One spot is taken, and three spots remain for the 2021 eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series season finale at Texas Motor Speedway after Letarte eSports’ Bobby Zalenski held off 23XI Racing’s Mitchell DeJong at Darlington on Tuesday. The race was being dominated by DeJong and his 23XI teammate, Keegan Leahy, before diverging strategies and late yellows gave Zalenski the breathing room he needed to hold on.
DeJong and Leahy, who locked out the front row were the class of the field for much of the evening. The duo pitted from the lead of the race, setting up a 43-lap run to the checkered. Zalenski, however, had other plans. He was going to make it to the end of the race with a daring 72-lap run on fuel.
With six laps to run, DeJong was back up to third after pitting and was just five car lengths behind Zalenski who was nursing tires that were some 66 laps old. Then the yellow flew — an opportunity to exhale for a brief moment before asking the simple question, “What happens now?”
“I felt like we had [the race] pretty well controlled, even the final run there before that yellow came out, it was like, ‘We should be OK…’ I think my chances of winning would have been a little bit better if it had stayed green,” DeJong said after the race.
As the laps dwindled down, DeJong began to realize that some drivers seemed to be capable of pulling off the 72-lap fuel run that Zalenski was trying to orchestrate.
“Straight away from lap one I was clutching into [Turn] 1,” Zalenski explained. “You just hold so much speed in the draft into [Turn] 1 you can back it way up. I was even doing it into [turn] 3 sometimes. The dirty air is so strong when you’re right up on somebody that I could lose all this time halfway down the straightaway. And then I just gained it all back in the corner anyway.
“I was just kind of maintaining for 40 laps until everyone started pitting. I’d made [the decision to save fuel] right away because last night we had an A-open race and guys made it on 70 laps, so I said, ‘Why not? I can make it on 72 laps.’”
Neither Zalenski nor DeJong were sure of the result had the race stayed green.
“It could have been 50-50,” DeJong said. The fuel was going to be a little close and “I probably wasn’t going to win – I don’t know, really,” Zalenski said. The yellow did come out, though, which set up a green-white-checkered finish.
Two attempts of the GWC were needed but Zalenski defended Dejong’s last-lap lunge into Turn 3 to claim the first spot in the final four. With two races at Bristol and Talladega before the season finale at Texas, Zalenski is not yet looking at the championship race.
While Zalenski and DeJong drive for different teams on track, the pair are both a part of VRS Coanda Simsport, a professional sim racing team that acts as a technical alliance between drivers. While Zalenski has secured his spot, he still feels it’s the right thing to do to help DeJong and Leahy find their spots.
“I would be a bad teammate if I let up testing now. I just want to help [my teammates] get in. I wasn’t that great today as a driver. As you could see, Keegan [Leahy] and Mitchell [DeJong] were dominating and they pretty much deserved to get a one-two today. I would be a bad teammate if I didn’t help them at Bristol and Talladega, and I would rather race them in the final four than anybody else,” Zalenski said.
Casey Kirwan and Ryan Michael Luza, who were on the same strategy as Zalenski, finished third and fourth in a big points day for XSET. XSET is now third in the team’s championship and has leapfrogged William Byron eSports with that double top-five result.