After finishing in a career-best second-place in the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series race from Charlotte, Malik Ray came to one conclusion: He would have rather been wrecked on the first lap than have that race play out the way that it did. Or as he put it on Twitter: “I’d rather vacuum the beach than to be leading with less than 10 [laps to go] and lose.” Despite that, if there is one thing Charlotte taught him, it’s that he should probably practice more.
“For Charlotte, because we only had one week, I think I put in like 600 or 700 laps, and that’s the most I’ve ever done besides Darlington,” Ray told RACER. “If that’s what it takes, and I have the time for it like I did [that] week, then I don’t mind doing it. It’s when I did that stuff before – I’d put in like 500 laps in preparation for the race. Then come to the race, and I get wrecked lap one, turn one.
“That happened to me at Michigan last year. I put in like 400 or 500 laps, I qualified outside pole and by turn three I was done. Ever since then, I just don’t be wanting to put in that effort because I know that’s a huge possibility. At the same time, I’m starting to recognize that I’d rather have the practice just in case I don’t get wrecked, than I have the ability and the speed to show for it versus if I don’t get wrecked and just run in 20th or 30th the whole race.”
The second-place finish at Charlotte bested Ray’s previous best-finish of third at Pocono. It also showed him that practice can pay off when the dominoes in the race fall the right way. It was just his third top-five since joining the series in 2019. Despite this, he does not feel like he has to prove himself to others.
“I don’t necessarily feel like I have to prove myself to people,” he says. “But I know there are people out there that think of how I normally run in the races – I don’t qualify good, I start in the back and I run in the 28th to 32nd range – that when I do stuff like I did on Tuesday, then they’re like ‘I didn’t know he was capable of that.’
“If you’re just a casual watcher and you don’t really know me from the years beforehand, you’d think [that result] was surprising, but I know myself that I can do that.”
Ray is currently 27th in the driver’s standings, and some drivers in his position may shift their focus to just finishing in the top 20 in points and securing their spot for next season. Ray, however, he is still chasing a win, even if it costs him a spot in the top 20. Dropping down to the Pro series, the feeder series for the iRacing Coca-Cola Series, and having to re-earn his spot in the iRacing Coca-Cola Series is not a worry.
“To be quite honest with you, I would rather have a win and not be in the top 20, than to be in the top 20 and not have a win,” he says. “If you’re in the top 20 and you don’t have a win, you’re just there. You’re just another body in the series, you didn’t do anything crazy, you didn’t do anything special.
“I’d rather have a win and then have to go through the Pro series because I know that I’m capable of beating everyone in the Pro series. Last year I had to [go through the Pro series] and it wasn’t hard for me. I know the majority of guys that are going to be coming up through Pro – I’ve already beaten them in the past two or three months and they haven’t improved that much, so I know I could do it again if I had to.”
With the series heading to Pocono in a few weeks, Ray is hoping for more success at another track he finds suits his driving style. Pocono is a track where you need to hit your line and not necessarily always run flat-out, Ray explains.
“Tracks like Pocono, Darlington, and the new Charlotte, it’s more so about you racing the track and hitting the line correctly than it is about you getting around there as hard as you can,” he says. “Even if you’re just going at like 70% or so, if you’re hitting the line, that’s the most optimal way around the track.”