After 17 races, 14 of which set the Round of 10 and the three after that to determine who will race for the 2022 eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series title, we now know who will fight in this year’s edition of the eNASCAR Championship 4.
Steven Wilson (Stewart-Haas Esports) won the Homestead-Miami Speedway event on Tuesday night. He’ll join with Talladega winner Bobby Zalenski (Joe Gibbs Racing) as well as both Casey Kirwan (XSET) and Graham A. Bowlin (Charlotte Phoenix) who advanced on points after a drop was calculated.
Michael Conti (JR Motorsports), Mitchell deJong (23XI Racing), Nick Ottinger (William Byron Esports), Garrett Lowe (Wood Brothers Racing), Femi Olatunbosun (Clint Bowyer Racing) and Matt Bussa (Mode Motorsports) were all eliminated from the title battle following the checkered flag.
Wilson scores his fourth win of 2022 and arguably makes his way into the title bout as the favorite. Zalenski, Kirwan and Bowlin all have one win a piece in comparison. The quartet will all travel to the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, North Carolina in two weeks to battle it out in front of a live audience.
NASCAR Hall of Famer and iRacing Executive Director Dale Earnhardt Jr will be on hand to deliver the newly minted “Dale Earnhardt Jr Championship Trophy”, which Earnhardt Jr had a hand in designing, over to the winner to the title in two weeks live on stage.
The Championship 4 will all be reset to equal points entering the Phoenix Raceway finale. The best finisher of the four will be crowned the 2022 eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series champion. We are guaranteed to crown a new champion once again this season.
THE BATTLE FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP 4 CUT LINE
Coming into the night, the battle for the cut line would be the focal point of the race. A new playoff winner besides Zalenski would mean that only two positions would be up for grabs at the Championship 4 table.
By points without the drop, Conti was considered in while Wilson was considered out. When taking away their worst performance in the first two races of the round, however, Conti was eight points out, trailing Bowlin who had an 11th place finish to fall back on as his drop. That would become important later.
The race itself saw differing strategies play out as the five cautions for 20 laps flew sporadically. Different tire strategies played out with the limited sets in the virtual pits. Two of the yellows flew in the first third of the race, causing some drivers to opt to save sets for later in case of a caution-fest.
A first yellow flag flew for a spin involving Dark Bourdeau (eRacr) and Jimmy Mullis (Rise Esports). No big damages there.
The second flew for a wreck possibly three years in the making, between the title contenders from the 2019 title race, Zack Novak (Rise Esports) and Keegan Leahy (23XI Racing). Both continued on.
The longest run of the night ran from about lap 35 to lap 95, most drivers who pitted on the second caution able to stretch it to the end if it stayed green. It didn’t.
A weird caution involving a slow-moving Parker Retzlaff (RFK Racing) set the stage for a natural green-white-checkered finish, but of course the race went into multiple eNASCAR overtimes.
Restarting at lap 99, the third caution would be determined as a natural finish to the race, not taking from the allotment of three overtime periods should they be needed.
A quick yellow involved Derek Justis (iRacing Motorsports) and Kyle Peddle (SpaceStation Racing), but the wreck also caught up a playoff contender in Lowe, who was essentially eliminated at that moment.
First overtime went off a few laps later and another immediate caution was in the air before the exit of Turn 2. Logan Clampitt (William Byron Esports) and Vicente Salas (Williams Esports) got caught up and also collected Garrett Manes (Elliott Sadler Esports) and Blake Reynolds (Jim Beaver Esports).
Looking now at the points situation, with some on two fresh tires and others on four, the big battle was for the final spot. Bowlin had it as he ran in seventh on two tires.
Conti could steal it with his four fresh tires back in 12th with a solid run back up through the field. Ottinger, deJong, Bussa and Olatunbosun were all up there as well, all needing a win to move on.
Off of Turn 4, Ottinger ran out of gas ahead of Bowlin. Both deJong and Conti scooted by as the wreck collected Bussa, Olatunbosun and a good chunk of the field. Conti wound up sixth, but he needed to be third to pass Bowlin’s fall back drop of 11th, which due to the wreck, he needed to fall back on.
As Wilson won, that eliminated deJong as well, who needed the win to advance. Conti wound up three points out. Bowlin wound up 26th, but that would be his drop.
Kirwan came close to the win, likely on his way to it if the caution never flew late, but he wound up third, good enough to race for a championship.
THE BATTLE FOR THE “OTHER” CUT LINE (RELEGATION)
While everyone is focused hard on the Championship battle, there’s another cut line to worry about. The Top 20 finishers in the standings will automatically be invited back to race in the 2023 eNASCAR season.
21st on back will face Relegation, where they’ll face the top drivers who advanced up from the Qualifying Series in the Road to Pro ladder.
The drivers outside the championship battle also had the benefit (or dismay) of an added drop to the Round of 10. With everything factored in following Homestead-Miami Speedway, the outlook is fairly grim to those already outside the Top 20.
Included in that group are three champions from the last six seasons. Ryan Luza (XSET), the 2017 champ, is currently on the positive side of the cut line, 29 points ahead of the cut line.
Below the cut you’ll find both 4-Time Ray Alfalla (Joe Gibbs Racing), 14 points behind 20th as well as Leahy, another 12 points behind that.
It’s likely both will face the Contender Series during the Coke Series off-season, if they don’t retire as well, that is.
Also below the cut with an outside chance includes rookies Brian Mercurio (LETARTE Esports) and Briar LaPradd (JR Motorsports), as well as past eNASCAR winners in Taylor Hurst (Team Dillon Esports) and Kollin Keister (Charlotte Phoenix).
