LAS VEGAS – Ryan Luza outlasted the competition, as well as a bold strategy play by Malik Ray, to win his first eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series race of the season Tuesday night at the virtual Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Luza dominated the night, leading four times for a race-high 46 laps, but after six cautions in the first half of the race it was a caution-free second half that created drama down the home stretch.
With the final 64 laps going uninterrupted, Ray rolled the dice for Spacestation Racing and tried to stretch his tank of fuel far beyond the 60-lap pit window in an effort to steal the win away.
Ray took command of the race on lap 102 and led 26 consecutive circuits as he hoped for either enough gas mileage or a well-timed caution to play into his hands in the final laps.
Unfortunately, Ray got neither, and he ceded the top spot coming to six laps to go before running his fuel tank dry prior to the checkered flag.
As a host of drivers lost out on the fuel mileage gamble, Luza swept back into the lead with five to go and led rookie Steven Wilson home by 1.644 seconds for his fourth Las Vegas win in the last five years.
It was Luza’s 16th career eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series win, drawing him level with defending series champion Nick Ottinger for second all time, and all but locks him into this year’s eNASCAR playoffs.
As the laps wound down, however, Luza admitted he was nervous of a potential caution flag dooming his run back to the front from more than a lap down.
“I was terrified of a yellow, and was just sitting there praying for no caution, because we were pretty confident that no one could make it,” Luza said after the race. “I was hoping Steven would stall out once our tires evened out, and he did. That was terrible, waiting for the finish, though. I was waiting for that caution flag to fly in the top left of my screen, but luckily it didn’t come out.
“It is such a huge relief to get a win and be in the playoffs now. I’d been stressing about it every week, because we’ve been missing speed … but we were pretty quick here tonight, so we’ve found a little bit that we needed,” Luza added. “It’s just really big to not have so much stress on the line every single week now … because we’re probably going to have 10 different winners and we’re at least locked in.
“We don’t have to worry anymore, so now it’s just (about) coming out and trying to win more races.”
Tuesday also marked the first win for XSET Gaming as a team in the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series.
Prior to the race-defining run to the finish, Luza and Wilson put on a show at the front of the field, trading the top spot between one another four times in 31 laps before their final pit stops and running side-by-side for as many as 10 straight circuits at one point in the race.
Ultimately, working back through traffic cost Wilson time in the latter stages, leaving him with a career-best – but still bittersweet – runner-up finish in just his third series start.
“We don’t get the playoff invitation, which is unfortunate, but this is still a good night considering I’m only three races in here,” said Wilson, the driver of Roush Fenway Racing’s virtual No. 17 Ford. “I’m still a rookie and still learning. Losing to Luza … that’s nothing to hang my head over. We had a lot of pace as a team. I think the same (back end) setup finished first through sixth in this one, so we were definitely really fast and had a lot of fun.
“We had good pace and led some laps. There’s a lot of positives to take away, but I wanted that win.”
Luza’s XSET Gaming teammate, Casey Kirwan, crossed the line third ahead of Jim Beaver eSports’ Caine Cook and the second Roush Fenway Racing Ford of Nathan Lyon.
Joe Gibbs Gaming’s Femi Olat was sixth, followed by Jake Nichols, Logan Clampitt, Brian Schoenburg and Taylor Hurst.
Ray ended up one lap down in 31st after his failed fuel mileage gamble in the final laps.
Polesitter Jimmy Mullis was among the casualties of the spate of early caution flags, relegated to a bad result after an early pit stop led to a later crash with veteran and former Las Vegas winner Brad Davies.
Mullis was scored 32nd at the finish in a heavily damaged Toyota for Richmond Raceway eSports.
The eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series season continues March 16 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Four-time series champion Ray Alfalla is the defending winner of the event.
1. 4-Ryan Luza , 2. 17-Steven Wilson , 3. 38-Casey Kirwan , 4. 15-Caine Cook , 5. 6-Nathan Lyon , 6. 18-Femi Olat , 7. 24-Jake Nichols , 8. 97-Logan Clampitt , 9. 47-Brian Schoenburg , 10. 33-Taylor Hurst , 11. 66-Blake Reynolds , 12. 83-Bobby Zalenski , 13. 37-Derek Justis , 14. 1-Ashton Crowder , 15. 88-Brad Davies , 16. 9-Michael Guest , 17. 32-Keegan Leahy , 18. 29-Zack Nichols , 19. 10-Graham Bowlin , 20. 75-Matt Bussa , 21. 55-Vicente Salas , 22. 16-John Gorlinsky , 23. 36-Chris Shearburn , 24. 25-Nick Ottinger , 25. 3-Corey Vincent , 26. 52-Jake Matheson , 27. 14-Blade Whitt , 28. 67-Allen Boes , 29. 90-Zack Novak , 30. 77-Bob Bryant , 31. 11-Malik Ray , 32. 46-Jimmy Mullis , 33. 8-Michael Conti , 34. 44-Isaac Gann , 35. 51-Ray Alfalla , 36. 2-Garrett Manes , 37. 79-Ryan Doucette , 38. 23-Mitchell deJong , 39. 21-Garrett Lowe , 40. 41-Dylan Duval .
Lead Changes: 15 among nine drivers
Lap Leader(s): Jimmy Mullis 1-3, Corey Vincent 4-8, Jimmy Mullis 9-12, Ryan Luza 13-33, Logan Clampitt 34-38, Steven Wilson 39-67, Matt Bussa 68-70, Steven Wilson 71-72, Ryan Luza 73, Steven Wilson 74-80, Ryan Luza 81-99, Steven Wilson 100-101, Malik Ray 102-127, Jake Matheson 128, Blade Whitt 129, Ryan Luza 130-134
Laps Led: Ryan Luza 46, Steven Wilson 40, Malik Ray 26, Jimmy Mullis 7, Corey Vincent 5, Logan Clampitt 5, Matt Bussa 3, Jake Matheson 1, Blade Whitt 1
Hard Charger: 37-Derek Justis (+25)
Rookie of the Race: 17-Steven Wilson (Roush Fenway Racing)
Caution Flags: Six for 23 laps
Margin of Victory: 1.644 seconds
Time of Race: One hour, 29 minutes, 34.943 seconds
Average Speed: 134.625 mph
Pole Winner: 46-Jimmy Mullis, 29.090 seconds (185.631 mph)
Fastest Lap: 17-Steven Wilson, lap 105, 29.590 seconds (182.494 mph)