Bobby Zalenski was able to steal the victory from both Collin Bowden and Casey Kirwan at the wire to clinch his spot in the 2022 eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series Championship 4.
Bobby Zalenski (Joe Gibbs Racing) is our new winner, the only Playoff driver in the field previously without a win, and now he’s the only driver with a win that allows him to race for a title this season.
“Mr. Championship 4” has a nice ring to it. Zalenski is the only driver since the inception of the eNASCAR Playoffs to make what is now his fifth of six Championship 4 ballots. He’s looking for that win, however, and he’ll get yet another crack at it on stage in the NASCAR Hall of Fame on 25th October.
The win itself, the 11th of his career and first at Talladega Superspeedway, came in absolutely dramatic form. Multiple tenths behind the duo of Collin Bowden (eRacr) and Casey Kirwan (XSET) exiting Turn 4, the two in front beat each other’s doors down coming to the line.
Zalenski would capitalize, stealing it from them both, winning by only 0.024 seconds over Bowden. Kirwan wound up third, the highest in the rest of the playoff field.
The night started off in a chaotic, yet seemingly organized fashion. Graham A. Bowlin (Charlotte Phoenix) took the pole position, but he never did get to lead a single lap.
Instead, Garrett Lowe (Wood Brothers Racing), Ryan Luza (XSET), Kirwan, Kollin Keister (Charlotte Phoenix) and finally Bowden would trade off the lead in the first 10 laps or so.
Logan Clampitt (William Byron Esports), Darik Bourdeau (eRacr), Liam Brotherton (Elliott Sadler Esports), Ray Alfalla (Joe Gibbs Racing), Steven Wilson (Stewart-Haas Esports), Dylan Ault (LETARTE Esports), and Malik Ray (iRacing Motorsports) all found themselves leading at one point or another in the opening stint.
The race was able to make it to green flag pit stops, caution free to that point. Kirwan led the first pack all the way until Cody Byus (Mode Motorsport) made his stop a few laps later, completing the cycle. Only Corey Vincent (Team Dillon Esports) went a lap down during the cycle.
New players were found in Allen Boes (Spacestation Racing), Michael Guest (Jim Beaver Esports), Nick Ottinger (William Byron Esports) and Femi Olatunbosun (Clint Bowyer Esports), but when Kaden Honeycutt (RFK Racing) spun without a caution with 25 to go, the entropy became unpredicatable.
Soon after, Olatunbosun was moved into the wall, but he spectacularly saved it. Laps later, it all came undone as Brotherton, Ault, Olatunbosun and more were collected in the first caution of the night with just over 15 laps to go.
Cautions, or rather, chaos bred even more chaos, which led to more cautions. With the laps running down, the organization found in the first half was thrown out the window – it was go time, and all 40 wanted to go.
Caution no. 2 saw Nickolas Shelton (Clint Bowyer Racing) flip multiple times in the tri-oval ballfield. Olatunbosun and Mitchell deJong were also collected in the fracas. On the next restart, another caution, this time after Wilson had connection issues and the field around him, including Ottinger, Boes and more, were flung all around.
Zalenski, patiently waiting until it was time to go, finally went on the restart with three laps remaining. Off of Turn 4, he was clipped by a spinning Clampitt… and somehow Zalenski managed to keep it from hitting the wall, maintaining his position in the running order in the process.
The final restart came within eNASCAR Overtime. Ray, Guest, Bowden, Kirwan, Zalenski, Keister and Ault had managed to split the Top 7 away from Honeycutt and the rest of the field, eighth on back. Bowden made the move, Kirwan tucked right in behind, and they blew past and into the lead.
Zalenski followed in the draft trail, taking third while the others were swallowed up by the Honeycutt pack. Off of Turn 4, Zalenski looked to be way too far behind. Then Kirwan and Bowden started slamming one another. It was enough that Zalenski was able capitalize and win.
…YOU MAY NEED A CALCULATOR
“Due to an issue with automated race control in the Bristol event, each driver will receive a drop race from within the first three playoff rounds. The worst score from Bristol, Talladega, or Homestead will be dropped for both playoff and non-playoff drivers.”
That’s what was explained in a release by iRacing on Monday night, which means that the points become a little more convoluted with one race left to decide the Championship 4.
Zalenski will race for a title no matter what happens in two weeks at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The other nine, well, it’s complicated. If all nine drivers finished 32nd through 40th, it would basically stay unchanged from what the current standings are as the finale would become their drop week.
Between Bristol and Talladega though, each of the drivers have a race that they are looking to improve upon to make their way in as either one of two or three possible points entries into the title race.
