This is it. The final race of the 2022 eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series regular season is upon us. 120 scheduled laps at Darlington will determine the final driver who will race for the championship this year.
While Mitchell deJong (23XI Racing) became the tenth different winner two weeks ago after a dominant win at Watkins Glen, only nine drivers can claim a clinched scenario in this year’s playoffs.
Joining deJong in the locked in column includes Nick Ottinger (William Byron Esports), Michael Conti (JR Motorsports), Steven Wilson (Stewart-Haas Esports), Casey Kirwan (XSET), Matt Bussa (Mode Motorsports), Femi Olatunbosun (Clint Bowyer Racing), Graham Bowlin (Charlotte Phoenix) and Garrett Lowe (Wood Brothers Racing).
Ray Alfalla (Joe Gibbs Racing) is the tenth winner so far this season, but he’s the only one not locked and in danger of missing the Playoffs entirely. His JGR teammate Bobby Zalenski currently holds the final spot in on points. If not either of them, there are at least ten more drivers that could steal it with a Darlington win tonight.
TOO TOUGH TO TAME
Dalington Raceway is a 1.366-mile egg-shaped oval in South Carolina, often referred to as the track that is ‘Too Tough To Tame’. The venue has been on the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series schedule since the inaugural season back in 2010.
Josh Berry, current NASCAR Xfinity Series driver for JR Motorsports, was the inaugural winner that season. Other winners no longer in the series include Brad Wright (2011), Landon Harrison (2015), current Series Director Tyler D. Hudson (2016) and Ashton Crowder (2019).
As for the rest of the races in Darlington history, one name stands out over the rest – Ray Alfalla. Three wins belong to Four-Time over the last 12 seasons in 2012, 2014 and 2017. A win won’t necessarily be a cure to Alfalla’s recent points woes, but it could help him get closer.
Nick Ottinger (2013), Michael Conti (2018), Keegan Leahy (23XI Racing, 2020) and Bobby Zalenski (2021) will also be looking for their second wins at the untamable track. For both Leahy and Zalenski, a win will get them in to the playoffs. For Leahy in particular, this could be his last chance to defend the 2021 title.
LAST CHANCE TO DANCE
Nine spots taken, one spot left in the 2022 eNASCAR Playoff field. If Darlington wasn’t a thing, it’d be Zalenski in on points, but only by two points over Zack Novak (Rise Esports) and six points over Blake Reynolds (Jim Beaver Esports).
In reality, those three are the only drivers who can make it in on points if there is no new winner to take that spot. Mathematically, Corey Vincent (Team Dillon Esports), Michael Guest (Jim Beaver Esports) and Garrett Manes (Elliott Sadler Esports) have an outside shot to make it on points as well, but they’ll need a lot of help for that to happen as they are all 30 points or more outside the 10th spot.
Of course, everyone mentioned, along with Jimmy Mullis (Rise Esports), Dylan Duval (Stewart-Haas Esports), Donovan Strauss (Williams Esports), Vicente Salas (Williams Esports), Leahy and Taylor Hurst (Team Dillon Esports) can all win and take the final spot, no points involved.
Ryan Luza (XSET) finds himself in a must-win position as well, but he’ll need some help to do so. He’s 10 points outside the Top 20 and even just a win isn’t a guarantee of advancement. Alfalla has the win already from Nashville earlier this season. If there’s no new winner ahead of him in points, and he can make up the 13 point difference to the Top 20, he can take back that tenth and final Playoff spot.
Behind Alfalla, Allen Boes (Spacestation Racing), Briar LaPradd (JR Motorsports), Liam Brotherton (Elliott Sadler Esports) and Malik Ray (iRacing Motorsports) can also win and get in, but they’ll also need a lot of help for that to happen.
WHO TO WATCH FOR
Anything can and will happen at Darlington. Last season, it looked to be a heads-up battle between 23XI Racing teammates Leahy and deJong. Towards the end of the race, it looked like deJong would be heading towards his first career oval win. However, Zalenski was able to out-strategize and take control.
Leahy’s win the season before was pure dominance. The year before that, when Crowder won, the race was marred by multiple yellow flags. While having the right speed and setup is the best way to guarantee a good finish, Darlington lends itself to have some bit of a chaos factor.
Knowing that a place in the playoffs is on the line, I’m keeping my eye on those Coanda Esports drivers to get another name in the playoff field. Leahy hasn’t gotten the same grip on this new NEXT Gen car that he had in the Gen 6 era. However, in the last few weeks, he showed signs of life battling for the win at Pocono.
Zalenski also will be looking to back up his win last season, a win that clinched his place in the 2021 Championship 4 finale. Other hopefuls for tonight include the usual suspects such as Wilson, Bowlin, Ottinger and Conti, four of the most dominant drivers on the season.
WHERE TO WATCH
The race itself will kickoff at 9:00 p.m. EDT / 2:00 a.m. BST following the pre-race festivities, which kick off a half-hour earlier. The Countdown to Green begins at 8:30 p.m. EDT / 1:30 a.m. BST with the race itself starting at 9:00 p.m. EDT / 2:00 a.m. BST. Evan Posocco, Blake McCandless, Alan Cavanna, Camille Salazar Hadaway and even more familiar voices from the industry will be there to bring you all the action.
POINTS ENTERING RACE #14 – DARLINGTON RACEWAY
|1||10||Steven Wilson||Stewart-Haas Esports||2||347||6||8|
|2||25||Nick Ottinger||William Byron Esports||2||312||5||8|
|3||8||Michael Conti||JR Motorsports||2||292||4||6|
|5||75||Matt Bussa||Mode Motorsports||1||334||2||7|
|6||48||Graham A. Bowlin||Charlotte Phoenix||1||309||6||6|
|7||23||Mitchell deJong||23XI Racing||1||290||3||4|
|8||79||Femi Olatunbosun||Clint Bowyer Racing||1||280||3||5|
|9||21||Garrett Lowe||Wood Brothers Racing||1||270||1||4|
|10||18||Bobby Zalenski||Joe Gibbs Racing||0||298 (+2)||2||5|
|11||5||Zack Novak||Rise Esports||0||296 (-2)||5||6|
|12||15||Blake Reynolds||Jim Beaver Esports||0||292 (-6)||2||5|
2022 ENASCAR COCA-COLA IRACING SERIES SCHEDULE
|13-Sep-22||PO1 | 15||Bristol Motor Speedway||175|
|27-Sep-22||PO2 | 16||Talladega Superspeedway||70|
|11-Oct-22||PO3 | 17||Homestead-Miami Speedway||100|
|25-Oct-22||C4F | 18||Phoenix Raceway||110|