As the field took to Darlington Raceway for the Regular Season finale on Tuesday night (30th August 2022), many eyes were fixated on who would take the tenth and final spot in the 2022 eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series playoff field.
The spot belonged to Bobby Zalenski (Joe Gibbs Racing) coming into the event. His teammate Ray Alfalla could take it back if he could make up 13 points and re-enter the Top 20 in points. More than 10 other drivers could steal it away from them both with a win at the virtual track that’s ‘Too Tough To Tame’.
After some late-race theatrics, Steven Wilson (Stewart-Haas Esports) would go on to win the race and clinch the Regular Season championship. Zalenski would also celebrate with there being no new winner, scoring the final spot in the playoffs by a handful of points over Blake Reynolds (Jim Beaver Esports).
LATE RACE YELLOW CHANGES EVERYTHING
Keegan Leahy (23XI Racing) and Zalenski were the two to beat on Tuesday night. Leahy, who needed to win to get in, scored the pole position and started right alongside his Coanda Esports backend teammate Zalenski. Zalenski couldn’t let Leahy win, however, as that would mean his championship hopes would come to an end.
The first half of the event saw some strategy unfold with some drivers opting for a two-pit stop race. At 120 laps, those stops would come at laps 40 and 80. The alternate strategy would be to one-stop it, pitting at halfway, lap 60. About a third of the field had chosen to pit early when the first caution flew.
Dylan Ault (LETARTE Esports) spun out into Jimmy Mullis (Rise Esports) and collected Malik Ray (iRacing Motorsports). The leaders hadn’t pitted yet, so it didn’t change too much initially, but it did bring some new players into the equation, including Wilson on the ensuing restart.
The race went back green with everyone who pitted able to make it to the end from there. Zalenski opened up a decent lead, but Wilson made his presence known with about 40 laps to go. Not to be deterred, Zalenski kept with his plan and passed Wilson back with just about 20 laps to go.
Wilson would fall back for the time being with Michael Conti (JR Motorsports) and Leahy occupying the Top 3 spots. Leahy was on the move from there, steadily picking up time as the laps wound down. Then, the caution struck with just about five laps to go and Leahy right on Zalenski’s tail. That’s when the chaos would begin.
Leahy opted to stay out with Garrett Manes (Elliott Sadler Esports). Wilson, Collin Bowden (eRacr), Reynolds and three others opted for two tires. Zalenski and more went with four freshies. A restart in eNASCAR Overtime allowed Wilson to take the lead, Reynolds to move to third, Zalenski to move to fifth and Leahy to fall out of the picture. On the final start, Wilson would win as Zalenski finished high enough to advance to the playoffs.
PLAYOFF BOUND ON POINTS
Reynolds didn’t need to win to get in with Wilson taking the victory and Alfalla staying outside the Top 20. However, he did need to gain seven points over Zalenski for the final transfer spot. He only gained one with his second place finish, as Zalenski found his way back to finish on a podium spot in third.
Zalenski joins the Regular Season champion Wilson in the playoffs, as well as Nick Ottinger (William Byron Esports), Conti, Casey Kirwan (XSET), Matt Bussa (Mode Motorsports), Femi Olatunbosun (Clint Bowyer Racing), Mitchell deJong (23XI Racing), Graham Bowlin (Charlotte Phoenix) and Garrett Lowe (Wood Brothers Racing).
Five points would be the difference over Reynolds who sits fifth in the standings without a win. With nine of the winners inside the Top 20 in the standings and Zalenski ahead, even if Reynolds was second in points, it wouldn’t matter under the format.
Zack Novak (Rise Esports) had the best shot coming in to defeat Zalenski, only two points out following a wacky Watkins Glen event. Novak was never really in the conversation much on Tuesday night after starting 32nd and running in the back half of the field most of the race.
He was involved in a late incident that set up the eNASCAR Overtime restart.
Other hopefuls who needed that win and in, well, only Leahy looked to have a shot through the race. As for Alfalla, his chances weren’t great either, playing bumper tag with Manes early on for 32nd. He was on the charge late before eNASCAR Overtime when his chances also faded in the final incident of the night.
