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eNCCiS Preview: Bristol battle will make or break Playoff bubble

eNCCiS Preview: Bristol battle will make or break Playoff bubble

The second race of the 2021 eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series Playoffs takes the best in the business to Bristol Motor Speedway for 250 laps around The Last Great (virtual) Colosseum. The virtual dirt has been removed and we’re back to the basic Bristol concrete layer once again.

With one Championship 4 spot reserved for Bobby Zalenski after a perfect strategy call at Darlington two weeks ago, there are only three spots left to decide upon between nine drivers.

Bristol Motor Speedway isn’t a perennial track on the series schedule. It was on the inaugural schedule in 2010 and the following year in 2011. After that, it took until 2019 to see the 0.533-mile oval return to the schedule.

Casey Kirwan and Ryan Luza are the last two winners at the circuit in 2019 and 2020, respectively. Neither of the XSET teammates are in the playoffs this year, however. A playoff driver would need to score their first career Bristol victory to punch their ticket to the Final Four.

None of these playoff drivers have more than two starts at the track. While guys like Mike Conti and Matt Bussa have been in the series longer than any others in the playoffs, their first Bristol starts came in 2019 alongside Zalenski, Keegan Leahy, Jimmy Mullis and Logan Clampitt. Drivers like Bob Bryant and Graham A. Bowlin only have a single start in their rookie seasons last year. Both Mitchell deJong and Vicente Salas will race the venue in this series for the first time on Tuesday.

WHO TO WATCH FOR

The highest finishing 2021 playoff driver in the 2019 event was Bussa with a ninth place finish. Conti wound up 10th and Mullis was 11th. Leahy started second and led the third most of that race, but wound up 16th. Clampitt started third and led nine laps, but he wound up back in 23rd.

In the 2020 race, Conti impressed with the pole position and a total of 40 laps led before finishing in fourth. Bowlin started second and led six laps, but ultimately came home in 17th. What I’m trying to get at is that these guys are all good in some right, but Bristol has that chaos factor that many tracks don’t offer.

If I had to lay my bet with anyone, I would say Leahy has the most to gain by a perfect day at Bristol. He’s 27 points below the cut line after Darlington, and with how close these drivers are in the playoffs, he’s nearly in must-win territory.

On the flip side, his Coanda Simsport teammate deJong is coming off of his best oval performance to date, outrunning Leahy outright in his own palace of Darlington. If anyone has that momentum, it might be the rookie World Champion. Then, there’s Conti who’s probably been the most consistent in these two previous races. I don’t know if he has a win in him, but I think a solid day would do wonders for the Team Conti program in general.

Outside of the playoffs, I think Luza and Kirwan both have a great shot to become the first multi-time winners at Bristol, but if Nathan Lyon can put a full race together, he was impressive two years ago when he led 118 laps while driving for LETARTE Esports.

ROAD TO PRO CONTENDER RELEGATION LINE

The line is getting tougher to overcome between the drivers staying and the drivers facing relegation. There are only a maximum of 120 points left to earn in the entire season with 40 specifically aside for Bristol.

Garrett Manes is the bubble driver entering Bristol. With a total of 264 points earned this season, it’s only five more points than Jake Nichols. Ray Alfalla and Blake Reynolds are tied for 22nd in points and are 21 points outside of the Top 20. Chris Shearburn, winner at Kansas Speedway, is the only other driver within a full race, currently 25 points out.

Four drivers are locked for the eNASCAR Road to Pro Contender Series, no longer mathematically eligible to make the Top 20. Anthony Burroughs was a given, having missed half of the season. He’ll be joined by John Gorlinsky, Derek Justis and Ryan Doucette.

Another handful of drivers are in danger of being eliminated from the Top 20 after Bristol. We could see the likes of Blade Whitt, Ashton Crowder, Jake Matheson, Malik Ray, Allen Boes and Brian Schoenburg joining the locked out crowd. None of those drivers have had a spectacular season outside of Ray’s second place at Charlotte. All six are currently lower in points than Isaac Gann who has missed the last five races.

The group of Taylor Hurst, Brad Davies, Nathan Lyon, Zack Nichols, Femi Olat and Caine Cook are likely heading back to the Road to Pro Contender Series. They are all more than a full race outside of the Top 20, points-wise. Unless they win out the remaining three races, they likely don’t have the best chances.

HOW TO WATCH

The first race with the new 2021 Season 4 iRacing build could be different. Some talk among the drivers and setup builders is that the track is considerably faster than it used to be. Conversely, many are also saying that the low line might be the meta line once again, so it will be interesting to see how it plays out.

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.

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