Above the cut and looking pretty, the Top 15 in the standings are all guaranteed a place on the 2023 roster. 16th through 20th are Dylan Duval (Stewart-Haas Esports), Mullis, Luza and the two Williams Esports drivers Salas and rookie Donovan Strauss.
Everyone else, 27th and below, are locked out of making the Top 20. We’ll see most of them try their luck in Contender.
CHAMPIONSHIP 4 LIVE IN FRONT OF A STUDIO AUDIENCE
This season will be the first (of hopefully many) where the championship contenders will battle it out live, in-person against one another in front of an audience. Other esports and even some other sim racing titles have had that luxury. Editorially speaking, this should be the way in order to continue to grow.
Anyway, you’ll have Bowlin from Houston in Texas, Zalenski from Fresno in California, Wilson from Guttenberg in Iowa and Kirwan the only local driver, from Matthews in North Carolina. They’ll be working together with iRacing and NASCAR over the next few days to plan logistics for the title fight.
Most won’t be able to bring their own racing rigs, so they’ll have to see about getting something similar set up for them to race inside the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Everyone has different wheel manufacturers, seat providers, monitor setups, and so on, so it will be a fight for comfort as well.
Not to mention that at the end of the night, one of them gets to hoist a newly-designed trophy that’s presented by Dale Earnhardt Jr. The battle for the title may come down to whoever has the strongest nerves in two weeks.
NEXT UP: A CHAMPIONSHIP 4 NIGHT TO REMEMBER
The epic conclusion to the 2022 eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series season may have the title contenders in Charlotte, but they’ll be racing around a virtual Phoenix Raceway for the crown.
A team title will also be crowned, three of the four teams still mathematically eligible represented by a driver in the Championship 4. Stewart-Haas Esports now leads again by two points over XSET, 19 points over Jim Beaver Esports, and 65 points over Joe Gibbs Racing as a long shot.
Tune in at 8:30 p.m. ET on 25th October to see how the final battle in the 2022 season plays out. 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 #17 – HOMESTEAD-MIAMI SPEEDWAY – TOP 10 RESULTS
|1||7||10||Steven Wilson||Stewart-Haas Esports||110 LAPS||50||40|
|2||12||9||Michael Guest||Jim Beaver Esports||+0.167 secs||0||35|
|3||1||95||Casey Kirwan||XSET||+0.373 secs||36||34|
|4||37||23||Mitchell deJong||23XI Racing||+0.840 secs||10||33|
|5||6||43||Kollin Keister||Charlotte Phoenix||+0.912 secs||0||32|
|6||27||8||Michael Conti||JR Motorsports||+0.988 secs||0||31|
|7||35||51||Ray Alfalla||Joe Gibbs Racing||+1.267 secs||0||30|
|8||18||5||Zack Novak||Rise Esports||+1.275 secs||0||29|
|9||33||36||Brian Mercurio||LETARTE Esports||+1.472 secs||0||28|
|10||4||41||Dylan Duval||Stewart-Haas Esports||+2.107 secs||0||27|
PLAYOFF STANDINGS AFTER RACE #17 – HOMESTEAD-MIAMI SPEEDWAY
|1||10||Steven Wilson||Stewart-Haas Esports||4||LOCKED||8||11|
|2||18||Bobby Zalenski||Joe Gibbs Racing||1||LOCKED||4||7|
|4||48||Graham A. Bowlin||Charlotte Phoenix||1||+3||7||7|
|5||8||Michael Conti||JR Motorsports||2||-3||4||7|
|6||23||Mitchell deJong||23XI Racing||1||-12||4||5|
|6||25||Nick Ottinger||William Byron Esports||2||-12||5||8|
|8||79||Femi Olatunbosun||Clint Bowyer Racing||1||-17||3||6|
|8||21||Garrett Lowe||Wood Brothers Racing||1||-17||2||5|
|10||75||Matt Bussa||Mode Motorsports||1||-31||2||8|
TEAM STANDINGS AFTER RACE #17 – HOMESTEAD-MIAMI SPEEDWAY
|POS||CAR #’s||TEAM||MANUF.||POINTS||BEHIND||TEAM WINS|
|1||10 | 41||Stewart-Haas Esports||FORD||770||LEADER||4|
|2||4 | 95||XSET||CHEVY||768||-2||2|
|3||9 | 15||Jim Beaver Esports||FORD||751||-19||0|
|4||18 | 51||Joe Gibbs Racing||TOYOTA||705||-65||2|
|5||5 | 46||Rise eSports||CHEVY||666||-104||0|
|6||43 | 48||Charlotte Phoenix||TOYOTA||634||-136||1|
|7||24 | 75||Mode Motorsports||FORD||632||-138||1|
|8||8 | 88||JR Motorsports||CHEVY||631||-139||2|
|8||23 | 45||23XI Racing||TOYOTA||631||-139||1|
|10||19 | 20||Williams Esports||TOYOTA||589||-181||0|
RACE #17 – HOMESTEAD-MIAMI SPEEDWAY – BOX SCORE:
- Five cautions for 20 laps
- 10 lead changes among six drivers
- Most laps led: #10 Steven Wilson (50 laps)
- Fastest lap: Lap 85, #55 Allen Boes (32.998 seconds)
- Rookie of the race: #36 Brian Mercurio (9th)
2022 ENASCAR COCA-COLA IRACING SERIES SCHEDULE
|25-Oct-22||C4F | 18||Phoenix Raceway||110|