While both Jim Beaver Esports and Team Dillon Esports, our first two ePreviews of the season, are owned and operated by big names in the motorsport world, Stewart-Haas is our first extension of an existing NASCAR team, Stewart-Haas Racing, which is fielding four NASCAR Cup Series and two NASCAR Xfinity Series teams in this upcoming NASCAR season.
Two of their Cup Series rides have been represented over the last few seasons with the No. 10 and No. 41 competing in the series. When the team joined eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing competition in 2020, they were already eNASCAR champions in the inaugural season of the HEAT Pro League.
RUNNING IT BACK IN 2023
It couldn’t be that hard to dominate the eNASCAR iRacing side too, could it? Well, their first season, neither driver was able to crack the Top 20 in the final standings. Still, the team regrouped and returned in 2021 with Dylan Duval back in the seat alongside Graham Bowlin. That duo finished third in 2021.
When Bowlin moved on, the hot shoe Steven Wilson was nabbed from what was Roush Fenway Racing (now RFK Racing). It only took three seasons at the top level of eNASCAR iRacing competition, but Stewart-Haas pulled it off with Championship 4 competitor Wilson and an invigorated Duval to win the team title by only five points.
Why change up a winning combination? For SHR Esports Season 4, they’re running it back with Wilson returning to the No. 10 and Duval returning to the No. 41 to not only defend the title, but also score a driver’s championship in the upcoming 2023 season.
“I’ll be here as long as they let me be here,” Dylan stated on returning to the team for the fourth straight season. Once again, things were pretty straight forward for the Halifax, Nova Scotian competitor who believes he hasn’t had a proper Free Agency since joining the team in 2020.
“Steven was on board, locked in before free agency, so I couldn’t actually agree to terms right away, but I pretty much knew as soon as the window opened that I was getting a phone call from Jake (Morris, SHeS Team Manager) and we were going to work out the details.”
Pretty much, Smithfield really want to be back,” Steven said of the sponsor of the No. 10. “It was pretty easy to come to terms, but it’s a great team. I’ve loved being a part of it in the past couple of years. The pig will return, so I’m sure there will be some bacon to be had as well.”
WILSON LOOKING FOR THREE SPOTS BETTER
After making it all the way to the Championship 4 battle, live at the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, North Carolina, Steven Wilson had one of his worst outings of the entire 2022 season, unable to find the speed on his three competitors, then falling out of contention when he slid through his pit box and took only two tires on the final stop.
“I’m ready to get the season started,” Steven said, ready to put last year in the past. “Hopefully I’ll end up three points positions better than last year. That’s the goal, but I mean anything can happen. Last year was a really good year, but I’ll just see what I can do to hopefully make it another good deal this year.”
It was an incredible year for the college student from Iowa City, Iowa. More wins than anyone else at four, tons won in scholarships in the parallel eNASCAR College Series that ran in 2022, and despite the Championship 4 fall, he still walked away with a title of the team variety with his teammate Dylan.
“Dylan’s a great teammate to have, and he’s the one who got me on Stewart-Haas in the first place, so I appreciate him for that,” Wilson said. “I think we can do it again. I think we had a really good year last year, obviously.”
One of the shortcomings of the Championship 4 live battle was that all four drivers would be in a setting unfamiliar to what they’d been in for the entirety of the season, up to that point. Everyone was coming to the battles used to the setups they had built in their homes and offices.
Steven finds comfort in his desk setup. At the Championship event, he was on a sim rig. It’s not something he’s thinking about switching up in the upcoming season. “I wasn’t fully comfortable, I wasn’t like 100 percent,” Steven said about his Championship 4 setup in October. “I’m pretty OK with what I have right now, and I think I don’t really have a lot of room for a rig.”
Regardless of what he’s driving though, both returning to the Hall of Fame and getting the championship in 2023 are on Steven’s mind. “With coming back to the Hall of Fame, if I make it again, I would probably just use the same rig and I’d be a little more accustomed to it. I would know what to expect.”
