtual Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Driving the Spire Motorsports No. 7 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, Ray channeled his inner Daniel Suarez on the final lap of a double-overtime finish, surging to the outside coming into the quad-oval to make the winning move on RFK Racing’s Collin Bowden.

After getting a masterful push from Front Row Motorsports’ Darik Bourdeau exiting the final corner, Ray split to the top lane as Bourdeau went to the apron, generating a three-wide photo finish just like the NASCAR Cup Series produced 17 days earlier.

In the end, just as Suarez did, Ray carried enough momentum on the top groove to reach the finish line first. His margin of victory over Bordeau was a scant .023 seconds.

“I’ve been trying to get one of these [trophies] for six years,” said a stunned Ray, whose maiden series victory came in his 94th start. “I just finally put a whole race together.

“I have to thank Darik, because if it wasn’t for his push, I wouldn’t have even had a shot,” he added. “This feels surreal right now. It’s really special and at last, we got it done and I can’t say thanks enough.”

The sprint to the finish was set up by a multi-car crash with four laps left in regulation, after a four-wide stackup toward the front of the field went awry and eventually led to Tyler Garey and Timothy Holmes getting the worst end of the melee.

At that point, Garrett Lowe was the race leader with Ray restarting on the front row in second, and on the first overtime attempt Lowe used a good jump to lead off turn two ahead of the Spire tandem of Ray and teammate Casey Kirwan.

Ray and Kirwan, however, had other ideas and shot a minimal gap into the middle lane halfway down the backstretch, creating a three-wide scrap for the lead that Michael Guest got the better of off turn four.

eNASCAR

The quad-oval crash that led to the second and final eNASCAR overtime attempt at the virtual Atlanta Motor Speedway. (Justin Melillo/NASCAR photo)

Just before the leader could take the white flag, however, another major crash that involved more than half the field triggered the third and final caution of the night – necessitating a second overtime period.

That green flag, which came on lap 104, saw Guest get the initial advantage on the bottom to lead at the white flag before four-wide chaos at the front of the field shuffled the deck in turn one on the last lap.

As cars spun, slid, and crashed out of contention, Bowden emerged off turn two with the top spot, as Ray lurked just behind hoping to make a move before the finish.

That move came in the middle of turns three and four, when Ray lagged back to third-running Bourdeau in an effort to generate a run exiting the final corner, which worked to perfection.

As Bowden lost his drafting help from behind, Ray popped to the outside to side-draft Bowden, while Bordeau lunged for the apron in an attempt to utilize the shortest path to the finish line.

In the end, Bourdeau came up inches short of his second career victory and first win since 2017.

“I think that was my best play, was to push Malik along and then see if they got together where I could capitalize,” the Canadian explained. “The finish was pretty close. Bowden was a bit of a sitting duck … and as soon as I saw Malik [lift to build momentum in turn three], I knew what we had to try and do.”

Bowden saw his Ford Mustang drop from the lead to a third-place finish, though the separation of .048 seconds between first and third marked one of the tightest podiums by time in series history.

“That was a tough break on the last lap,” Bowden lamented. “We made a good move coming to the white [flag], and I thought Malik pushed me out far enough that he wasn’t going to be able to get back to me … but Darik pushed him by and there was nothing I could do.

“I could have thrown a block, but that would have created calamity and wasn’t the right thing to do, in my mind.”

Guest crossed fourth for 23XI Racing after leading 12 laps, having pitted at halfway on an alternate strategy than most of the field, with Tony Kanaan eSports’ Kollin Keister closing the top five.

Sixth through 10th were Parker White, Dylan Duval, Briar LaPradd, Donovan Strauss, and Nick Ottinger.

Kirwan ended up 16th after leading three times for a race-high 26 laps, while polesitter Ryan Luza was never a major factor, fading early before ultimately finishing 24th.

The ultra-competitive race featured 28 lead changes among 15 different drivers and was completed in one hour, one minute, and 18.772 seconds, for an average race pace of 158.238 mph.

Underscoring the parity in the first fixed-setup event of the season, six lead changes occurred in the first six laps of the race, with five different drivers taking a turn at the front during that span.

The eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series season continues March 26 at the virtual Richmond (Va.) Raceway, featuring two 25-lap heat races before a 70-lap sprint main event.

A replay of every eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series event is available via iRacing’s YouTube channel.

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RESULTS: eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series; Atlanta (Ga.) Motor Speedway; March 12, 2024

Race (100 laps): 1. 7-Malik Ray [33], 2. 34-Darik Bourdeau [32], 3. 17-Collin Bowden [40], 4. 45-Michael Guest [20], 5. 66-Kollin Keister [25], 6. 53-Parker White [5], 7. 41-Dylan Duval [3], 8. 88-Briar LaPradd [31], 9. 51-Donovan Strauss [14], 10. 25-Nick Ottinger [27], 11. 20-Wyatt Tinsley [4], 12. 89-Garrett Lowe [9], 13. 90-Jordy Lopez [7], 14. 29-Jimmy Mullis [21], 15. 99-Matthew Zwack [2], 16. 77-Casey Kirwan [15], 17. 62-Matt Bussa [34], 18. 54-Daniel Faulkingham [8], 19. 97-Tucker Minter [6], 20. 14-Seth DeMerchant [13], 21. 42-Tyler Garey [18], 22. 11-Vicente Salas [29], 23. 5-Zack Novak [17], 24. 80-Ryan Luza [1], 25. 18-Bobby Zalenski [37], 26. 38-Michael Cosey Jr. [19], 27. 48-Graham Bowlin [35], 28. 22-Femi Olatunbosun [38], 29. 40-Dylan Ault [28], 30. 33-Taylor Hurst [11], 31. 8-Kaden Honeycutt [39], 32. 10-Steven Wilson [26], 33. 23-Keegan Leahy [36], 34. 12-Garrett Manes [23], 35. 55-Ryan Doucette [22], 36. 27-Cody Byus [24], 37. 6-Timothy Holmes [10], 38. 3-Jonathon Dulaney [30], 39. 36-Quami Scott [16], 40. 69-Ray Alfalla [12].

Lead Changes: 28 among 15 different drivers.

Lap Leader(s): Ryan Luza Grid, Matthew Zwack 1, Ryan Luza 2, Dylan Duval 3, Parker White 4, Jordy Lopez 5, Parker White 6-8, Garrett Lowe 9, Jordy Lopez 10-16, Parker White 17, Garrett Lowe 18-27, Kaden Honeycutt 28-30, Casey Kirwan 31-35, Kaden Honeycutt 36-37, Tyler Garey 38-42, Casey Kirwan 43-46, Garrett Lowe 47-48, Casey Kirwan 49-65, Kaden Honeycutt 66, Seth DeMerchant 67-68, Matt Bussa 69-79, Cody Byus 80, Tucker Minter 81-82, Michael Guest 83-89, Seth DeMerchant 90-92, Malik Ray 93-94, Garrett Lowe 95-99, Michael Guest 100-104, Malik Ray 105.

Laps Led: Casey Kirwan 26, Garrett Lowe 18, Michael Guest 12, Matt Bussa 11, Jordy Lopez 8, Kaden Honeycutt 6, Parker White 5, Tyler Garey 5, Seth DeMerchant 5, Malik Ray 3, Tucker Minter 2, Matthew Zwack 1, Ryan Luza 1, Dylan Duval 1, Cody Byus 1.

Hard Charger: 17-Collin Bowden (+37)

Pole Position: 80-Ryan Luza, 31.100 seconds (178.264 mph), 11th career & first of season

Rookie of the Race: 99-Matthew Zwack

Caution Flags: Three for nine laps

Winning Team: Spire Motorsports

Margin of Victory: .023 seconds

Time of Race: One hour, one minute, 18.772 seconds

Average Speed: 158.238 mph

Fastest Lap: 90-Jordy Lopez, lap 74; 28.742 seconds (192.888 mph)

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About Jacob Seelman

Jacob Seelman is Motorsports Hotspot’s News Editor and Race Face Digital’s Director of Content, as well as a veteran of more than a decade in the racing industry as a professional, though he’s spent his entire life in the garage and pit area.