Following the latest race at Kansas Speedway, we are officially halfway through the 2022 eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series regular season. Seven races are on the board with five different winners, and seven more races remain until the 2022 Playoffs. Honestly, I don’t think anyone could have predicted how things would look at this point in the year.
Right now, Clint Bowyer Racing’s Femi Olatunbosun leads the Driver’s Standings over William Byron eSports driver Nick Ottinger and Stewart-Haas Racing’s Steven Wilson. As for the team points, however, it’s the Team Dillon Esports duo of Corey Vincent and Taylor Hurst leading the way. They lead by only a couple over the Jim Beaver eSports teammates Michael Guest and Blake Reynolds.
Earlier in the year, I gave each team a grade to predict how their season might turn out. While I still stand behind some of those grades eventually coming true, there have definitely been quite a few surprises to this point. This season has been like no other, there’s been no clear-cut favorite, and the team points lead is traded just about every other week.
Here’s an updated grade for each team entering the second half of the regular season. While each driver’s overall finishing position was mostly considered, stuff like average running position, starting position, and things I’ve witnessed on the virtual track were also heavily factored in.
A Graded Teams:
None. All of the teams that I gave A’s at the beginning of the year were expected to have wins with both drivers to to this point. It was expected that teams like William Byron eSports and 23XI Racing would be the class of the field. However, the season hasn’t been kind to many teams in some circumstances.
Looking at the current results, I don’t think any team out there is worthy of an A grade, not even the team points leaders. This grading sheet will be a ton of Bs, a few Cs, and maybe even a few grades lower than that. Nobody has really set themselves apart from the rest of the field, team-wise that is.
B Graded Teams:
With the team point lead changing every other week, with new players joining in, and on most teams, at least one driver having the worst season of their career, nobody stands out enough to take an A grade.
There are 13 teams with a B grade in my system however, and simply enough, the cats leading the thing take the highest honor at this point.
Team Dillon Esports – Chevrolet– 1st in Team Standings
3 – Corey Vincent (8th in points)
33 – Taylor Hurst (7th in points)
While the Team Dillon Esports duo of Corey Vincent and Taylor Hurst currently lead the team standings after seven races, a race win has eluded them to this point with seven races left in the 2022 regular season. Both drivers have been able to race towards the front through most of the season, dominant together at Richmond before late race strategy took them out of a chance to win.
Vincent has been up there a lot this season, usually racing in the top half of the field on any given Tuesday. While Richmond was a more likely possibility with how fast he and Hurst were, his best finish of the season came two races ago with a second place at Dover.
No Top 5 finishes, no problem so far for Hurst. He’s got six finishes of 13th or better, including a best finish of sixth at that Richmond race where he started on pole and led a good chunk of laps. They aren’t the only duo with both drivers inside the Top 10 in points, but they are much closer to winning than most.
If there could be a B++, that what Team Dillon would be solely on the fact that they’re leading the rest of the field. Even so, with both drivers currently in playoff contention, it is looking like a win will be necessary to earn one of those 10 spots.
Melillo Mid-Season Grade: B+ (Pre-Season: B-)
Stewart-Haas Esports – Ford – 3rd in Team Standings
10 – Steven Wilson (3rd in points)
41 – Dylan Duval (18th in points)
This is a team that’s been a constant at the top of the team points. After saying farewell to Graham A. Bowlin during the off season, Stewart-Haas Esports is working with some fairly similar talent in the form of Steven Wilson this season.
Wilson is one of the fastest drivers week-in and week-out, most recently leading the most laps at Kansas before weird strategy forced him down the order and into the clutches of aggressive driving. A winner at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Wilson is one of the few with an average finish of 10th or better.
His teammate Dylan Duval has shown some pace as well, but nothing that’s been race winning to this point. Duval has been caught up in quite several other people’s misfortunes, which has taken him outside the Top 10 in points in the last few weeks.
This team is about where I expected them to be, hovering towards the front half of the standings. The issue is that the teams I expected to outperform them are having an off year in comparison to my initial expectations.
