Casey Kirwan finished second on Tuesday night (25th October), the best of the Championship 4, earning the 2022 eNASCAR iRacing Championship.
It was a night to remember on Tuesday night in Uptown Charlotte. The four best from the 2022 eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series season took center stage in the NASCAR Hall of Fame to battle for the title. When the virtual smoke cleared, XSET’s Casey Kirwan was sporting a slick new trophy and $100,000.
Competing against Joe Gibbs Racing’s Bobby Zalenski as well as two of his own Deadzone Racing setup teammates, Graham A. Bowlin (Charlotte Phoenix) and Steven Wilson (Stewart-Haas Esports), Kirwan bested each of them in the 110 lap duel in the virtual Phoenix Raceway desert.
The latter two would fall out of contention in the final run, but Zalenski kept Kirwan honest. As 2021’s champion Keegan Leahy took the checkered flag, his first of the season, Kirwan held off Zalenski for second place, good enough to win the title.
CREAM RISES TO THE TOP
As it turned out, of course the four best drivers on the year would find themselves near the front for the final race of 2022. A chance to win a title on the line, Bowlin struck first by winning the pole. Zalenski took the outside pole position while Wilson started fourth and Kirwan was back in seventh.
It was anyone’s guess as to who would hoist the Dale Earnhardt Jr Championship Trophy by the end of the night. Dale Earnhardt Jr gave the command to fire the engines and quickly things were underway.
A quick couple of cautions had some worried for a wreckfest of a night, but by the third restart on lap 10, the field had figured it out.
Bowlin led those first laps through the yellows, but it was Zalenski who showed his pace early. For the first half, Zalenski was dominant, leading by three seconds over his Coanda Esports backend teammate Leahy.
Bowlin was the second best of the bunch in fourth, trailing Logan Clampitt (William Byron Esports) in his final career start.
Both Bowlin and Kirwan were also able to gap themselves from Wilson, who struggled heavily through the night. Things would change, however, with the third caution of the night just before halfway.
ALL FOUR UNDER A BLANKET
Zalenski led the field down pit road under the yellow, but it was Leahy leading off. Wilson followed off in second, taking two tires after sliding through the box. Clampitt stayed third, but Zalenski had fallen back to fourth. Bowlin and Kirwan would start in the row behind, fifth and sixth respectively.
After a quick fourth and final caution on the night, the race restarted with just about 50 laps to go. Leahy pulled away, but the battle for second was the one everyone was watching. After removing Clampitt from the situation briefly, the four title contenders, at one point, found themselves four-wide in the dogleg.
Wilson still had the brief track position advantage, but the worn lefts would fall to the wayside as Bowlin took control. Kirwan followed through and finally so did Zalenski. Bowlin, however, was set up for the short run, assuming there would be more cautions, per the driver post-race.
Kirwan took advantage, the two trading virtual paint at times, eventually the advantage going to the #95 Chevy. Zalenski, the earlier dominant car, was able to follow through again. Bowlin and Wilson were falling behind as the race continued green. The battle would come down to two cars.
KIRWAN VS ZALENSKI… BEHIND LEAHY
As the laps dwindled, Zalenski did everything in his power to get back by Kirwan for the top spot. Leahy continued to lead, on the same setup as Zalenski to boot. The virtual dirty air was prevalent, and the move would not be so easy for the #18 Toyota.
Kirwan also had the dirty virtual air in riding behind Leahy, but Zalenski was getting it two-fold riding in third. Zalenski could almost get to Kirwan’s back bumper, but the closer it got to the checkers, the tougher the feat looked to be.
The race would stay green, Leahy would go on to win, and Kirwan would keep his cool altogether. Zalenski just couldn’t get there. A second place in the race, but the first of the title contenders meant that Kirwan was the 2022 eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series champion.
DALE EARNHARDT JR CHAMPIONSHIP TROPHY PRESENTATION
After a hug from his father, a trip into the spectators area with his family and friends, a celebration with XSET ambassador and NASCAR Xfinity Series driver Anthony Alfredo, it was time to get the new hardware.
The Dale Earnhardt Jr Championship Trophy had already been updated with Kirwan’s face on the centerpiece and his name down at the base of the trophy.
Earnhardt Jr, who worked part of the broadcast with the talents of Evan Posocco, Alan Cavanna, Steve Letarte, Blake McCandless and Camille Salazar Hadaway live at the Hall, was there to present the new trophy to the new winner.
After a hat dance, a trip upstairs to pose with Lightning McQueen, and the presentation of the $100,000 check, the only thing left to do was to tear down his personal sim rig and head back home to Matthews, North Carolina, the tenth driver to ever win an eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series title.
TEAM CHAMPIONS: STEWART-HAAS ESPORTS
Another title was decided on Tuesday night, the all-important Team Championship for the 20 teams that represent the 40 drivers that compete in the series.
Coming into the night, Stewart-Haas Esports held a slim lead of just 18 points over Jim Beaver Esports, and 29 over XSET. Stewart-Haas had Wilson running for a driver’s title, as did XSET, but Jim Beaver’s duo if drivers in Blake Reynolds and Michael Guest didn’t even make the playoffs.
Reynolds, who is now retired after this event, finished 11th in the standings with Guest finishing 12th, the top two of the non-playoff guys. They managed to finish third in the team title, six points behind.
They were leapfrogged by XSET, as Kirwan’s second place won him the title and brought down the gap together with teammate Ryan Luza, who managed a Top 5 in the finale. It wasn’t enough to dethrone Stewart-Haas, however.
The Stewart-Haas Esports crew may have had a tough night with Wilson faltering to 22nd by the end of the night on his two tire call, but Dylan Duval was there to pick up the pieces with a solid ninth place run after starting fifth. Wilson may not have won the driver’s title, but he and Duval are the newest team champs.
