Traxion.GG’s fourth ePreview for the upcoming 2023 eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series is yet another team that’s not changing their drivers for 2023, that team being one of the original teams that has evolved from the 2019 draft – Rise Esports.
So far, we’ve taken a look at Jim Beaver Esports, Team Dillon Esports and Stewart-Haas Esports in the first three entires into this ePreview series. While both the first two teams have all new lineup this year, both Stewart-Haas and Rise are coming into 2023 with the same crew.
In fact, this is the same lineup we’ve seen for Rise Esports since 2020, back before they were Rise Esports and instead Richmond Raceway Esports. Even more impressive, one of their drivers returning to the team has been with Rise Esports since the very beginning, back when they were The Chaos Crew.
There are a couple of changes between seasons, however. While both Zack Novak and Jimmy Mullis return to the Chevrolet team, it is under new management with NASCAR’s own Chief Hype Officer Dylan “Mamba” Smith taking over the day-to-day operations of Rise Esports’ General Manager role.
IT’S A #GDTBA AND RISE UP IN 2023
From their Chaos Crew days of 2018, to the official Esports team of Richmond Raceway in 2019, to becoming Rise Esports in 2022, and now under the wings of Mamba Smith as NASCAR celebrates its 75th Anniversary in 2023.
With Mode Motorsports not returning to the series and the No. 75 up for grabs, Rise has claimed it to go along with the 75th Anniversary celebration this year. Novak takes over that number, switching from the No. 5, his fifth different number in the series in what will be the seventh in his career.
Mullis, on the other hand, has been the driver of the No. 46 since the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series draft in 2019, when he was picked to run the iconic-to-Richmond Raceway number.
That’s the year that the facility opened, 1946, and has been a staple front runner dating back to when Logan Clampitt ran it in the inaugural season of the Chaos Crew in 2018.
History runs deep at Rise Esports, and with backing from longtime partners at Sunoco again in the upcoming year, both Mullis and the 2019 champion Novak will be looking to return to their winning ways when the season kicks off in about two weeks at Daytona.
MULLIS AIMS TO RISE BACK TO FORM IN 2023 WITH NEW SETUP TEAM
There’s no other place that Jimmy Mullis would rather call home, even through the changes over the last six years. Once again in 2023, Jimmy will wheel the No. 46 Camaro for Rise Esports, but things might look a little different for the five-time race winner this year.
“It’s the world to me,” Jimmy said. “Rise is my home, and as long as they’re in eNASCAR, that’s probably where I want to be. When we came to our agreement, I was just really pumped. I’m excited to have Mamba running the team. I think it’s going to bring a lot of new energy this year and I think you’ll see some new stuff out of me and Zack as far as the social media side of stuff is concerned.”
While the car and number won’t be different, the driver himself is making a few changes to get back to his winning ways. From 2018 through 2021, Mullis was a winner at least once every season. In 2022, that streak ended, and while it was good enough to stay Top 20, it was a large drop off from previous years.
“We’re going to look at things a different way, and I think me and Mamba and everybody surrounding us have the same goals in mind and the same mindset,” Jimmy said. “I think that’s really important. I think that’s going to be big for us.”
There were definitely a few more moments in 2022 that could have gone great but wound up not so great. While the winning pace didn’t seem to be around like in previous seasons, there were still a handful of solid runs for Jimmy. A distracted year may have caused that, but 2023 is a year to refocus.
“Last year, Zack really had to carry the ropes for us. I was going through a lot of life changes and didn’t have the time to commit like I used to… Zack is obviously a proven champion. We’ve both won races. If we get everything clicking, I think that we have as genuine a shot as anybody to win the title as a team.”
Moving from LockDown Racing to Team Conti as far as setup teams are concerned, which essentially brings a few pieces of the original Chaos Crew back together, Jimmy is going to be working together with an outlet that scored five wins in 2022.
He’s also changing up his equipment as well this season, but not in the way many would expect. “I am switching my wheel setup,” Jimmy said. “I’ve been on the Fanatec V2 base for a really long time… I went in a completely different direction than everybody else, though. I’m going back to the old Logitech stuff.”
New old wheel. New old teammates. The way it sounds, Jimmy is looking back at his past to find what made him a winner and perennial championship contender again this season. I respect it.
SO CLOSE TO A WIN LAST YEAR, NOVAK’S STOCK CONTINUES TO RISE
As Jimmy alluded to, Zack’s stats carried the team for a good portion of the schedule in 2022. Rise Esports wound up sixth in the final Team Standings, and a lot of it was thanks to the work put in by the LockDown crew and Novak’s ability to score top results through the season.
In a seven-race stretch which started at Dover and ended oh-so-closely at Pocono, Zack was able to score six Top 10 finishes, five of which were Top 5 finishes, four of those which were runner-up finishes, and that last one at Pocono was possibly one of the closest and most exciting finishes in series history.