Melillo Mid-Season Grade: B+ (Pre-Season: B+)
William Byron eSports – Chevrolet – 9th in Team Standings
25 – Nick Ottinger (2nd in points)
97 – Logan Clampitt (35th in points)
A surprising Top 3 team based on their current junction in the standings but trust me when I say this team has shown the most power and potential in 2022. Nick Ottinger has two wins, and besides two races all year, he’s either been sitting on the pole or sitting in victory lane. If the playoffs were to start now, he’d be one of the favorites for the title.
On the other hand, Logan Clampitt has had a year to forget already. While he does own a pair of seventh place finishes on the year, he also has finishes of 34th, 35th, 36th, 37th and 39th. It’s been feast or famine with a lot of dead racecars to look back on.
Despite this, Clamp is one of the fastest drivers on a weekly basis. He’s constantly fighting within the Top 5, until bad luck happens. If Logan can start finishing where he runs, he’s only 50 points out of relegation, which isn’t an insurmountable amount.
The fact that Clampitt is having a historically bad season on paper means I can’t put them at the top, but the potential still exists where both he and the team can turn the season around and become players in the title fight.
Melillo Mid-Season Grade: B+ (Pre-Season: A)
JR Motorsports – Chevrolet – 7th in Team Standings
8 – Michael Conti (10th in points)
88 – Briar LaPradd (25th in points)
The only other team with multiple wins on the season, and that comes in the form of Michael Conti’s pair of virtual trophies from Las Vegas and Richmond. Conti has been fast everywhere, and after his second win, it looked like he was poised to run away with the 2022 season.
Since that win, though, luck hasn’t been on his side. His technical teammate Ottinger has picked up the slack with his own two wins, but Conti’s point total has dropped him to 10th, which is pretty low considering his speed.
His teammate is a newcomer in Briar LaPradd, and his luck has been just as spotty in his first series campaign. LaPradd’s overall pace has been about mid-pack, some of which have resulted in good finishes and some of which have resulted in getting caught up in the chaos.
I would say that compared to what I originally thought at the beginning of the season, this team is doing better than expected. Briar is only eight points out of the Top 20, a huge accomplishment for any rookie, and Conti is still a big championship threat.
Melillo Mid-Season Grade: B+ (Pre-Season: B)
Charlotte Phoenix – Toyota – 5th in Team Standings
43 – Kollin Keister (19th in points)
48 – Graham A. Bowlin (10th in points)
The new team on the block has been impressive so far in 2022. Not only are they making an impact on the track every other week, but they’ve blown on to the stage in a rush of live esport events and watch parties to cheer their drivers on.
I say it about every week, but I believe that Graham Bowlin is a threat to win at any race on the schedule. His ability to close the deal has been lacking, thus his current placement of 10th overall in points despite fighting for the lead once again this past week at Kansas. Bowlin is destined to win one at some point, but he’s going to need to keep his head on his shoulders in the closing laps.
His teammate Kollin Keister has a lot of raw talent as well, and if Graham didn’t junk it at Kansas battling for the lead, collecting both Phoenix cars, he was looking at his first Top 5 finish of the season as well.
This team is still a dangerous combination that will likely fight for this team title and possibly a championship with either driver. Maybe my preseason rank was too high, or maybe they just haven’t gotten there yet. It remains to be seen.
Melillo Mid-Season Grade: B (Pre-Season: A-)
Jim Beaver eSports – Ford – 2nd in Team Standings
9 – Michael Guest (9th in points)
15 – Blake Reynolds (6th in points)
Jim Beaver’s team has spent time on top of the boards this season as both Michael Guest and Blake Reynolds have been having pretty decent runs in 2022. For this team, however, it’s been more about surviving than their outright speed.
For Michael Guest, it’s been a fantastic continuation of what he was able to deliver last season. A pair of Top 5 finishes at Atlanta and Richmond, the Big Green Egg car has been able to avoid the big calamity most weeks as he sits ninth in the current standings.
His teammate Blake Reynolds is having a comparatively consistent season which has mirrored his 2019 campaign when he made the Championship 4. No finish worse than 21st, which was his last at Kansas, and that came after winning the metaphorical good hands award.
They are both doing better than originally expected, but even though they are only two points behind Team Dillon, they seem a big further away from finding victory lane than the leaders to this point.