RELEGATION LINE: LEAHY AND STRAUSS IN, ALFALLA AND SALAS OUT
The other thing that needed an eye kept on it was the battle for the Top 20, the relegation line for who stays in and who falls down to the Contender Series to try and earn a spot back for 2023.
Coming into the night, the Williams Esports duo of Donovan Strauss and Vicente Salas held the final two spots while Joe Gibbs Racing’s Ray Alfalla and the eventual winner on the night, Leahy, were the first two out.
While other drivers below and above that were also in the conversation, the battle came down to those four. Salas was suspended from the race, and thus had to hope that nobody got enough points to pass him for the position.
Leahy only needed 26 points to tie, and he wound up with 40 following the win. Alfalla needed 14 to pass Salas and managed to do that, but he also needed to either outscore Strauss by 20 points or hold off Leahy by 12 points.
He did neither, as he finished in 20th, earning 17 points in the finale. Strauss finished 30th, a total of seven points on the night, but still leaving him nine ahead of Alfalla. Strauss also claimed the 2022 Rookie of the Year title in doing so.
Alfalla, Salas and the rest below them will now head back to the eNASCAR Contender iRacing Series, the last step on the Road to Pro ladder, to face those from the eNASCAR Qualifying iRacing Series that advanced upward. About 20 or so drivers will then move up or back into the Coca-Cola Series for 2023.
RACE #18 – PHOENIX RACEWAY – TOP 10 RESULTS
|1||3||45||Keegan Leahy||23XI Racing||110 LAPS||57||40|
|3||2||18||Bobby Zalenski||Joe Gibbs Racing||+1.760||43||34|
|4||8||97||Logan Clampitt||William Byron Esports||+7.805||0||33|
|6||11||15||Blake Reynolds||Jim Beaver Esports||+8.028||0||31|
|7||24||8||Michael Conti||JR Motorsports||+8.132||0||30|
|8||29||31||Garrett Manes||Elliott Sadler Esports||+8.290||0||29|
|9||5||41||Dylan Duval||Stewart-Haas Esports||+8.545||0||28|
|10||17||79||Femi Olatunbosun||Clint Bowyer Racing||+8.561||0||27|
FINAL TOP 10 STANDINGS AFTER RACE #18 – PHOENIX RACEWAY
|2||18||Bobby Zalenski||Joe Gibbs Racing||1||-1||5||8|
|3||48||Graham A. Bowlin||Charlotte Phoenix||1||-16||7||7|
|4||10||Steven Wilson||Stewart-Haas Esports||4||-20||8||11|
|5||8||Michael Conti||JR Motorsports||2||2088||4||8|
|6||23||Mitchell deJong||23XI Racing||1||-17||4||5|
|6||79||Femi Olatunbosun||Clint Bowyer Racing||1||-17||3||7|
|8||21||Garrett Lowe||Wood Brothers Racing||1||-30||2||5|
|9||75||Matt Bussa||Mode Motorsports||1||-33||2||8|
|10||25||Nick Ottinger||William Byron Esports||2||-35||5||8|
FINAL TEAM STANDINGS AFTER RACE #18 – PHOENIX RACEWAY
|POS||CAR #’s||TEAM||MANUF.||POINTS||BEHIND||TEAM WINS|
|1||10 | 41||Stewart-Haas Esports||FORD||807||LEADER||4|
|2||4 | 95||XSET||CHEVY||802||-5||2|
|3||9 | 15||Jim Beaver Esports||FORD||801||-6||0|
|4||18 | 51||Joe Gibbs Racing||TOYOTA||723||-84||2|
|5||23 | 45||23XI Racing||TOYOTA||680||-127||2|
|6||24 | 75||Mode Motorsports||FORD||669||-138||1|
|7||5 | 46||Rise eSports||CHEVY||660||-147||0|
|8||43 | 48||Charlotte Phoenix||TOYOTA||655||-152||1|
|9||8 | 88||JR Motorsports||CHEVY||641||-166||2|
|10||25 | 97||William Byron Esports||CHEVY||615||-192||2|
RACE #18 – PHOENIX RACEWAY – BOX SCORE:
- Four cautions for 15 laps
- 2 lead changes among three drivers (Bowlin 0-10, Zalenski 11-53, Leahy 54-110)
- Most laps led: #45 Keegan Leahy (57 laps)
- Fastest lap: Lap 63, #95 Casey Kirwan (27.150 seconds)
- Rookie of the race: #40 Dylan Ault (21st)
2022 ENASCAR COCA-COLA IRACING SERIES SCHEDULE
|LA Coliseum – Casey Kirwan|
|Daytona Int’l Speedway – Femi Olatunbosun|
|Las Vegas Motor Speedway – Michael Conti|
|Atlanta Motor Speedway – Steven Wilson|
|Richmond Raceway – Michael Conti|
|Bristol Motor Speedway DIRT – Nick Ottinger|
|Dover Motor Speedway – Nick Ottinger|
|Kansas Speedway – Garrett Lowe|
|Charlotte Motor Speedway – Matt Bussa|
|World Wide Technology Raceway – Graham A. Bowlin|
|Nashville Superspeedway – Ray Alfalla|
|Road America – Steven Wilson|
|Pocono Raceway – Casey Kirwan|
|Chicago Street Course – Steven Wilson|
|Watkins Glen Int’l – Mitchell deJong|
|Darlington Raceway – Steven Wilson|
|Bristol Motor Speedway – Ryan Luza|
|Talladega Superspeedway – Bobby Zalenski|
|Homestead-Miami Speedway – Steven Wilson|
|Phoenix Raceway – Keegan Leahy|