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Inside the minds of the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series Championship 4

Inside the minds of the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series Championship 4

The final race of the 2021 eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series season, the Championship 4 event, is set to take place on Tuesday night at Texas Motor Speedway. After 17 races, only four drivers remaining have a shot to become the next eNASCAR iRacing World Champion.

By virtue of a Darlington Raceway victory, Bobby Zalenski returns to the Championship 4 again in 2021, this time driving for LETARTE Esports. Zalenski collected two total wins on the season, the other coming at Pocono Raceway to punch his ticket to the playoffs. His best finish in the points came last season when he finished second to Nick Ottinger.

Keegan Leahy is back racing for a title for the second time in his career. The runner-up in the 2019 season was able to clinch his place after leading every single lap at Bristol Motor Speedway en route to victory. Leahy also has two wins on the season having collected a Homestead-Miami Speedway win earlier on.

With the most points in the three-race playoff Round of 10, rookie contender Mitchell deJong utilized his two Regular Season victories to place himself racing for a title in his first season. Those wins came on the road courses at Circuit of the Americas and Road America, but his most impressive oval performance came at Darlington in a runner-up effort to Zalenski.

Finally, Logan Clampitt returns to the final four for the first time since 2017. His lone win on the season came at Atlanta Motor Speedway. His Championship 4 appearance is thanks to earning enough points in the Round of 10, sealing the deal with a runner up finish at Talladega Superspeedway two weeks ago.

On Friday, all four drivers were available to chat about their outlook heading into the championship event at Texas. It will be the first time in series history that the champion will be decided at Texas and only the second time that the champion won’t be decided at Homestead-Miami.

What exactly is going through these driver’s heads just days before the big race?

MAKING THE 2021 CHAMPIONSHIP 4, OVERCOMING THE PAST

All four of these drivers know what it’s like to compete for a title at the highest level. On the eNASCAR side, both Clampitt and Leahy will be going for their first title for a second time, both runners up in the series in 2017 and 2019 respectively.

For Zalenski, this is his fourth opportunity in the eNASCAR Championship 4. He has a pair of third place overall finishes in 2017 and 2019, and finished second last season to Nick Ottinger. In the case of the rookie deJong, he’s the only iRacing World Champion of the lot, having won a iRacing Rallycross World Championship Series title back in 2018.

None of the four have an advantage over the others in that regard, but for each driver, being able to compete for this season’s title is special to them in their own personal way.

No. 97 Logan Clampitt | William Byron Esports Chevrolet

What does it mean to make the Championship 4 this season?

“To race for a championship for the second time is something that I feel like wouldn’t happen again. Just because of how close and unlucky we’ve been the past few years.

“You look at past years and I’ve been really close at making the playoffs, and normally I would perform during the playoffs, and if I were to make the playoffs during those years, then I feel like I could have pointed my way in to the championship, or won my way in, I won in 2018 in the playoffs. So, it means a whole lot to me to be in this position.”

No. 23 Mitchell deJong | 23XI Racing Toyota

How does it feel to compete for the title in your first season?

“It’s still not really sunk in, to be honest. My goal, kind of, was to just make the playoffs. Even just that alone would have been like, ‘man, I can’t believe we made it into that elite group’. Now, to make it to the final four, that’s crazy. I really couldn’t have asked for a better Talladega. With how crazy it was going to be, everything just fell our way.

“It’s crazy. I still don’t really believe that we’re in it. It’s weird, especially considering how the season started. It was so difficult at the beginning, I really felt like ‘man, I don’t know how to get out of this hole’ after a couple of races in. We started to chip away and learn different things throughout the year. Finally, things are starting to come together around playoff time, which is just perfect. I’m ok with that.

“I still can’t believe it. Just to be here, I really want to win the championship, but I’m already very happy with how this year has gone already.”

No. 83 Bobby Zalenski | LETARTE Esports Chevrolet

Does it give you more confidence having been in this spot already multiple times before?

“I’m just grateful because things have had to go my way along the way. You know, I really didn’t have good playoff runs until last year, I feel like in my results. I always had a wreck or something that I just couldn’t avoid happen. The only reason I made it in 2019 is because I won the Roval, but the two races before that I got in wrecks or ran out of fuel with a fuel mileage situation.

“I’m just grateful to be here again. I’m not going to go in here expecting to win it because I went in last year expecting to win it because I knew what I had. This race is going to be a lot different. It’s a much more draft-dependent package this time around. You could win or lose this championship depending on if one car gets behind you.

“If I’m side-by-side with Clampitt, and one of his teammates is in third, he’s going to push him by me. That’s a scenario, or I could have one of my friends behind me and they could push me by for the championship. It’s kind of like a mix between your typical intermediate and Daytona. You just have to go into this race like I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I’m just going to try my best.”

No. 32 Keegan Leahy | 23XI Racing Toyota

As close as you were in 2019, what do you need to do to overcome that this year?

“Well, in 2019, I felt like I did drive very well. I don’t really go into detail on this with many people, but our setup then was very good for the long run. If you remember that race in detail, I led most of the race. I pulled out to like a four second lead, way faster than Zack Novak like the whole race.

“It came down to a 20 lap sprint to the end, and we didn’t have the setup for it. Now, on that lap 20, I started to get pretty fast. I ran (Novak) back down and was able to make a move on him in 3 and 4 on the last lap. I didn’t go so far as to wreck him.

“So, would I do that again? For 100k, would I race a guy hard but fair, or would I bump a guy out of the way? I don’t know. It’s kind of a gut reaction just with everything you do in racing, you can’t really think about it. You don’t have the seconds to think, everything is just what you’re feeling at the time and what your hands do.