Melillo Mid-Season Grade: B (Pre-Season: B-)
Clint Bowyer Racing – Ford – 5th in Team Standings
14 – Nickolas Shelton (33rd in points)
79 – Femi Olatunbosun (1st in points)
It’s been a dream run for the Daytona winner and the current series points leader, Femi Olatunbosun. After his runner-up finish at Kansas last week, he’s now back ahead of the driver’s standings halfway through the regular season. What a completely different season it’s been for the second-year driver.
Last year, Femi had 14 of his 18 finishes below 16th place. This year, his worst finish was 16th place at Richmond. While he’s not too confident with the upcoming road races, usually when drivers get on any sort of streak, the track type doesn’t matter as much.
His teammate this year is returning Coke Series driver Nickolas Shelton, and for Nick, it hasn’t been a great return to action. Shelton showed signs of life during the Contender Series when he dominated at Phoenix, but since returning to the top level, his best finish on the year was a 15th at Atlanta. Despite this, the team is still fifth overall, and a contender nonetheless for the team title.
They’ve collectively done much better than anticipated with Femi’s successes this season, a huge step up from what Clint Bowyer Racing’s been able to do the last few years. Still, they need to be firing on all cylinders by the end of the year to be a threat for the overall team championship.
Melillo Mid-Season Grade: B (Pre-Season: C)
XSET – Chevrolet – 4th in Team Standings
4 – Ryan Luza (26th in points)
95 – Casey Kirwan (5th in points)
On one side of the XSET coin, you’ve got Casey Kirwan as a constant front runner week in and week out. On the other hand, Ryan Luza can’t seem to finish with a clean car this season. Fourth at Las Vegas was the best Luza’s done, but otherwise it’s been a struggle that’s continued on from the end of 2021.
Kirwan, meanwhile, was so close to his first win of the season last week, just coming up short with some late race kerfuffle against the eventual winner Garrett Lowe and his Deadzone teammate Graham A. Bowlin.
Despite the third-place finish, Kirwan is fifth overall to this point. Outside of an off 38th place finish at Richmond, he hasn’t otherwise finished worse than 14th and the other finishes have all been inside the Top 10.
Luza, meanwhile, has been quite vocal on the radio this season as he’s been collected in more incidents than ever before. It has to be frustrating for the 2017 champion as he’s currently facing relegation. If Ryan can catch a break, this team has enormous potential to run away with the team title. I still stand by my original grade back before the season started, and if the finishes matched, they’d be there.
Melillo Mid-Season Grade: B (Pre-Season: A-)
Wood Brothers Racing – Ford – 15th in Team Standings
16 – Blade Whitt (31st in points)
21 – Garrett Lowe (14th in points)
The latest winners in the series, Wood Brothers Racing may have a title contender yet in the form of Garrett Lowe. Meanwhile, Blade Whitt is struggling to stay out of trouble in the middle of the field.
This one wouldn’t be this high without the Lowe victory last week. Garrett was struggling to maintain a spot in the Top 20, possibly facing another year of relegation. Now, he’s got a chance to race for a title if he can hold on to a Top 20 spot. From here on out, points will mean more than another win.
Blade’s best finish was 17th at Atlanta, and that feels like the only race where he didn’t end up destroyed at one point or another. Granted, he’s been starting back there. It seems like the Lowline sets haven’t been as good as they were in Road to Pro, as its been rough for most of the team.
I’d say without the win, these two would be exactly where I expected them. It was a pleasant surprise to see Lowe and the Wood Brothers back in victory lane. I think should he make the playoffs, Lowe will have a chip on his shoulder from 2019.
Melillo Mid-Season Grade: B- (Pre-Season: C+)
23XI Racing – Toyota – 11th in Team Standings
23 – Mitchell deJong (14th in points)
45 – Keegan Leahy (21st in points)
This team is looking to defend their title from 2021, in both the team and driver areas. Unfortunately, Keegan Leahy is statistically in the worst slump of his career while Mitchell deJong is a magnet to collisions as of late.
Whether it’s the new car or the new number, this doesn’t feel like the Keegan Leahy we’ve come to expect on a weekly basis in the eNASCAR top level. His best finish on the season is a ninth place run at Daytona, of all places. We’re used to his dominance at the cookie cutters and other intermediate venues, but for the most part, it’s been a struggle to stay out of trouble.
