Leahy Steals An eNASCAR Thriller In Sin City

Leahy

23XI Racing's Keegan Leahy (23) crosses the finish line ahead of William Byron eSports' Nick Ottinger at the virtual Las Vegas Motor Speedway. (Justin Melillo/NASCAR photo)

LAS VEGAS – Sometimes in racing, putting oneself in position to win generates success in the end, and that’s exactly what happened for past eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series champion Keegan Leahy on Tuesday night.

Leahy, the 2021 titlist, led only the final lap en route to victory at the virtual Las Vegas (Nev.) Motor Speedway after a last-corner battle between Nick Ottinger and Cody Byus went sour.

Old tires, combined with a side-by-side duel off turn four with the checkered flag in sight, saw Ottinger break loose and make contact with Byus which sent the latter spinning hard into the outside wall.

The chaotic moment broke Ottinger’s momentum and allowed Leahy to streak past in the outside lane, reaching the finish line .062 seconds ahead of Ottinger in one of the wildest finishes in series history.

“This is absolutely incredible,” said Leahy, who led roughly the final 100 feet for his 13th career win, ending a drought that dated back to the 2022 finale at Arizona’s Phoenix Raceway in the process.

“I honestly wasn’t sure if I was ever going to get back to victory lane, with how tough this series is now,” Leahy continued. “It’s so tough to run well in these races, let alone have a shot at winning. I knew I had enough fuel to make it [after pitting at lap 31], because I’d saved a good amount, but we had to save so hard that we weren’t sure if the guys that pitted later under green were going to catch us or not.

“We didn’t have any of this planned out, so it was somewhat a ‘send it and hope for the best’ kind of moment.”

After winning his third career pole in qualifying, Steven Wilson led the field to green and made leading the early laps look easy, despite a lap-three caution that saw Garrett Lowe tagged around into the pack, collecting Tucker Minter and ending Lowe’s chances at victory prematurely.

“I’m not really sure what happened,” said Lowe, who was running 11th at the time, of the early incident. “It felt like we just all accordioned on entry, and with these [Next Gen] cars, once someone’s right-front [corner] is on your left rear, you’re just along for the ride at that point.

“It’s a terrible way to go out; no one was trying to race hard … we just got wrecked.”

Following the restart, a green-flag stint broke out, with Wilson holding a narrow gap over Donovan Strauss and Daytona winner Wyatt Tinsley through the run before the night’s second yellow flag waved on lap 20 for a spin by Matthew Zwack on the frontstretch that caused Zwack to tag the outside wall.

That yellow brought the entire field down pit lane for service, with Wilson holding serve at the head of the line and Parker White jumping up to second during the cycle of stops for the ensuing green flag.

Racing resumed on lap 25 with Wilson again at the point, leading a battle of Williams eSports teammates for the runner-up spot in Parker White and Donovan Strauss that White eventually won out in.

Unfortunately, the on-track action wouldn’t last long, as the skidding Darik Bourdeau Ford on the backstretch generated a caution coming to lap 31 that slowed the pace for a third time.

That yellow was the catalyst for multiple drivers – including Michael Guest, Michael Cosey Jr., Ottinger, Byus, and others – to pit for fuel coming to 68 to go, which opened Pandora’s Box in terms of strategies that might lead to victory.

Ottinger and Byus, however, came back down two laps later to top off his gas tank – which was nearly the winning move.

Wilson was undeterred leading through the halfway point with White, Bobby Zalenski, Garrett Manes, and Strauss in tow. Zalenski fell out of that mix two laps after, however, when he socked the outside wall exiting turn two and dropped all the way to 10th place as a result.

As an extended green-flag run broke out, it led to split fuel strategies, including a  that also allowed Parker White and Bobby Zalenski chances to lead a handful of laps apiece before Cosey and Guest took control in an effort to stretch their fuel all the way to the finish line.

Cosey led 10 laps before ceding to Guest, who led the next seven circuits before Ottinger passed Guest with 12 to go, seemingly taking control of the race and in position to break back into victory lane.

Byus quickly followed Ottinger past Guest to move into the runner-up spot, stalking Ottinger over the closing stages before diving into turn one on the last lap and pulling even with Ottinger for the lead.

The pair made contact exiting four that sent Ottinger awkwardly over one of the frontstretch bumps, causing his car to break loose before it ultimately spun up and hooked Byus into the outside wall.

Leahy Byus Ottinger

Keegan Leahy (23) looks on as Cody Byus (27) crashes after contact from Nick Ottinger on the final lap at the virtual Las Vegas Motor Speedway Tuesday night. (Justin Melillo/NASCAR photo)

Ottinger, who still crossed the line as the runner-up, was quickly apologetic over his role in the crash that took Byus out of a strong result.

“Ultimately, we were battling for a race win there,” said Ottinger. “I was trying to hold my lane in the middle and take away any momentum that [Byus] had, but I broke loose after he washed me up [off turn four] into a bump … and on 70-lap old tires, I got loose, tried to correct, and cost us both there.”

“It’s tough,” added Byus, who ended up 16th in the final rundown. “I haven’t been in that position in a few years. We put a lot of effort into this week. I’ve taken a new mentality into this year, that I’m going to go for wins, whatever it takes. They’re so hard to come by and we were in position at the end. I was right there on the final lap and had a shot; it just didn’t end in our favor.”

Kanaan eSports’ Kollin Keister crossed third, followed by Kevin Harvick Incorporated’s Matt Bussa and Williams eSports’ White, who was the best of the drivers that pitted for fuel during the final run in fifth.

After leading the first 65 laps, Wilson’s slow lap-66 pit stop relegated him to a ninth-place finish.

The eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series season continues Tuesday, March 12 at the virtual Atlanta (Ga.) Motor Speedway, where Wilson is the defending event winner.

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; Las Vegas (Nev.) Motor Speedway; Feb. 27, 2024

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

Lead Changes: Six among seven drivers

Lap Leader(s): Steven Wilson 1-65, Parker White 66-67, Bobby Zalenski 68-70, Michael Cosey Jr. 71-81, Michael Guest 82-88, Nick Ottinger 89-99, Keegan Leahy 100.

Laps Led: Steven Wilson 65, Michael Cosey Jr. 11, Nick Ottinger 11, Michael Guest 7, Bobby Zalenski 3, Parker White 2, Keegan Leahy 1.

Hard Charger: 25-Nick Ottinger (+35)

Rookie of the Race: 14-Seth DeMerchant

Caution Flags: Three for 11 laps

Margin of Victory: .061 seconds

Time of Race: One hour, one minute, 57.534 seconds

Average Speed: 145.258 mph

Fastest Lap: 8-Kaden Honeycutt, 29.984 seconds (180.096 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.