By Seth Eggert, Staff Writer
In a move reminiscent to James Buescher’s 2011 Daytona win, Jake Matheson missed the mayhem to finish third in his eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series debut.
The Williams eSports driver was just outside the top-10 when the white flag waved. The caution-free race kept the bulk of the field together on the virtual high banks of Daytona International Speedway. Through two pit cycles, Matheson found his virtual No. 52 Chillblast Ford Mustang on the inside lane.
As the field entered turn three for the final time, calamity ensued. Logan Clampitt’s virtual No. 97 Logitech Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE got pitched sideways from second. He clipped Garrett Manes as the duo crashed in front of the field. As the duo crashed, they swept up multiple competitors in their wake.
By virtue of being on the inside lane, Matheson straddled the apron to avoid the wreck. Like his Williams eSports teammate, Zack Nichols, he had to fight to maintain control of his eNASCAR machine. Once on the straightaway, Matheson found himself just behind Nichols, who was a lap down. Besides race leader Michael Conti and Michael Guest, few of his competitors behind him emerged unscathed. When Matheson crossed the line, he was third.
“It’s awesome, we were in the same position in The Clash,” explained Matheson. “I feel like we had a decent piece. It showed getting up through the pack later in the race. Once we were up front, I knew we were stuck there because of the Daytona gridlock. We were just hoping that someone would do something to shuffle the lines to gain more spots. Really happy we were able to avoid (the wreck) and bring it home third.”
The eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series race at Daytona may have been Matheson’s first in the series, however, he has plenty of racing experience. Away from iRacing, he competes in Legends Cars and Pro Late Models. Despite the major differences between real-life and the eNASCAR world, the nerves still existed for Matheson.
“From the time I got out of pit road to the checkered flag, my nerves spiked up,” admitted Matheson. “Once you get to the final pit stop, it’s time to go. The intensity flared up, I’m sure the stream probably showed it. Honestly, I’m kind of speechless after getting through the pack and being able to avoid that mess at the end. We’re going to have a good time this season.”
Just before the first round of green flag pit stops, Matheson avoided disaster. An incident that collected Ryan Luza, Zack Novak, and Malik Ray sent the field scattering. With no caution, Matheson and others quickly worked to reform the pack before pit stops.
Matheson’s third-place finish makes him the highest finishing rookie of the race. In a field with 11 other rookies, the battle for eNASCAR Rookie-of-the-Year has only just begun.
Next up for Matheson is a trip to the virtual Homestead-Miami Speedway for the second race of the season on Feb. 23.