As for the eNASCAR sophomore deJong, he’s been doing a much better job at running towards the front. Still, his finishes aren’t reflective of the efforts. Just last week, he was in contention once again for victory when a late race incident derailed his run, resulting in a 20th after starting from the pole.
I think this team is still the scariest team on paper. I expect Mitchell to be a player when we finally go road racing as well. Keegan, however, needs to find the golden horseshoe from last season so he can start pulling out the dominant runs once again.
Melillo Mid-Season Grade: B- (Pre-Season: A+)
Mode Motorsports – Ford – 12th in Team Standings
24 – Cody Byus (34th in points)
75 – Matt Bussa (4th in points)
How about Matt Bussa? He’s been on a tear since almost qualifying for the Championship 4 last season. He sits fourth in the overall standings as it stands, but his new teammate, returning Coke Series driver who was originally drafted for Mode, Cody Byus has had a return to forget to this point.
Bussa’s start this season has been magical to watch. He’s once again working with the Team Conti, and right now that backend team owns more than half of the wins on the season. Not only has Bussa been running up front, but he’s also been avoiding the mayhem more times than not, which places his as the top driver without a win so far.
Byus hasn’t been as fast, or as lucky. He only has a single Top 20 finish – a 20th place effort at the Bristol Dirt race. We saw a lot of speed out of the veteran driver during the Qualifying and Contender Road to Pro races, but that speed hasn’t been found yet since he’s made his return this season.
I guess I expected a little more out of Byus and probably a little less out of Bussa. Their ranking evens out to be about where I had them anyway, but I think there’s room for a Bussa win and some Byus improvement before the end of the season.
Melillo Mid-Season Grade: B- (Pre-Season: B)
Rise eSports – Chevrolet – 7th in Team Standings
5 – Zack Novak (16th in points)
46 – Jimmy Mullis (13th in points)
The former Richmond Raceway eSports turned Rise duo of Zack Novak and Jimmy Mullis have just been existing to this point. Usually racing towards the front, both drivers have had a couple of moments happen to them where it seemed like the other drivers forgot they were there.
Novak, in particular, looks like he’s had more speed overall, but again his luck has been hit or miss. Before Dover, Zack didn’t have a Top 10 yet on the season. Now, at Dover and Kansas, he’s finished fifth and sixth respectively. That’s where he ran, as well, which means he’s right on the verge of being a top contender again.
Jimmy, on the other hand, started off pretty strong with his fifth place at Daytona, but hasn’t really had the speed since. At Dover, he was collected by the concrete monster while having his best run since. Last week at Kansas, though, he ran about 13th all race and finished there.
I think these two are both championship caliber drivers. Novak’s already been to the top of the mountain in 2019 and he’s continuing to fight back. Mullis has been close for years. They’ll both need a little more pace to be in the conversation in seven more races.
Melillo Mid-Season Grade: B- (Originally B+)
Elliott Sadler Esports – Chevrolet – 10th in Team Standings
2 – Liam Brotherton (23rd in points)
31 – Garrett Manes (12th in points)
Garrett Manes started off the season nearly winning the Daytona season opener. It’s been downhill for him since, as he’s settled in around 12th in the standings. Liam Brotherton’s rookie campaign hasn’t been much to write home about yet either, but he might be trending in the right direction following his first career Top 10 at Kansas.
Last year, Manes was the last driver to save his place in the series and avoid relegation. This season, he came in like a lion with some great finishes early, but since his seventh place run at Vegas, it’s been pretty quiet. He did show up with great pace at the Bristol Dirt race, but was involved in some unfortunate incidents that took him out of contention.
Brotherton is having a decent rookie run to this point. Funny enough, he tied with Malik Ray to make the series through Contender. After seven races, the two are still tied up. His ninth place effort at Kansas could be the start of something special. We’ll have to wait and see.
With the surprise run from Brotherton, Elliott Sadler Esports in general is doing better than expected. Manes has that point-in possibility still, but I don’t know if he’s got a win in him before the end of the regular season.
Melillo Mid-Season Grade: B- (Originally C+)
C Graded Teams:
Joe Gibbs Racing – Toyota – 14th in Team Standings
18 – Bobby Zalenski (17th in points)
51 – Ray Alfalla (27th in points)
This team particularly had so much history behind their duo of drivers that it really felt like 2020 all over again. Unfortunately, both drivers have left a lot to be desired with only seven races until the playoffs.
