HOMESTEAD, Fla. – Ryan Luza kept a streak alive and made a statement that he’s back to contend in the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series on Tuesday night at the virtual Homestead-Miami Speedway.
With a dominant performance and fresher tires when they mattered most, Luza ran down and passed Bobby Zalenski in the closing stages at the 1.5-mile South Florida oval, then drove off to victory lane.
Though Luza pitted for fresh rubber under caution at lap 72, after Caine Cook went around and collected a handful of cars in his wake, Luza made coming through traffic look easy down the home stretch.
He drove from the back of the top 10 up to second by lap 97, then stalked Bobby Zalenski – who stayed out under the preceding caution on slightly older tires – for several laps before making his move.
The decisive pass came with 30 to go, when Luza dove underneath Zalenski on the approach to turn three, slid up and never looked back after that.
Luza drove away down the stretch to take a commanding 4.083-second victory in the end, his 13th career eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series win and first of the season.
It snapped a 343-day drought in the series for the 2017 champion, who was victorious in three of the first five races last year but hadn’t won since April 9, 2019 at the virtual Richmond (Va.) Raceway.
“Clean air is very, very key, and I just didn’t have it for the first run,” Luza told SPEED SPORT after the race. “The fact that I was able to maintain that gap with Keegan and actually pull him in just a little bit gave me a lot of confidence that we had the better car, but even then, I couldn’t really run down the lead there on the first run. I knew if I could short pit them by a lap, though, that we’d have a shot.
That’s exactly what happened, too. After starting third and riding there for the first 41 laps, Luza pitted at the end of the 42nd round and eventually cycled out ahead of Leahy into the de facto race lead.
“I didn’t want to overdo it and get shortcut by like two or three laps, but I wanted to just shortcut them by a lap,” Luza explained. “We picked the right lap to pit and had the fresh air after that.”
A pair of cautions and a mixed bag of strategy in the middle of the race shuffled the deck slightly, but Luza was confident that fresher tires would prevail on a long green-flag run to the finish, and they did.
“I didn’t want to stay out. I knew it’d be safer to, but we made the right call, came in and got the tires,” Luza noted. “Passing Bobby, though … that was so hard to pass him, especially with him having the fresh air. But once I got by him, the car was absolutely perfect.
“The car never drove that well in practice, but it was just perfect out front tonight.”
Tuesday night makes Luza the third different winner in three races so far in 2020 and extends his streak of winning one of the first three races of the year to four consecutive seasons (2017-20).
It also gave Williams eSports, the team Luza is driving for this year, their first win as an organization in eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series competition.
“It’s been too long; it’s nice to finally get that over with and be back celebrating,” noted the Cypress, Texas driver. “It’s cool to get Williams Esports one as well. They deserved to be in victory lane, for sure, and they’ve given a lot to this series – so it’s nice to repay that with this kind of performance tonight.”
Zalenski faded on his worn tires down the stretch, opening the door for Burton Kligerman eSports’ Logan Clampitt to come through and secure the second spot, just ahead of 2019 championship runner-up and recent Daytona winner Keegan Leahy in third.
Garrett Lowe crossed the line fourth and Chris Shearburn, who stayed out long on the opening green-flag pit cycle and led 18 laps in the first half of the race, completed the top five.
Jimmy Mullis finished sixth, followed by Matt Bussa, Zalenski, Jeremy Allen and Ashton Crowder.
Two-time Homestead winner and four-time series champion Ray Alfalla qualified second and looked like he would be a factor before the race began, but faded quickly and eventually finished 24th.
Aside from Cook’s incident at lap 71, the only other slowdown occurred on lap 64, when Nathan Lyon suffered a flat tire and eventually spun in the middle of turns one and two with damage to his Roush Fenway Racing Ford Mustang.
Tuesday night’s event featured six lead changes among six different drivers and two caution flags for a total of eight laps. The average race pace was 151.839 mph.
The eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series season continues March 31 at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway. Casey Kirwan is the defending series winner at the track, scoring his first win there last fall.
1. Ryan Luza, 2. Logan Clampitt, 3. Keegan Leahy, 4. Garrett Lowe, 5. Chris Shearburn, 6. Jimmy Mullis, 7. Matt Bussa, 8. Bobby Zalenski, 9. Jeremy R. Allen, 10. Ashton Crowder, 11. Michael Conti, 12. Jake Nichols, 13. Zack Novak, 14. Christian Challiner, 15. Dylan Duval, 16. Nick Ottinger, 17. Justin Bolton, 18. Brad Davies, 19. Michael Guest, 20. Bob Bryant, 21. Chris Overland, 22. Blake Reynolds, 23. Graham Bowlin, 24. Ray Alfalla, 25. Eric J. Smith, 26. John Gorlinsky, 27. Kollin Keister, 28. Malik Ray, 29. Nathan Lyon, 30. Corey Vincent, 31. Brandon Kettelle, 32. Michael Guariglia, 33. Phil Diaz, 34. Jarl Teien, 35. Alex McCollum, 36. Caine Cook, 37. Brian Schoenburg, 38. Santiago Tirres, 39. Casey Kirwan, 40. Steve Sheehan.
Lead Changes: Six among six drivers.
Lap Leader(s): Keegan Leahy 1-42, Logan Clampitt 43, Zack Novak 44, Chris Shearburn 45-62, Ryan Luza 63-71, Bobby Zalenski 72-104, Ryan Luza 105-134.
Laps Led: Keegan Leahy 42, Ryan Luza 39, Bobby Zalenski 33, Chris Shearburn 18, Logan Clampitt 1, Zack Novak 1.
Caution Flags: Two for eight laps.
Average Speed: 151.839 mph
Margin of Victory: 4.083 seconds
Strength of Field: 6,960