By Seth Eggert, Staff Writer
A late race gamble on fuel netted Malik Ray multiple laps in the lead but left him one lap short of the finish.
Just past the 100-lap mark of the third race of the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series season, Ray was running inside the top-five. The Spacestation Racing driver was the biggest mover at the time, having climbed up from the 31st starting position. As the leaders peeled off one by one for fuel, Ray stayed on track.
The No. 11 Spacestation Racing Ford Mustang was close on fuel. In fact, Ray was about one lap shy of making it the rest of the race per the iRacing broadcast. The Laurens S.C. native elected to take the gamble and hope for a caution. That caution almost came when Derek Justis and Ryan Doucette collided on the backstretch. Doucette spun into the infield, but the caution never waved.
Ray continued to slow his pace, shutting off his engine, using every trick in the book to save fuel. However, Ryan Luza, Steven Wilson, and those that had pitted were chasing him down at an accelerated rate. Ray’s lead quickly shrunk from over 26 seconds down to under a second in the course of 30 laps.
The Spacestation racer relinquished the lead with six laps to go. Ray quickly dropped from the lead down to ninth as the final laps clicked off. Ultimately, he was forced to pit for fuel with two laps to go and was relegated to a 31st-place finish.
“If I was to be placed in that situation again (based off how last year’s race went as well as how many cautions we had early on in that race) I would make the same decision,” Ray explained. “We should’ve had a yellow, Derek hooked Doucette head on down the back straightaway, just didn’t bring out a yellow. If I’m that close to the win I’m more than likely going to go for it.
“I just wanted to honestly have a shot at winning. Cautions came out numerous times during pit cycles last year, so I thought this year it’d be the same thing.”
Although Ray was ultimately short on fuel, the outcome could have been different. The eNASCAR driver didn’t know that he was going to be that close on fuel at the start of the fuel run. Ray stretched his fuel 62 laps of the required 64. He had not started to save fuel until sometime around that lap 100 mark of the race, 30 laps into the run.
“Had I known it would’ve been that close on gas I would’ve saved from the jump. Farthest we went in testing with 61. Was asking to do 64 there at the end. Would’ve made it had I saved from the beginning. it’s a lot easier to save fuel at the beginning of a run than it is at the end.”
After three miserable weeks, Ray is tied with four-time eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series champion Ray Alfalla for 39th in the points standings. He is 34-points behind Caine Cook in 20th, the final spot to avoid relegation at season’s end. Ray is 49-points behind Logan Clampitt, who holds the final eNASCAR playoff spot, and 69-points behind leader Casey Kirwan.
Next up for Ray is a trip to the virtual Atlanta Motor Speedway on March 16.