Though the season is still in its early stages, there are some names towards the top of the standings that I wouldn’t say are unexpected, but are definitely interesting to see this early on.
Veterans such as Michael Conti (JR Motorsports) and Graham Bowlin (Charlotte Phoenix) lead the way with two-time winner on the season, Bobby Zalenski (Joe Gibbs Racing), just a point back in third. Those three are also three of the Top 5 finishing drivers in the 2022 season standings. Those names are all expected, however.
Names that fans might not expect are the new drivers competing, but when this 2023 season features nine rookies in the 40-driver field of top oval specialists, chances are that at least one of them might shine. A third of them come in with the Altus Esports backend outfit, and all three of them have been bright to this point.
In total, Altus Esports has a four driver lineup for 2023 across three official teams. It’s their first year competing as a backend setup team in the series, but it looks like they’ve been at this level for years. The Top 2 teams on the season are teams with Altus drivers, with Team Dillon Esports leading Front Row Motorsports so far.
Sitting in tied for fourth in the driver’s standings with 2020 series champion Nick Ottinger (William Byron Esports) is the top rookie so far in 2023 – and also the first winner on the season, that being Daytona winner Tucker Minter, one of the Altus drivers who races for Team Dillon Esports.
Right behind Minter so far is Michael Cosey Jr, who is taking on his first season together with Front Row Motorsports. Cosey has been solid, currently sitting in sixth in the standings with two Top 5s and three Top 10s.
Just a bit behind that is Minter’s teammate at Team Dillon Esports, another Altus rookie in Jordy Lopez. This season’s Driver #3 has had knockout speed in many races already. Unfortunately, Lopez hasn’t been unable to get many of those deserved finishes, at least until his first Top 5 and Top 10 finish at Monza last week.
The fourth member of the backend squadron this season is the only non rookie on the team, Ryan Doucette. Sitting 18th in the overall standings thus far, that put all four of the Altus drivers above the relegation line thus far. There’s still a long season to go, but right now, the team founded by Simon Feigl in 2018 can be considered one of the top ones already in their first go at eNASCAR Coke level competition.
Coming into the season, all three rookies were reserved when asked about their realistic goals for the 2023 campaign. Taking Tucker in particular, who was a guest at the eNASCAR Championship Finale in 2022 at the NASCAR Hall of Fame, he knows he wants to be there, on that stage, but also knows how tough it can be for newcomers.
“I would say it’s definitely a goal to make the Final Four, but if you look historically at the rookie season for a lot of people in Coke, it’s not stellar,” Tucker mentioned to Traxion.GG in the preseason.
He seems to be breaking those historical trends already though, with that Daytona win and a runner-up at Monza, of all places. In post-race, he expected that he could be towards the front at any road course, but more around “seventh to 15th” place at best.
His teammate and rival Jordy has arguably had more pace at tracks like Milwaukee and Richmond, but wasn’t able to get the finishes to show for it. In our ePreview for the Team Dillon guys, Jordy mentioned he wants to win and make the playoffs in his rookie season, but realistically, staying in the Top 20 is the main goal.
“If you practice hard enough, things will come your way,” Jordy said to Traxion.GG during Media day. “That’s the philosophy I’m going to take, and I’m just hoping for the best.”
Cosey Jr, meanwhile, has a majority of his finishes in the Top 10 this season so far, his most recent outing at Monza being just outside with a 12th place finish. Milwaukee was his outlier, 21st, but if he’s been able to prove anything, he’s been resilient and almost mistake-free in his opening five events in the series.
“My first year in the series, I’m just trying to take it one race at a time,” Cosey Jr said to Traxion.GG a few weeks ago. “Playoffs, honestly, are not even a thought for me personally.
“I’ve had a really great start to the season, which is great, but my main goal has not changed. I want to make the Top 20 and not get relegated, I’d like to have a locked-in spot for next season.”
HAVING A TEAMMATE WITH PRIOR COKE EXPERIENCES
The trio of Altus rookies are campaigning this season together with sophomore Doucette. By no means is Doucette any slouch, but two years ago, in his first outing in the series, the current driver of the No. 77 for the Pittsburgh Knights was humbled, finishing 38th out of 41 drivers in points in his rookie year in 2021.
“I’m definitely happy I’m alongside the Altus guys, we’ve got a really strong group going into Coke this year,” Doucette said during the preseason media days to Traxion.GG.
“I’m taking this year with a much more laid back approach than I did for my 2021 season. I had a lot of confidence in my driving back in 2021, but the cars just weren’t really there.” Two years ago, Doucette wasn’t yet working with Altus Esports, having made it into the Coke Series working with Nexxus Esports.
With his previous experiences and the team as close as they’ve been through the ladder of Road to Pro, that could be the reason why his three rookie teammates at Altus are also trying to keep their expectations realistically tempered, despite the strong start for all so far.
Even so, Ryan is having a career year himself, tied for 18th in the points through five races so far. The two new tracks to everyone didn’t fair too well for him, with 30th place finishes at both Milwaukee and Monza, but his other three finishes have all been Top 20s, with Richmond being his first career Top 10 finish at eighth.
COULD WE SEE ALL OF ALTUS IN THIS YEAR’S PLAYOFFS?
It is worth pointing out that the outfit is partnered with VRS, and VRS is a big part of the backend work that goes into the setups that Keegan Leahy (23XI Racing) and Bobby Zalenski are driving this season. It’s likely there is some overlap there, but even with the best setups on the service, drivers still need to perform. For the majority of it so far, the Altus drivers are doing just that.
But, making the eNASCAR Playoffs is no easy feat. 2019’s series champion Zack Novak (Rise Esports) basically missed out by a few thousandths of a second at Pocono Raceway, as because he didn’t have a win, his multiple runner-ups and high points standing meant nothing at the end of the Regular Season.
The three rookies of Altus Esports are all in as it stands, but one bad bump at Dega could change everything, or if we end up with 10 winners by the end of the regular season again, the non-winners will be left out once again. If Daytona was any indication though, these Altus drivers work well in the draft. With the Daytona win in his pocket, Minter has to be a favorite entering.
But don’t forget, Doucette is only 30 points out thus far, and that’s still surmountable at this stage with nine races until the playoffs start. Both Jordy and Cosey Jr will be hungry to see their names in victory lane as well, but then again, Talladega is going to be a great equalizer, and pretty much anyone in this 40-car field could take it.
Altus has been one of the top teams across the iRacing World Championships for a few years now, currently leading the way with Jordan Caruso in iRacing’s Porsche TAG Heuer Esports Supercup. One might think of the team as more of a road outfit anyway, which makes the recent Monza successes make more sense, but it truly is impressive, in this series in particular, for any new outfit to show up with so much speed out of the gate.
Simply put, if Altus can keep up the pace that they’ve shown to this point after Talladega tonight, it could be a likely possibility that we get a crop of younger drivers in this first year backend team going for the glory, aiming to be on Glory Road at the NASCAR Hall of Fame in September for the championship finale.