Of course, 4-Time himself, Ray Alfalla is having another off year similar to his tough season in 2019. Not really up front, mired in the mid pack, and more than not, caught up in someone else’s mess. He was able to get his bad luck out of the way early at Kansas and recovered to a season-best tied finish of 12th.
As for Bobby Zalenski, a Championship 4 driver in four of his five career seasons, this season has just felt off for the returning driver of the No. 18. Zalenski nearly had a couple of them this year, which is why the team is ranked a little higher, but his last two races have resulted in disaster, dropping him down to 17th in the standings.
I think both drivers have the ability to turn their seasons around. Alfalla is the defending Charlotte winner and Zalenski has a couple of road races to look forward to. Their seasons are not completely over yet.
Melillo Mid-Season Grade: C+ (Originally A-)
Williams Esports – Toyota – 13th in Team Standings
19 – Vicente Salas (21st in points)
20 – Donovan Strauss (20th in points)
These two would be the first to tell you how much of a letdown the start of this season has been. While it’s still a dream scenario for the two close friends to be working together at an incredible place like Williams Esports, the results just haven’t been there for either early season favorite.
Starting with Vicente Salas, the only man to lead every lap in a single race last year at Richmond. His sophomore slump is real as it has taken him until just this past week to score a Top 5. Actually, same goes for Donovan Strauss, and now the pair are straddling the relegation line together.
While it’s easy to look at the results and conclude that the pair aren’t performing as predicted, I’d say the pace has only been slightly off. Things have been compounded by the numerous incidents they both wind up in, sometimes with each other.
Looking forward, the positive Kansas results should hopefully lead into a jump start for both of their seasons. While the current grade is reflective of their current standing more than anything, I still have hope that this team starts contending regularly for wins.
Melillo Mid-Season Grade: C+ (Originally A-)
eRacr – Chevrolet – 18th in Team Standings
42 – Darik Bourdeau (37th in points)
69 – Collin Bowden (29th in points)
Both Darik Bourdeau and Collin Bowden have shown signs of life this season, but their finishes have not been indicative of such speed. Both drivers are on the wrong side of the relegation line thus far. Recently, Bowden’s been bit by power problems which has seen his finishes falter.
Bowden has the best finish on the rebranded team’s result sheet so far. A ninth place run at Las Vegas is not what the team formerly known as Kligerman Sport is used to being excited for. Combine that with a 12th by Bowden at the Bristol Dirt race and that’s all of the Top 20 finishes this season for the 69 car.
As for Driver 42, Bourdeau is like many others down low on the list. Destined to a mid-pack position, sometimes further at the front, but ultimately dodging disaster and often unsuccessful. This series is truly one of the most competitive, and Bourdeau had a lot more hype surrounding him from the Road to Pro. Also, he’s a past series winner back in 2017, so he knows how to get it done.
The eRacr boys like to go fast, but they need to start finishing races before they can put that speed to good use. I think this grade might be a little too generous but I do think they have some underlying speed that, if tamed, can start producing top finishes.
Melillo Mid-Season Grade: C (Originally C+)
RFK Racing – Ford – 17th in Team Standings
6 – Parker Retzlaff (28th in points)
17 – Kaden Honeycutt (36th in points)
It’s been a tough go for both real-world drivers in their first eNASCAR campaign this year. While Parker Retzlaff has been killing it in his NASCAR Xfinity Series debuts, and Kaden Honeycutt is a constant contender at the front of the field in the CARS Tour for his second full-time campaign.
Both drivers were highly competitive during the Road to Pro ladder races, but that speed just hasn’t carried over into the Coke Series this season. A lot of it can be chalked up to bad luck, but even then, no Top 10 finishes is a huge concern this deep into the season.
Parker has a couple of Top 20 finishes, including a best performance for the team at Daytona. He’s since followed that up with a 15th at Dover, but otherwise it’s been a tough go. Kaden has a Top 20 as well – a 20th at Dover, which is arguably the best race for the team collectively this season.
