The eleventh race of the 2022 eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series season takes the 40 best oval sim racers on the road for the first time on Tuesday night (5th July 2022). Road America, a 4.048-mile venue in Wisconsin, will host the NASCAR NEXT Gen vehicles for the first time on a non-oval track in 2022.
Two weeks ago, ‘4-Time’ Ray Alfalla (Joe Gibbs Racing) strategized his way towards the front of the field late in the going at Nashville Superspeedway. In a flurry of late race restarts utilizing the new iRacing Start Zone, Alfalla held off a charge from Zack Novak (Rise Esports) to take his 27th career victory.
Have I mentioned already that this is the first road course race of the 2022 season? Road America and Watkins Glen fall in the regular season, while no road race will exist in this year’s playoffs. When it comes to road racing in the eNASCAR Coke Series, there are three names that come to mind – Graham A. Bowlin (Charlotte Phoenix), Bobby Zalenski (Joe Gibbs Racing) and Mitchell deJong (23XI Racing).
FIRST NEXT GEN ROAD RACE OF 2022
Not only is this the first road course race of the season, but it’s also the first real test of these new NASCAR NEXT Gen race cars on a non-oval. In the real-world, the NASCAR NEXT Gen has been tested on Circuit of the Americas, Sonoma Raceway, and just a few days ago, at Road America.
With a newer braking package, it will be different entering many heavy-braking corners throughout the course, such as Turn 1, Turn 5, and into Canada Corner. It’s still no Formula 1 car, but the NEXT Gen is supposed to allow for a better road racing product, and hopefully that translates to the virtual world.
Will it mean that there will be new players at the front of the field?
WHO TO WATCH FOR
While the car might be somewhat different than what has been the norm, I’d expect the same names to still be in the hunt on Tuesday night. Last season, deJong won two of the three road events, including his first career victory at COTA, and more importantly, at this same track.
The 2018 iRacing Rallycross World Champion was hounded in his quest for the Road America victory by the former king of eNASCAR road, a six-time road racing winner from 2017 to 2020, that being Zalenski. Three times at Sonoma, twice at the Charlotte Roval, and once at a one-off Daytona road extravaganza, Zalenski was near untouchable during that four year period.
Zalenski didn’t win a road race in 2021, but he did win at two oval tracks and fought for the 2021 title. deJong also fought for a title last year, alongside Logan Clampitt (William Byron Esports) and the eventual Champion Keegan Leahy (23XI Racing). None of those four have won a race yet this season.
You know who won a road race last season and already has a win in the bag in 2022? That would be Bowlin, one of the strongest drivers on the season-to-date. Bowlin took the third roadie last season at Watkins Glen, having to hold off both deJong and Zalenski to do so.
Besides the big three, I’d keep an eye out for both Nick Ottinger (William Byron Esports) and Michael Conti (JR Motorsports), both drivers highly competent with lefts and rights. Casey Kirwan (XSET) could be a dark horse, as might Blake Reynolds (Jim Beaver Esports) and Corey Vincent (Team Dillon Esports).
Then again, Steven Wilson (Stewart-Haas Esports) also had a great run on the roadies last season. He and Bowlin have been pretty close all season and both drive for the same Deadzone backend team. We’ll have to see how the NEXT Gen car plays into those with road racing abilities.
PLAYOFF BUBBLE WATCH
With Alfalla taking an eighth spot in the 2022 playoffs, should he maintain his place in the Top 20 in the regular points over the next four races, there are only two positions left to decide before the regular season ends.
As it stands, Kirwan and Vincent have those spots. Novak, Michael Guest (Jim Beaver Esports) and Reynolds are the closest on points. However, the two road races, plus the Tricky Triangle in between, could prove to mix things up. Should all three races yield a new winner on the season, there would be at least 11 drivers with a win on the year for a 10-driver playoff grid.
That means it would end up coming down to the points. Those without a win, unless they were to win the regular season championship, would be out of luck. Those lower in the standings with only a single win, like Alfalla and Garrett Lowe (Wood Brother Racing), would be points racing to be able to use the win. We won’t really know where we stand, however, until this first road race is complete.
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 #11 – ROAD AMERICA
|1||25||Nick Ottinger||William Byron Esports||2||252||5||6|
|2||8||Michael Conti||JR Motorsports||2||218||4||4|
|3||75||Matt Bussa||Mode Motorsports||1||278||2||7|
|4||10||Steven Wilson||Stewart-Haas Esports||1||272||4||6|
|5||48||Graham A. Bowlin||Charlotte Phoenix||1||238||4||4|
|6||79||Femi Olatunbosun||Clint Bowyer Racing||1||235||3||4|
|7||21||Garrett Lowe||Wood Brothers Racing||1||195||1||4|
|8||51||Ray Alfalla||Joe Gibbs Racing||1||194||2||2|
|9||95||Casey Kirwan||XSET||0||220 (+27)||2||6|
|10||3||Corey Vincent||Team Dillon Esports||0||208 (+15)||2||6|
12th – #9 Michael Guest (-11 points from Top 10)
13th – #15 Blake Reynolds (-20 points from Top 10)
2022 eNASCAR COCA-COLA iRACING SERIES SCHEDULE
|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|