NEXT UP: BRISTOL BATTLE
The eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series Playoffs will begin with a return to Bristol Motor Speedway, but this time without the layers of virtual dirt on top of it. A track that was forgotten for multiple seasons, it returned to the schedule in 2019 and has seen three different winners on the concrete surface – Kirwan (2019), Ryan Luza (XSET, 2020) and Leahy (2021). Ottinger won here on the dirt back in April.
Tune in at 8:30 p.m. ET on 13th September to see the green flag wave on the 2022 Playoffs. 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 #14 – DARLINGTON RACEWAY – TOP 10 RESULTS
|1||11||10||Steven Wilson||Stewart-Haas Esports||126 LAPS||24||40|
|2||10||15||Blake Reynolds||Jim Beaver Esports||+0.682 secs||0||35|
|3||2||18||Bobby Zalenski||Joe Gibbs Racing||+0.787 secs||69||34|
|4||23||4||Ryan Luza||XSET||+1.059 secs||0||33|
|5||33||9||Michael Guest||Jim Beaver Esports||+1.095 secs||0||32|
|6||7||19||Vicente Salas||Williams Esports||+1.221 secs||0||31|
|7||22||69||Collin Bowden||eRacr||+1.376 secs||0||30|
|8||3||75||Matt Bussa||Mode Motorsports||+1.448 secs||0||29|
|9||28||42||Darik Bourdeau||eRacr||+1.507 secs||0||28|
|10||25||79||Femi Olatunbosun||Clint Bowyer Racing||+1.727 secs||0||27|
PLAYOFF STANDINGS AFTER RACE #14 – DARLINGTON RACEWAY
|1||10||Steven Wilson||Stewart-Haas Esports||3||387||7||9|
|2||25||Nick Ottinger||William Byron Esports||2||313||5||8|
|3||8||Michael Conti||JR Motorsports||2||296||4||6|
|5||75||Matt Bussa||Mode Motorsports||1||363||2||8|
|6||23||Mitchell deJong||23XI Racing||1||310||3||4|
|7||48||Graham A. Bowlin||Charlotte Phoenix||1||309||6||6|
|8||79||Femi Olatunbosun||Clint Bowyer Racing||1||307||3||6|
|9||21||Garrett Lowe||Wood Brothers Racing||1||277||1||4|
|10||18||Bobby Zalenski||Joe Gibbs Racing||0||332 (+5)||3||6|
|11||15||Blake Reynolds||Jim Beaver Esports||0||327 (-5)||3||6|
|23||51||Ray Alfalla||Joe Gibbs Racing||1||210 (-32)||2||2|
TEAM STANDINGS AFTER RACE #14 – DARLINGTON RACEWAY
|POS||CAR #’s||TEAM||MANUF.||POINTS||BEHIND||TEAM WINS|
|1||10 | 41||Stewart-Haas Esports||FORD||641||LEADER||3|
|2||9 | 15||Jim Beaver Esports||FORD||621||-20||0|
|3||4 | 95||XSET||CHEVY||602||-39||1|
|4||5 | 46||Rise eSports||CHEVY||573||-68||0|
|5||23 | 45||23XI Racing||TOYOTA||540||-101||1|
|6||18 | 51||Joe Gibbs Racing||TOYOTA||538||-103||1|
|7||24 | 75||Mode Motorsports||FORD||537||-104||1|
|8||25 | 97||William Byron Esports||CHEVY||508||-133||2|
|9||3 | 33||Team Dillon Esports||CHEVY||506||-135||0|
|10||43 | 48||Charlotte Phoenix||TOYOTA||499||-142||1|
RACE #14 – DARLINGTON RACEWAY – BOX SCORE:
- Three cautions for 12 laps
- Five lead changes among three drivers (Zalenski, Leahy, Wilson)
- Most laps led: #18 Bobby Zalenski (69 laps)
- Fastest lap: Lap 38, #21 Garrett Lowe (29.430 seconds)
- Rookie of the race: #69 Collin Bowden (7th)
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|