Contact, Bickford Net Strategy Monday Night Win at the Glen
By Seth Eggert, Editor
The timing decision to pit and a fierce battle on the final lap earned Charlotte Phoenix’s James Bickford his first career victory in Monday Night Racing presented by Interstate Batteries.
Battle for lead
For the first time, Monday Night Racing has opted for a format with no warnings or breakaways on a road course. The limited fuel consumption of Pro 2 Off-Road virtual trucks presented different strategies for drivers. Some, like Bickford, chose to stretch his fuel to the absolute limit. Meanwhile, Repco Supercars driver Shane van Gisbergen stopped a lap later, ensuring his fuel would last the final 12 laps to the finish.
At the start, the two-time Supercars champion exited pit road in the lead. Although Bickford slowly rolled up the road course ace. On van Gisbergen’s lap, the former ARCA Menards Series West driver regained the lead. On the back foot, the Auckland, New Zealand native was forced to chase Bickford.
On the back stretch, van Gisbergen used the air current to get closer. Diving to the driver’s right, it slammed into Bickford at the entrance to the bus stop. As the two riders battled for control, van Gisbergen slid through the grass to the rider’s left, skidding into the No. 29 Charlotte Phoenix machine. Coming out of the bus stop, Bickford was again in control.
The short fall after the carousel gave van Gisbergen one last chance to climb back up to Bickford. Approaching the final two corners, the driver of the #97 Hot Wheels truck put the bumper on the Charlotte Phoenix driver. Bickford slipped and scored the outside wall of the final corner. However, he held on to the lead and held off van Gisbergen’s aggressive charge to take the win by two truck lengths.
“Man, I’m here to put on a show for the fans,” Bickford joked. “It was a great moment behind the wheel for me. Going into the last corner I knew I was a little bit quicker than Shane with strategy. I couldn’t get away from his draft, whenever I had a good corner and as I slipped away it sucked up my rear bumper on the straights and there was nothing I could do about it so I knew it was going to play out until the last lap here. I hope it was awesome for the fans. I’m here just ecstatic.
“I have a wonderful crew chief, Reid Wilson, an awesome spotter, Matt Scott. In testing, we found something. That something worked. I just had to stay relevant in the race and I knew I “I was able to get through the pack. Everything went to plan, but I didn’t expect Shane to be so quick tonight. He was awesome tonight. It was hard to beat him.”
Along with Bickford’s first Monday Night Racing win, this was Charlotte Phoenix’s first eSports win in the series. In recent weeks, Charlotte Phoenix has knocked on the door of her first eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series victory with Graham Bowlin and Kollin Keister.
Monday Night Racing Season 2 champion Will Rodgers finished third, with Brad Perez and Preston Pardus rounding out the top five. David Schildhouse, Season 4 Champion Adam Cabot, Anthony Alfredo, Max Kennon and DJ Cummings round out the top 10.
Without precautions, the race was more a battle of strategies than a battle of attrition. Collin Fern and others tried to save fuel. While racing in two stops on paper seemed like overkill, in practice it has been accomplished by many.
Although he didn’t get the finish he wanted, Ryan Vargas still had a refreshing run. The NASCAR Xfinity Series driver brought back his Cranio Care Bears/FACES paint scheme. Vargas executed the paint scheme to honor the late Brentley Grant Ehmann, who helped make Cranio Care Bears what it is today. The Xfinity Series driver finished 14th.
Xfinity Series driver Brandon Brown made his Monday Night Racing debut. Driving a Dale Earnhardt-inspired paint scheme, NASCAR Brandon Brown finished 24th. While he shouldn’t be confused with longtime Race XR Monday Night Racing rider Brandon Brown, who borrowed a rig in Charlotte, North Carolina while working Racetrack Revival at the North Wilkesboro Speedway.
1. 29-James Bickford 2. 97-Shane van Gisbergen 3. 55-Will Rodgers 4. 60-Brad Perez 5. 42-Preston Pardus 6. 20-David Schildhouse 7. 17-Adam Cabot 8. 23-Antoine Alfredo 9. 21-Max Kennon 10. 10-DJ Cummings 11. Majors 06-TJ 12. 86-Collin Fern 13. 98-Presley Sorah 14. 6-Ryan Vargas 15. 24-Nick Olsen 16. 07-Ford Martin 17. 075-Landon Huffman 18. 19-Garrett Smithley 19. 1-Gary Sexton 20. 46-Steven Ellis 21. 6-Bryan Boris Cook 22. 41-Matt Stallknecht ,
23. 99-Mark Rebilas 24. 68-Brandon Brown (NASCAR) 25. 077-Devon Henry 26. 2-Robby Lyons 27. 11-Steve Auffant 28. 50-Gabe Wood 29. 53-Justin Melillo 30. 28-Ron Caps 31. 4-Brett Baldeck 32. 12-Brandon Brown (Race XR) 33. 57-Seth Eggert 34. 88-Mike Clay 35. 94-George Balfanz Jr. 36. 84-Kase Kallenbach 37. 58-Charli Brown 38. 33-Ruben Garcia  (DNS).
Lead Changes: Eight out of five pilots.
Tower leader(s): Will Rodgers 1-2, Shane van Gisbergen 3-6, DJ Cummings 7-10, Shane van Gisbergen 11-13, Will Rodgers 14, Shane van Gisbergen 15-28, James Bickford 29-31, David Schildhouse 32-34, James Bickford 35-38.
Laps led: Shane van Gisbergen 21, James Bickford 7, DJ Cummings 4, Will Rodgers 3, David Schildhouse 3.
Hard charger(s): 075-Landon Huffman (+17).
Race rookie: 98-Presley Sorah, 13th.
Warning flags: None.
Margin of Victory: 0.185 seconds.
Race time: 55 minutes, 58.027 seconds.
Average speed: 144.213 MPH.
Pole winner: 55-Will Rodgers, One minute, 25.120 seconds (107.425 MPH).
Fastest lap: 23-Anthony Alfredo, One minute, 24.939 seconds (107.654 MPH).
Featured photo credit: Photo by Seth Eggert / Kickin’ the Tires.
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