“Not to take anything away from Casey (Kirwan) or anything, but I think, if that (Pocono finish) goes slightly differently, I could be in his position right now,” Zack said. “I could have made $100,000 more. I had my best season in three seasons and had some close finishes. We overachieved a lot of the year and I was really happy with that.”
The 2019 Series Champion hasn’t seen the same successes since he hoisted the trophy in Homestead-Miami at the end of the season. Before the title, Zack was a threat to win nearly every week, collecting six victories in his first three seasons. Also a NASCAR IGNITE Series champ, his stock was as high as ever entering the 2020 season.
Then, it all fell off the rails. Similar to Jimmy’s 2022, Zack’s 2020 was not like what we were used to seeing from the newly crowned champion. He was relegated to the Contender level, where he was able to work his way back up to Coke, but still, he’s been winless since that epic 2019 finale.
2022 looked like the year that Zack was back at top form. For most of the regular season, the No. 5 Camaro was in the conversation for the Playoffs, with enough points to make it without having a win. The win would be the deciding factor though.
After three straight runner-up finishes, all to different drivers in the series, spots in the 2022 playoffs were running out. Pocono looked to be it, but it was Casey Kirwan by inches. Novak missed the playoffs despite sitting in the Top 10 in the standings. A win will surely be on his mind in 2023, but consistency is more key to Zack for bringing Rise Esports a team title.
“I had a really hot stretch in the summer and then it kind of cooled off in the fall,” Zack said. “I’ve just got to be a little bit more consistent this year from start to finish. I start started off really poorly last year… if I can just keep it a bit more consistent throughout the year, I think we’ll really being in contention for the team championship.”
With the addition of both Milwaukee and Monza this season, the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series begins to shape its own identity among the other official NASCAR racing series. No longer will the series be an exact slice from the NASCAR Cup Series schedule, but there are still plenty of similarities.
On these schedule variations, both Rise Esports drivers are happy to see them. “I think it’s huge for us to try and race where they don’t always race,” Jimmy said. “That’s going to be big, not only for our market but markets for these tracks. If we want NASCAR to go to these bigger tracks, why don’t we showcase what it could be like?”
“I actually really like it,” Zack echoed. “I like that it’s a bit diverse.”
Milwaukee in particular is a track both are looking forward to, and for good reason. “Milwaukee fits my skill set a lot,” Zack continued. “I haven’t raced there too much, but you know from a technical team perspective, we’ve been really strong in New Hampshire the last couple of times we went there… Milwaukee and Gateway, those tracks, I think they really fit our strengths as a technical team.”
“I’m super excited about Milwaukee,” Jimmy said. “It reminds me a lot of New Hampshire, and I’m happy to have New Hampshire back on the schedule as well. So those are two races that I’ve got circled personally that I’m really pumped about. I want to be the first time winner there for sure.”
The flat ovals in general seem to be a common theme for both of the teammates, happy for the inclusion of not only Milwaukee, but also WWT Raceway and New Hampshire to the schedule. “I want to see Martinsville, but I’m biased since it’s a flat track,” Jimmy added.
Monza will be a challenge to all, but after those first six crazy races, the season will really get going. “I just really hope that we can capitalize on some of those mile-and-a-half tracks, and those flatter tracks through the summer months to make a playoff push,” Zack said. “Once we get to the playoffs, I think I’ll be fine, but I’ve just got to make it there first, so we’ll see.”
REALISTIC GOALS FOR 2023
Both Jimmy and Zack will be entering their seventh eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series season this year. Two very similar-in-style drivers, but for the first time since joining each other at Rise, they’re on separate setup teams the upcoming season. Still, both are aiming to rise up and bring home a team title.
“Realistically, I want to get back to where it was, which was competing for Top 5s and Top 10s on a weekly basis, and having the speed to back that up,” Jimmy said. “That’s all that matters. It’s going to come. I’m definitely going to be putting my side of effort in way more than I did last year, so I’m looking to try and at least win a race or two.
“I really want to make the playoffs from a win. I don’t want to try to point in. With how talented our series is and all these new guys coming in, I think this year is going to be even worse than last year, as far as how many people are winning, but realistically I want to just get back into my form of being competitive and being up at the front.”
As for Zack? “I’d say the goal right now is just making the playoffs,” He said. “I want to build on some of the success we had last year, and from there I think I’ll be all right. We’ll have a shot at the title if we get there. It’s just getting there that’s the tough part.
“I haven’t been there in a while, and haven’t been there in the win-and-you’re-in format, so it’s definitely going to be a challenge, but I’m looking forward to it. It’s going to be fun.”
This is the fourth entry of a 20-part eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series ePreview series for Traxion.GG. The 2023 season begins officially on 14th February with Race 1 at Daytona International Speedway. Race broadcasts start at 8:30 pm ET with the Countdown to Green on eNASCAR.com/live.