The fifth round of the 2022 eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series season will be unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. This year, the 40 best pavement oval racers on the iRacing service will forego their usual forte and instead bolt on a pair of dirt tires. Tonight (12th April 2022), the field takes on the Bristol Motor Speedway Dirt Track.
Two weeks ago, Michael Conti (JR Motorsports) secured his place even further into the eNASCAR Playoffs with a convincing victory at Richmond Raceway. Combined with his Las Vegas victory last month, Conti leads the series with two wins, with only Femi Olatunbosun (Clint Bowyer Racing) and Steven Wilson (Stewart-Haas Esports) sharing the spotlights in victory lane.
Bristol Dirt is a whole new game for these drivers. iRacing has been mum on the format of this year’s inaugural event. We know that heats will be 25 laps and the feature will be 120 laps. A source tells me that there will be two of those 25 lap heats, made up of 20 cars each, and all 40 drivers will start the feature. This is all unconfirmed until iRacing announces it, of course.
As it is with dirt, the track will change throughout the night. It’s expected that different sessions will reset the track state to be less worn out so that the drivers get to experience the different states that a dirt track passes through. It will surely be a spectacle to behold.
BRISTOL DIRT TRACK HISTORY
The Bristol Dirt Track was conceived in 2021, part due to some help from the iRacing engineers who took their scanned concrete Bristol track and put virtual dirt over it. In the real-world, Speedway Motorsports Incorporated started the same process physically.
Before the inaugural race, the eNASCAR Pro Invitational iRacing Series brought the current stars of the NASCAR Cup Series back to their computers to test the virtual dirt, as there was limited practicing still due to the ongoing pandemic.
On the virtual track, William Byron took the top honors, working with his eNASCAR team drivers Nick Ottinger and Logan Clampitt. Back in the real-world, it was Joey Logano who wound up as the inaugural race winner.
Just a week ago, iRacing released a new version of the Bristol Dirt Track. This one, unlike the original, had been scanned right after the dirt was placed back on top of the Last Great Colosseum’s concrete surface.
There were also a few changes to the track between the seasons. The normal 26 to 30 degrees of concrete banking was originally 18 to 19 degrees of layered dirt around the corners in 2021. For 2022, the banking is considerably lower – 16 to 18 degrees on the lower portion – but the top will be its own dedicated 19 degrees of banking to create somewhat of a progressive surface.
WHO TO WATCH FOR
While there is no history of this particular track in this series, there are other things we can look at. First and foremost, five current eNASCAR drivers have competed in a Dirt Oval World Championship on the iRacing service in past seasons.
Zack Novak (Rise eSports), Clampitt, Blade Whitt (Wood Brothers Racing), Casey Kirwan (XSET) and Wilson can all call back to their prior top level dirt experience in either the Dirt Late Models or Dirt Sprint Cars. Unfortunately, none of those drivers hold a top-level dirt win to their name.
Those five would probably be the ones to watch out for, but I’ll also call upon the drivers who can sling dirt making lefts and rights, those being the drivers who have competed at the iRacing Rallycross World Championship level. Granted, these drivers are in vastly different machines and the dirt is only part of the iRX experience, but who knows? It could be a contributing factor.
The most obvious driver there is the 2018 iRX World Champion, Mitchell deJong (23XI Racing). He’s also got his Coanda teammate Bobby Zalenski (Joe Gibbs Racing) who has taken part in a few seasons there, and had done pretty well on top of that.
You also have the likes of Garrett Lowe (Wood Brothers Racing), Michael Guest (Jim Beaver Esports), Garrett Manes (Elliott Sadler Esports), Vicente Salas (Williams Esports), Matt Bussa (Mode Motorsports) and Clampitt again who have all competed in the top level of iRacing Rallycross. Besides deJong, both Lowe and Salas have scored wins in that series.
This, unfortunately, leads us back to the initial question, who out of all of that should we look out for? Your guess is as good as mine, but I believe Novak, Kirwan, Clampitt and deJong will be the best blindfold picks to take. I also have sneaking suspicions that Collin Bowden (eRacr) might surprise everyone.
It is always worth noting that both Conti and Graham A. Bowlin (Charlotte Phoenix) have been good just about everywhere this season. It truly is anyone’s guess at this point in time.
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 featuring Camille Salazar Hadaway, Alan Cavanna and Brandon Kettelle. Once the race kicks off, you’ll hear the voices of Evan Posocco, Blake McCandless and James Pike down on pit road.
POINTS ENTERING RACE #5 – BRISTOL DIRT
|1||8||Michael Conti||JR Motorsports||2||114 pts||3||3|
|2||10||Steven Wilson||Stewart-Haas eSports||1||115 pts||2||2|
|3||79||Femi Olatunbosun||Clint Bowyer Racing||1||111 pts||1||2|
|4||25||Nick Ottinger||William Byron eSports||112 pts||3||3|
|5||48||Graham A. Bowlin||Charlotte Phoenix||106 pts||2||2|
|6||9||Michael Guest||Jim Beaver eSports||102 pts||2||3|
|7||18||Bobby Zalenski||Joe Gibbs Racing||100 pts||0||1|
|8||75||Matt Bussa||Mode Motorsports||98 pts||1||2|
|9||46||Jimmy Mullis||Rise eSports||93 pts||1||2|
|9||15||Blake Reynolds||Jim Beaver eSports||93 pts||0||1|
2022 ENASCAR COCA-COLA IRACING SERIES SCHEDULE
|12-Apr-22||5||Bristol Motor Speedway DIRT||25/120|
|26-Apr-22||6||Dover Motor Speedway||120|
|24-May-22||8||Charlotte Motor Speedway||100|
|31-May-22||9||World Wide Technology Raceway||120|
|16-Aug-22||13||Watkins Glen Int’l||35|
|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|