DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Zack Novak delivered a historic first for Roush Fenway Racing on Tuesday night, as the venerable NASCAR team earned its maiden eSports victory in its debut eNASCAR Peak Antifreeze iRacing Series appearance.
Wheeling the virtual version of Ryan Newman’s No. 6 Oscar Mayer Ford, Novak held 38 challengers at bay on a final-lap shootout around the Daytona Int’l Speedway and beat friend and rival Jimmy Mullis in a photo finish by just .023 of a second to win the Daytona 250.
Novak paced the final 11 laps of the event, after inheriting the top spot from sixth when four-time and defending series champion Ray Alfalla led the top five down pit road for a splash of fuel late in the going.
The 2.5-mile sprint to the finish, however, was set up by a multi-car accident coming to six laps to go, after early leader Jarl Teien spun into the pack entering the tri-oval and collected a myriad of others.
When the green flag returned for the final time, Novak got a huge push from Mullis going into turn one that allowed him to clear fellow front-row inhabitant Ryan Luza. Novak never looked back after that.
Tuesday night’s victory was the third of Novak’s NPAiS career and his first at Daytona. It also afforded him with a $1,000 winner’s payday.
“We were actually off-strategy a little bit from the rest of the field, and we called an audible at the last second to pit around lap 80,” noted Novak after the race. “We figured that the rest of the field would pit at that point … and it worked. Jimmy (Mullis) and I got hooked up really well coming off pit road and we were able to hold the lead. I figured it would go green, but we were set up well for that last-lap dash.
“As far as Jimmy and I went, we just knew we had to hold (formation) until we got off of turn four, and then race it out from there,” Novak added. “We wanted to get one of our cars in victory lane and I can’t thank him enough for working with me on that restart. It’s awesome to say I have a win at Daytona.”
Novak was also understandably impacted by being able to notch the victory for Roush Fenway, which boasts a NASCAR-record 324 victories across the sanctioning body’s three national touring series.
“This is a really successful opening week for us and I’m really happy to be representing Roush Fenway Racing,” said Novak. “They’re such a legendary team in the NASCAR world and I’m honored to be carrying their colors tonight and for this season. To bring home a win for them is a dream come true.”
In stark contrast from past NPAiS events at the World Center of Racing, Tuesday night’s event only featured two caution flags for a total of seven laps.
The first waved on lap nine when Corey Vincent and Michael Guariglia got together in a two-car incident in turns three and four, while the second with six to go set up the frenetic, final-lap dash to end the race.
Despite coming home as the runner-up, Mullis was pleased with his result and the $500 payday that came with it, noting that it marked a solid start to a potential playoff run this season.
“I wouldn’t call this disappointing, really. Tonight was awesome for Peak and everyone who puts all the hard work in behind the scenes to make this series happen,” said Mullis, who was representing Richmond Raceway eSports in the event. “This is a fantastic way to kick off our year.
“We had a really, really fast car tonight. (Race strategist) Logan Sheets made a great call with about 20 to go to bring Zack and I down pit road that paid off and got us to the end,” Mullis added. “We were just able to hang on and Zack just edged us out. I can’t complain.”
Keegan Leahy, who led a race-high 23 laps, completed the podium ahead of Nick Ottinger and Christian Challiner.
Former series titlists Ryan Luza and Michael Conti led the second five home, followed by Brad Davies, Bobby Zalenski and Garrett Lowe.
After being out front for 16 laps in the famed Wood Brothers No. 21 Ford, Alfalla finished a disappointing 19th as a result of his late pit stop, which took him out of contention for the win.
Equally disappointed was Novak’s Roush Fenway teammate Michael Guest, who was relegated to 38th after spinning coming down pit road for his last stop with 28 to go. He was leading at the time.
Zack Novak, Jimmy Mullis, Keegan Leahy, Nick Ottinger, Christian Challiner, Ryan Luza, Michael Conti, Brad Davies, Bobby Zalenski, Garrett Lowe, Jake Nichols, Brian Schoenburg, Chris Overland, Malik Ray, Casey Kirwan, Matt Bussa, Phillip Diaz, Timmy Hill, Ray Alfalla, Eric Smith, Caine Cook, Ashton Crowder, Jarl Teien, Chris Shearburn, Dylan Duval, Cody Byus, Ben Nelson, Blake Reynolds, Nathan Lyon, Brandon Kettelle, Taylor Hurst, Logan Kress, Michael Guariglia, Adam Benefiel, Nickolas Shelton, Corey Vincent, Ryan Lowe, Michael Guest, Casey Tucker.