The eNASCAR Contender iRacing Series concluded on Tuesday night (21st December) at Texas Motor Speedway. Garrett Lowe was the winner of the 134 lap event around the 1.5-mile oval. However, there were more significant issues on the table throughout the course of the finale.
The 40 driver Contender Series roster, made up of 17 relegated drivers from the 2021 eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series and 23 drivers from the eNASCAR Qualifying iRacing Series, could only send enough drivers to fill up the 40 driver roster for the 2022 Coke Series. That number was initially expected to be 20 drivers.
After seven races and a drop race included in the final standings, it wound up that 21 drivers would be unofficially moving on to the top level of eNASCAR racing in 2022. Some drivers are returning, whether it be directly from this year’s relegation or previous relegation periods. Others will be entering the series for the first time as rookies. After the Texas checkers flew, there was also one last surprise that shook up the final roster.
With all of that in mind, after the points went official following Tuesday’s race, here are the names that will make up the 2022 eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series drivers list:
- Ray Alfalla
- Dylan Ault
- Allen Boes
- Darik Bourdeau
- Collin Bowden
- Graham A. Bowlin
- Liam Brotherton
- Matt Bussa
- Cody Byus
- Logan Clampitt
- Michael Conti
- Mitchell deJong
- Dylan Duval
- Michael Guest
- Kaden Honeycutt
- Taylor Hurst
- Derek Justis
- Kollin Keister
- Casey Kirwan
- Briar LaPradd
- Keegan Leahy
- Garrett Lowe
- Ryan Luza
- Garrett Manes
- Brian Mercurio
- Jimmy Mullis
- Zack Novak
- Femi Olat
- Nick Ottinger
- Kyle Peddle
- Malik Ray
- Parker Retzlaff
- Blake Reynolds
- Vicente Salas
- Nickolas Shelton
- Donovan Strauss
- Corey Vincent
- Steven Wilson
- Blade Whitt
- Bobby Zalenski
HOW THESE DRIVERS GOT TO THIS POINT
Back in March, while the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series wrapped up their third race of the 2021 season at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, nearly 2000 hopeful drivers were prepared for their first chance to prove their worth in the Road To Pro. First up, the eNASCAR Qualifying iRacing Series, split into two parts, would pit drivers against one another in a snake-split format based on their iRating.
Only 70 drivers of the 1850 who attempted would advance from there to the second round of the Qualifying series. In that second round, only 20 were scheduled to move on from there. It wound up as 23 total drivers moving up to meet 17 of the 20 relegated drivers from the 2021 Coke Series in their final challenge, the eNASCAR Contender iRacing Series.
There were three drivers who opted to retire from the competition following the relegation from Coke. Those drivers were John Gorlinsky, Caine Cook and Nathan Lyon. After it was completed on Tuesday night, another nine drivers who raced in the 2021 season were officially eliminated from 2022 competition. A handful of those drivers, such as Anthony Burroughs, Zack Nichols, Ryan Doucette and Jake Matheson were only able to hang in the series for a single season.
Series veterans like Jake Nichols, Chris Shearburn and Ashton Crowder, will have to reapply with the exiting rookies and upcoming fast shoes through the Qualifying and Contender Series in 2022. Other sim racing legends like Brad Davies and Brian Schoenburg, who have both been in the Coke Series since it started, might have run their final virtual laps at the top level of eNASCAR racing. Only time will tell to see who reemerges in next year’s Qualifying Series.
COMING DOWN TO THE WIRE
Entering Texas, six drivers in the Contender Series had already clinched their place. Kollin Keister, the eventual Contender Series champion, along with Donovan Strauss, Dylan Ault, Kaden Honeycutt, Blake Reynolds and Briar LaPradd, all had enough points with the drop factored in. In LaPradd’s case, it was enough points to fall back on should he need the drop already factored in.
Others like Parker Retzlaff, Kyle Peddle and Cody Byus were basically locked as long as the planets didn’t align against them. A handful of drivers just needed to have decent runs, those drivers such as Garrett Lowe, Allen Boes, Femi Olat, Taylor Hurst, Nickolas Shelton, Collin Bowden, Darik Bourdeau and Blade Whitt.
With 17 spots basically on lock, the final spots, what was thought to be three at the time, would come down to the wire among seven drivers. After the final round of pit stops, Brian Mercurio turned up the wick and moved himself into a 12th place finishing position. He was tied with Liam Brotherton and Malik Ray on the bubble entering the night. The way things were trending, the best of those three would advance regardless.
Of course, there were drops to factor in and such. Ray had a drop week to fall back on that was essentially a 22nd place finish should he finish any worse on Tuesday night. With his 23rd place effort and Brotherton’s 22nd, those two managed to stay tied at the end of the night. That wouldn’t have been an issue unless someone else outpointed them, which Derek Justis did.
Justis also turned it up to 11 on the final run, slicing through traffic late, just earning enough points to lock in with a 13th place finish. The tie would decide who was 20th overall, and that benefit went to Brotherton who scored the higher finish on the season. However, it didn’t matter. Both Brotherton and Ray would be placed in thanks to a last second retirement. They were both in by a single point over Jake Nichols. Both Jordy Lopez Jr and Anthony Burroughs gave it their best shots as well, but would both fall two points below.
JOINING THE TOP “20” FROM THE 2021 COKE POINTS
As it was back in October, when the final Coke Series standings were split into retained or relegated, the roster already had 20 drivers locked in for the upcoming season. Championship winner Keegan Leahy, along with his title rivals Mitchell deJong, Logan Clampitt and Bobby Zalenski, would all be guaranteed a place in the series without question.
Other Playoff drivers in the 2021 season were also locked in four races before anyone else, those drivers being Matt Bussa, Vicente Salas, Graham Bowlin, Jimmy Mullis, Michael Conti and Bob Bryant. The other 10 locked spots came down to the final four races of the season, where it didn’t matter whether you had a win or not. Steven Wilson, Casey Kirwan, Corey Vincent, Dylan Duval, Michael Guest, Ryan Luza, Zack Novak, Garrett Manes, Ray Alfalla and Nick Ottinger were those drivers who kept it above the cut line.
One name that was listed here that you won’t find in the list above is Bob Bryant.
Following the end of the Contender Series finale, Bryant tweeted that he’s chosen to not be a part of the 2022 class, by his own choice. Bryant, last year’s winner at Auto Club Speedway, has been in and out of the sim racing scene longer than most.
Although his iRacing Coke Series rookie year was 2020, he’s been championed in other top levels, including Dale Earnhardt Jr’s DMP League.
With Bryant’s retirement, that meant that both Brotherton and Ray could make the series, and were both awarded their black stripes for 2022.
It is expected that the 20 eNASCAR Coke teams will be tasked with selecting two drivers to compete on their behalf. They’ll have to choose from the list of drivers available, and unfortunately, some teams lost one or both drivers through the offseason in relegation alone. Drivers and teams will likely have to come to an agreement, like years past. Also, there is nothing stopping exchanged teams in the series. Last season, there were about three new teams that replaced three teams that no longer wanted to be in the series.
No 2022 schedule has been announced, but it would be expected to start up in February at Daytona. Also not announced, but it is also expected that the NASCAR NEXT Gen vehicles will be the new car in the series.
As always, I personally plan to keep track of all of the silly season driver and team moves, as well as any other news that comes down for the series. Keep it pinned here at Traxion for all the latest. Congratulations to the 40 drivers that will compete in the series in 2022, and we look forward to seeing how it all plays out.