It was a wild finish to the second segment of the eNASCAR Heat Pro League Thursday (June 25). In the end, Brandyn Gritton and Nick Walker claimed the victories at virtual Atlanta Motor Speedway. Additionally, Gritton and Daniel Buttafuoco locked themselves into the championship.
Gritton won the PlayStation 4 race after a fierce battle in the closing laps with Kyle Arnold and Josh Harbin. All three competitors led some laps, but when a caution came out with three laps to go Harbin saw himself in the lead. Gritton, who pitted under caution for fresh tires, quickly passed Harbin. Contact was made and Harbin ended up getting in the wall on the last lap.
“Well, I’m kind of glad (the caution came out) because I had messed up and hit the apron and gave the lead away,” Gritton said after the race. “When it came out, I felt good about it, especially since Bear [Harbin] stayed out, did not take no tires or anything, so I knew that gave me a chance if I could hurry up and get in behind him. So that’s how it all worked out in my favor.”
Jason Mitchell took the second position, while Chip Ganassi Gaming’s Maxwell Castro held on to the podium. Josh Parker and Corey Rothgeb rounded out the top five.
The race began with Brandon Hanna leading a few laps before getting stuck in the outside lane and dropping to ninth. Harbin held the point before a caution came out on lap 19. This caught five cars a lap down, including points leaders Joey Stone and Cody Giles.
After the restart, Parker, who was coming up to the front in a hurry before the caution, soon dropped backward in the lineup.
Later, Germain Gaming’s Arnold made a strategy call to pit with 16 laps left before the rest of the leaders made their stop. This put him into the lead when the stops cycled through.
However, he wasn’t counting on Gritton and Harbin closing up on him so fast. Gritton moved Arnold up the track and took the lead with five laps left. The caution came out after Arnold hit the wall, which again led to an intense battle for the lead in the final two laps. Gritton eventually won the fight and secured his spot in the championship.
The Xbox event featured some points leaders getting into big wrecks, but it was Buttafuoco who bounced back from an earlier incident to claim his position in the championship race.
“It was too much,” Buttafuoco said after the race. “That was eventful. I was already mad at myself after qualifying, really messed up both laps and didn’t get what I could out of it. I took a little break and collected myself and tried to make sure it was a good race, take it lap by lap, and was just trying to be patient and make my way through the field which we did.
“That was crazy, I wasn’t expecting that race to happen like that. Just got to keep a cool head and just do the best we can.”
After an earlier caution, Buttafuoco was beginning to make some ground when Justin Brooks got sent down the banking and flew up the racetrack into Buttafuoco. Both cars got some heavy damage, but received repairs during the caution.
Then with 10 laps to go Brooks again got caught up in trouble. He hit the grass on the frontstretch, slowed up and skidded against the outside wall before getting hit from behind.
Slade Gravitt, meanwhile, led for much of the race until that late caution put him a bit behind. Buttafuoco worked his way back up to the top five, while Walker, Tyler Dohar and Brian Tedeschi battled for the lead. Tedeschi ended up getting moved out of the way and dropped back, while Walker and Dohar obtained first and second.
Sam Morris, who also was in the hunt for the lead, hit the wall with about three laps to go, bringing out the caution. Things got real tight after the restart, especially on the last lap where Tedeschi and Buttafuoco attempted to snag the win away from Walker at the finish line. Walker held on to capture his first Heat Pro League victory of the season.
“I know, can you believe it?” Walker said. “It’s about time, we’ve been working on it, and working on it, and working on it, and working on it, but we got it, finally. I just can’t express how I feel right now. The Oscar Mayer Ford was on a rail tonight, and I knew once we got settled in there midway we had a good shot at it. We just kept them behind us and looked forward.
“Just keep them behind me the best I could, it was a hungry field out there. Everybody’s looking for any shot of getting up there and getting at it. We were just trying to keep them behind us, and thankfully we was able to do it and bring one home tonight.”
Tedeschi and Buttafuoco took second and third, while Matthew Heale and Dohar rounded out the top five.
Remember Brooks and his earlier misfortunes? Well, behind the photo finish was a big wreck that saw Brooks flipping into the air. Needless to say, he’s probably thankful he’s already locked into the championship.
The NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Trucks will be on track at virtual Eldora Speedway next Wednesday, July 1. Coverage for the first race in the final segment will begin at 8 p.m. ET on eNASCAR.com/live and NASCAR Heat’s Facebook page.