After 14 races and 13 different winners, only 10 drivers met the criteria to qualify for the 2021 eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series playoffs. It came down to a walk-off win for Matt Bussa two weeks ago at Michigan, that of which ultimately knocked out Ryan Luza. Luza, along with Chris Shearburn and Ray Alfalla, had the win to qualify, but didn’t have the point positioning.
Mitchell deJong, in his first season in the series, leads the pack as the only driver with multiple wins. He’ll have a three point advantage of the other nine drivers in the field. Michael Conti, Keegan Leahy, Logan Clampitt, Bob Bryant, Vicente Salas, Bobby Zalenski, Jimmy Mullis, Graham A. Bowlin and Bussa round out the playoff field.
The first challenge in this Round of 10 is Darlington Raceway. Bristol Motor Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway will offer their own unique challenges to the roster of drivers, but Darlington will be everyone’s first opportunity at locking into the Championship 4. Both deJong and Conti told Traxion that Darlington will be a place to maximize their chances at advancing.
THE HISTORIC EGG-SHAPED VENUE
Darlington Raceway is a 1.366-mile, 2.198-kilometer asphalt oval in South Carolina. Opened in 1950, Darlington is one of the oldest and most historic race tracks on the NASCAR schedule. The venue has been an eNASCAR staple since the series began in 2010, on the calendar once per season. This weekend, the NASCAR Cup Series will kick off their 2021 playoffs at the track.
Tuesday night will be the 12th virtual race at the track and will also kick off the eNASCAR iRacing playoffs. Five former winners will be in the starting lineup. Ray Alfalla has the most wins at three and is the only driver who has won more than once. Keegan Leahy is the most recent winner at the track having won nearly one year ago. Ashton Crowder (2019), Michael Conti (2018) and Nick Ottinger (2013) are all past winners at the track.
Other big names in eNASCAR history have also won at the egg-shaped oval. Josh Berry, the future full-time NASCAR Xfinity Series driver for JR Motorsports, was the first to win at Darlington. 2013 Series Champion and current Competition Director Tyler D. Hudson scored his final series victory here in 2016. Other winners include Brad Wright and Landon Harrison.
THE PLAYOFF DRIVERS TO WATCH
While the last two seasons have seen both chaos in 2019 and follow the leader racing in 2020, this race in 2021 will most resemble the event that took place back in 2018. Darlington was plagued with the 550 HP and tall spoiler in the last two seasons, which packed the field together but made racing nearly impossible without moving others out of the way.
This year has the 750 HP and small spoiler package, and that means that drivers will be able to race the track more than they’ll have to race packed up with each other. Michael Conti, who has been on pole position the last two seasons, hasn’t seen victory lane at the venue since 2018. The updated aero and horsepower are something that he’s confident will be a positive for him and his teammates.
“Darlington has statistically been a really good track for us, especially when we’re in the low downforce, high horsepower configuration, which we are this year again for the first time since we last won there in 2018,” Conti said. “I think we’re going to be really strong on Tuesday.”
That’s not to discount the defending winner at the track, Keegan Leahy. Leahy shows speed just about every oval race on the calendar. He nearly won the regular season title in 2021, only finishing four points behind Graham A. Bowlin. I’d expect Leahy and his team of Coanda Simsport drivers to be in contention against Conti and his Team Conti brethren.
THE RELEGATION LINE
While ten drivers battle for the ultimate glory, the remaining 30 drivers will be fighting for their eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series spots on the roster. Only the Top 20 will lock their spot up for 2022. Everyone else will be forced to run against the up-and-comers from the Road to Pro Qualifying Series.
Formerly the Pro Series, the eNASCAR Road to Pro Challenger Series will pit the bottom 20 from the Coke Series against the Top 20 from the Qualifying Series. Drivers such as Donovan Strauss, Briar LaPradd and Darik Bourdeau are working their way up to back into the top level of oval sim racing. They’ll have to face the drivers currently in the Coke Series that didn’t make the Top 20.
As it stands, drivers that have won this season are in danger of being relegated to the Challenger Series. Ray Alfalla has had to do it before, back in 2019, but he bounced back by winning the title and making the Coke playoffs the following season. Former eNCCiS race winners such as Chris Shearburn, Allen Boes, John Gorlinsky and Brad Davies also sit on the wrong side of the line with four races remaining.
Only Anthony Burroughs, who started racing this season in the tenth race, is mathematically ineligible to make the Top 20 at this point. Gorlinsky, along with Brian Schoenburg, Derek Justis and Ryan Doucette, are all in danger of being locked out of the Top 20 following Darlington.
THE BROADCAST DETAILS
Tune in at 8:30 p.m. ET for the iRacing Countdown to Green. After the pre-race show, the racing starts just after 9:00 p.m. ET. Everything can be viewed over at eNASCAR’s website or on the iRacing social channels.