For the guys around the line separated by one or two points assuming the drop, like Bowlin, Kirwan, Lowe and Wilson, they need to forget their lower finish ever existed and they need to all race straight up. For Conti and Ottinger, a points berth is not out of the question, but they’ll need some help to get there.
As for Bussa, Olatunbosun and deJong, they’ll all likely need a win at Homestead-Miami. A point-in situation isn’t impossible for the trio, but it will be very unlikely given the level of competition.
NEXT UP: EXPECTED MIAMI VICES
The penultimate race of the 2022 eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series season is the final race in the Playoff Round of 10. Nine drivers will enter, only three will move on with a chance to race at the NASCAR Hall of Fame to win the 2022 Championship.
Tune in at 8:30 p.m. ET on 11th October to see how the final battle in the 2022 Playoffs plays out. The event will kick off with the Countdown to Green for a half-hour before the main cast starts at 9:00 p.m. ET. The broadcast will be available at eNASCAR.com/live or on the iRacing Social Channels.
RACE #16 – TALLADEGA SUPERSPEEDWAY – TOP 10 RESULTS
|1||27||18||Bobby Zalenski||Joe Gibbs Racing||73 LAPS||1||40|
|2||34||69||Collin Bowden||eRacr||+0.024 secs||13||35|
|3||13||95||Casey Kirwan||XSET||+0.058 secs||8||34|
|4||40||17||Kaden Honeycutt||RFK Racing||+0.383 secs||1||33|
|5||1||48||Graham A. Bowlin||Charlotte Phoenix||+0.414 secs||0||32|
|6||29||88||Briar LaPradd||JR Motorsports||+0.436 secs||0||31|
|7||10||7||Malik Ray||iRacing Motorsports||+0.441 secs||11||30|
|8||33||20||Donovan Strauss||Williams Esports||+0.449 secs||0||29|
|9||32||36||Brian Mercurio||LETARTE Esports||+0.494 secs||0||28|
|10||24||15||Blake Reynolds||Jim Beaver Esports||+0.496 secs||2||27|
PLAYOFF STANDINGS AFTER RACE #16 – TALLADEGA SUPERSPEEDWAY
|1||18||Bobby Zalenski||Joe Gibbs Racing||1||LOCKED||4||7|
|2||48||Graham A. Bowlin||Charlotte Phoenix||1||+17||7||7|
|4||8||Michael Conti||JR Motorsports||2||+3||4||6|
|5||21||Garrett Lowe||Wood Brothers Racing||1||-3||2||5|
|6||10||Steven Wilson||Stewart-Haas Esports||3||-5||7||10|
|7||25||Nick Ottinger||William Byron Esports||2||-10||5||8|
|8||75||Matt Bussa||Mode Motorsports||1||-17||2||8|
|9||79||Femi Olatunbosun||Clint Bowyer Racing||1||-18||3||6|
|10||23||Mitchell deJong||23XI Racing||1||-28||3||4|
TEAM STANDINGS AFTER RACE #16 – TALLADEGA SUPERSPEEDWAY
|POS||CAR #’s||TEAM||MANUF.||POINTS||BEHIND||TEAM WINS|
|1||9 | 15||Jim Beaver Esports||FORD||714||LEADER||0|
|2||4 | 95||XSET||CHEVY||712||-2||2|
|3||10 | 41||Stewart-Haas Esports||FORD||702||-12||3|
|4||18 | 51||Joe Gibbs Racing||TOYOTA||648||-66||2|
|5||24 | 75||Mode Motorsports||FORD||624||-90||1|
|6||5 | 46||Rise eSports||CHEVY||616||-98||0|
|7||43 | 48||Charlotte Phoenix||TOYOTA||590||-124||1|
|8||8 | 88||JR Motorsports||CHEVY||589||-125||2|
|9||23 | 45||23XI Racing||TOYOTA||583||-131||1|
|10||19 | 20||Williams Esports||TOYOTA||570||-144||0|
RACE #16 – TALLADEGA SUPERSPEEDWAY – BOX SCORE:
- Four cautions for 13 laps
- 33 lead changes among 22 drivers (Pole Sitter Graham Bowlin did NOT lead a lap)
- Most laps led: #69 Collin Bowden (13 laps)
- Fastest lap: Lap 41, #97 Logan Clampitt (48.278 seconds)
- Rookie of the race: #69 Collin Bowden (2nd)
2022 ENASCAR COCA-COLA IRACING SERIES SCHEDULE
|11-Oct-22||PO3 | 17||Homestead-Miami Speedway||100|
|25-Oct-22||C4F | 18||Phoenix Raceway||110|