I think if both drivers can get ahead of the trouble and also not collect each other in the messes they do get involved with, results will start to come to them. I think having the real-world background can only help both of these drivers as the season progresses.
Melillo Mid-Season Grade: C- (Originally B-)
iRacing Motorsports – Ford – 16th in Team Standings
7 – Malik Ray (23rd in points)
12 – Derek Justis (40th in points)
Malik Ray has been a pleasant surprise, competing up front on occasion due to some off-strategy calls. He’s close to the cutoff for relegation. His teammate Derek Justis, however, is dead last out of the entire field. After a magical late season run for both drivers to tie their way back into the series during the Contender round last year, now they are both a part of iRacing’s in-house team.
In many races this season, the No. 7 has been caught making calls that some have been vocal about. In races where his only chance has been to do the opposite, he’s done just that, and you know what? It’s working out for him. Just last week at Kansas, he stayed out, rode through the race ending yellows, and squeaked a season-best 11th place finish out of what would have otherwise been much worse.
Derek has otherwise had an absolutely miserable time on the track this year. There was an incident at Atlanta where he was doing all he could to stay out of the way and caught the corner wrong, spinning up into some of the leaders. He needs to put that incident behind him and move forward. Kansas was also good to Justis as he picked up a season-best 22nd place finish.
Admittedly, I didn’t see too much for this team in the pre-season. I am quite intrigued by Malik’s contrarian calls as of late, and I kind of want to see one play out one of these times to flip the season on its head even further.
Melillo Mid-Season Grade: C- (Originally C-)
D Graded Teams:
For both LETARTE Esports and Spacestation Racing, 2022 couldn’t be going worse for them. I didn’t hand out any grades lower than a C- in the pre-season.
Unfortunately, both of these teams are not performing up to task. While I very much believe in the talent levels of all four of these drivers, 2022 just hasn’t been the year for any of them to this point.
LETARTE Esports – Chevrolet – 19th in Team Standings
36 – Brian Mercurio (30th in points)
40 – Dylan Ault (37th in points)
It seems like every single week, both Brian Mercurio and Dylan Ault are getting involved in some sort of wreckage. These are two drivers that I’m fairly familiar with, and have the ability to compete with the best of them. Unfortunately, the Coke Series is such a different monster that keeps chewing these two up every race.
Brian got close to a Top 10 at Atlanta earlier in the season, just barely getting nudged and finishing 11th. He also had a decent showing at Dover, despite the craziness that went on, he managed an 18th.
Dylan is just coming off of his third straight 30th-or-worse place finish. He started off the season with a 17th at Daytona, but he hasn’t been back in the Top 20 since.
While it is likely both of these drivers will be facing relegation after just one season in the series, I’m still holding out hope. This series can be brutal, just look at what its done to someone like the four time champion Ray Alfalla before, and what it’s currently doing to past champions like Leahy and Luza. It can gt real tough for anyone.
Melillo Mid-Season Grade: D (Originally C+)
Spacestation Racing – Chevrolet – 20th in Team Standings
54 – Kyle Peddle (39th in points)
55 – Allen Boes (31st in points)
What a disappointment it’s been for the astronauts. Allen Boes and Kyle Peddle’s combined points wouldn’t put them inside the Top 20 in the driver’s standings. On top of that, Peddle’s been parked once and was a late scratch from the previous race at Kansas. He’s the only driver to have missed any races this season, and he’s missed two of them. Ouch.
As far as Boes in concerned, he’s a three-time winner in this series. Back in 2016, he was a Top 10 driver that season. Since his return to action last year with McLaren, it’s been nothing but bad breaks all around. Like Malik, Boes has been seen on alternate strategies in a couple of races this season, even leading multiple laps during the Atlanta race.
Peddle was pretty fast in the Contender Series. His competitors took notice during free agency signings. However, the season just hasn’t been a good one. As of Kansas, Kyle has the worst-best-finish of the entire series, a 26th place run at Richmond. He’s not last in the standings, but he’s close.
It’s been a long season already for SSG. They are dead last in the team points, and thus the reason why they had to be last in my rankings. I won’t call it a failing grade yet, but they’ll need to pick it up and then some to get out of the dog house, or else both drivers will be back in the Contender Series next year.
Melillo Mid-Season Grade: D- (Originally C+)