DUVAL READY TO GET BACK TO WINNING WAYS
The other half of the championship-winning duo is series veteran Dylan Duval, a journeyman eNASCAR competitor who has been around the series since 2012. It wasn’t until 2016 that Dylan put together a full season in the series, and with that came his first and only career victory at the Indianapolis oval.
A solid piece of the puzzle in the Stewart-Haas camp the last few seasons, Duval was brought on when the team came into the series in 2020 and it’s pretty much been the rock through what used to be an always changing lineup in the No. 10 car, from their own engineer Justin Bolton in 2020, Graham Bowlin in 2021 and Wilson in 2022.
For once, SHeS and Duval have some stability entering 2023 as the defending champions. “It means a lot really… just being here still,” Dylan said. “I’ve been racing in and out of the series since 2012, basically full time since 2016. There’s not many of us who have been around for that long. It’s definitely something I’m proud of.
“More so than anything, I’m just more excited to be back with Stewart-Haas for a fourth straight year. They’ve been good to me. They’ve had my back. They picked me up that first year with free agency and it meant a lot. We’ve just continued to grow.”
With new equipment in his possession in 2022, namely the VRS wheel base and the Fanatec V3 pedals, Dylan found his pace to be much more consistent, collecting six Top 10 finishes and 12 total finishes in the top half of the field, which ultimately led to a 16th place finish in the final standings.
“I got a sim racing equipment upgrade, which I was really excited about,” Dylan said. “I ran really well, I ended up 16th in points, but I really felt like I should have been one of those guys competing for a playoff spot, like the guys who were in the position to be the last person in the points since I felt like I ran with them every week.
“Had some Top 5s and Top 10s taken away at no fault of my own, and I really felt like I had playoff potential this past season, which is definitely something I’m proud of. It just gives me that much more confidence. I definitely feel like I can get back to that top level where I was back in 2016.”
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.
“I think Monza is an interesting one, it’s basically just like a four corner road course,” Steven said. “Milwaukee should be interesting too.”
“I think Monza is definitely an exciting opportunity for us,” Dylan said. “I’m not sure that I’m a huge fan of the configuration we’re going with, but I think us going to Monza is just going to be a spectacle. It’s going to be great regardless of configuration.”
“I’m not entirely looking forward to Milwaukee,” Dylan continued” I ran some laps there last week and I was lost. I didn’t know what was going on so that one might be a rough one, but we’ll see if we get it figured out before the race comes around.”
“It’s a really weird start to the season,” Steven said. “We have three plate tracks in the first six races, we go to Milwaukee and Monza which will be new. The start of the season will just be everyone getting back into rhythm, but points could be shaken up quite big after the first six races.
“After that I think you’ll start to see everyone come to their own, and once we get to more 1.5-mile tracks, then the usuals you see up front will rise to the top. I like that we’re trying new things, but we’ll see if it works when we get there. I think it’s a great tool to test things (for real-world NASCAR). It’s basically on us to determine if it’s a good thing or a bad thing, or if certain tracks will work or won’t work.”
Those first six races will definitely be a change in the status quo, but things will be getting back to normal after that. “I love that we’re running at Homestead,” Steven said. “I’m a huge fan of Homestead, it’s a great track for me personally, obviously I won there to get into the Top 4 last year.”
“I’m definitely looking forward to Richmond,” Dylan added. “I also really like Nashville and Dover and Homestead. Those are all those would be the tracks where I feel like I can go and have a chance to win just on pure pace, which I’m excited for.”
REALISTIC GOALS FOR 2023
For the two championship-winning drivers from 2022, the goals are pretty simple. Win. For Steven, it’s win more, while for Dylan, it’s just to get back to his former winning ways.
“I want to win a championship,” Steven said. “It really stunk last year to end the way I did, but that’s my main goal. Obviously the first goal is to make it to the playoffs, get a win, just get settled and see what happens from there.”
“I want to win,” Dylan said. “I want to get back to Victory Lane, I want to make the playoffs, and if for whatever reason that doesn’t end up happening, the secondary goal is the Team Championship. That Team Championship, seeing what I’ve been a part of since 2020, it meant a lot to me personally, so I’d definitely like to back that up. But ultimately, for me personally I want to win again.”
This is the third 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.