“I’m sure the difference in prize money will weigh into that a little bit, the difference in there being so much more exposure this year with all of the NASCAR teams involved. There’s so much more backing from NASCAR. The spotlight’s on me even more, and this win matters that much more. I expect to race similarly and I expect to have similar strength in my speed as 2019.

“When it comes down to that last lap, I honestly don’t know what I’ll do differently.”

RACE DAY PREPARATIONS

Tons of preparation have been going into the finale from all parties. When it’s race day, each driver has their own method to prepare for the big race. Some drivers will continue to grind, to make sure that they have the perfect setup, the perfect strategy, and the perfect audibles ready to play.

Other drivers need to get in the right mental space before strapping in. Taking it easy right before what could be their biggest race of their virtual career could be the difference in winning a championship or not.

What are these driver’s plans or mindsets entering Tuesday night?

No. 97 Logan Clampitt | William Byron Esports Chevrolet

“I’d say, a big part is to get myself mentally prepared. Right now, we have a lot of our friends over. We have (Matt) Bussa over, Josh Fox over, Joe Gullotta over. I’ve got Michael (Conti) here and Nick (Ottinger) is going to be coming down here, he lives about an hour away. My crew chief Dustin Hall and Brandon Hastings, Nick Ottinger’s crew chief. We’re all going to be hanging out during the Roval.

“I feel like that’s going to be such a refresher. Like, I get to take a little bit of a break and kind of refresh myself for the championship race at Texas on Tuesday. I think a big thing is mentality. Time-wise, just doing a bunch of laps… 1,500 to 1,800 have been turned so far. I’m going to probably end up doing around 2,000 laps, or something like that.

“You don’t want to necessarily burn yourself out, but I feel if you turn too many laps, sometimes you can make yourself worse. You can make yourself more anxious in the race.”

No. 23 Mitchell deJong | 23XI Racing Toyota

“On Tuesday, typically it’s still a little bit like I’m kind of figuring things out. There are still adjustments I need to make and what not. Figuring out qualifying, a lot of times it’s been the day of or the day before that we’ve started that. You end up grinding out a lot of hours, just trying to figure stuff out with qualifying even. This time, we have more room to breathe.

“I think you can definitely drive too much, especially the day of, race day. For me, pretty early on in my testing, maybe only an hour or two into it, that’s kind of like my peak where a little bit after that, my focus and what not tends to drop off.

“Keeping it in that right window where I’m fresh all day, ideally we have everything done by the weekend already, so we just have a normal, relaxing day. We can go into the race fresh and energized and ready to go.”

No. 83 Bobby Zalenski | LETARTE Esports Chevrolet

“I expect to be less nervous (than I was) in 2020. I very much felt alone going into that race because I was the only one from my group. Keegan didn’t make it, Mitchell wasn’t that serious yet, and Chris Shearburn didn’t make the playoffs. I had the pressure on myself to do it, but I was also kind of confident about it.

“I knew I had a good short run car, and I knew, they year before, it came down to a short run. That’s kind of why Novak won it over Keegan and myself, because he had a really good short run car. I was nervous going into that one, but this one is a much different package, a much different tire, and just much different racing.

“I want to say I won’t be as nervous, because I’m just smart about the situation, where I know what I’m going into, and I just don’t feel like I have nearly as much control over the race as I would have last year. Plus, I’m just really grateful to be here, so I didn’t think I’d make the final four this year. I honestly didn’t. I honestly thought I was going to go winless before I won Pocono.”

No. 32 Keegan Leahy | 23XI Racing Toyota

“This is a pretty unique two weeks because I’m committing fully to this. I’ve got other stuff in my life normally, so I don’t spend the entire two weeks between races preparing for races normally, but this time I am. I feel like I’ll be well prepared on Tuesday.

“There’s been a few races during the year where we think we were decent, but then we do the Monday A-Open race, which is the open race on iRacing that anyone can sign up to. A lot of the Coke drivers tend to do that on Monday nights for the practice. I’ll probably do that on Monday.

“Everyone sandbags, so nobody shows their actual speed in those, but there’s been times where we were slow in that Monday A-Open race and we spent the entire Tuesday just grinding it out, trying to find the difference in what we’re missing. Unless that happens in A-Open, which I don’t really expect based off of how we’ve learned from the car over time and how much prep we’ve already put into it, I don’t expect to be off pace.

“For that reason, I think I’ll just do some warm-ups on Tuesday, make sure I’m consistent in my qualifying laps, make sure I’m comfortable with pit ins, do a bit of battling, just making sure I’m prepared for every situation. Mostly I’ll keep it light, just a few hours of prep before the race to make sure I’m warmed up.”

WHO ARE YOU KEEPING TABS ON?

Three Coanda Simsport drivers are set to take on a lone Team Conti driver in the Championship 4. A Team Conti driver won the title last season. The Coanda trio has a collective six wins among the three drivers while Clampitt’s lone win came at Atlanta.

Despite those facts, all four drivers are racing for their own individual glory on Tuesday. Do they have anyone in particular that they’ll be keeping their eyes on, possibly as their biggest threat or competitor for the title?

No. 97 Logan Clampitt | William Byron Esports Chevrolet

“I’d say I’m more worried about Keegan. I feel like he’s a lot more determined to win this championship. He’s been so close for so many years, and he’s done so good throughout every single year. You look at 2019 and he was very close to winning it, you know, he was a corner away, side-by-side with Zack (Novak). He didn’t make any contact with him.

“That was for $40,000, it’s for $100,000 now. I feel like he would make contact and I feel like he’s going to be the fastest of those three, at least. I feel like he has the most setup knowledge. Who knows if he’s going to be running the exact thing as Bobby and Mitchell in the race.”

No. 23 Mitchell deJong | 23XI Racing Toyota

“I definitely have to say that it’s going to be the most difficult racing your teammates because of the same setup. You pretty much have to adapt your driving style to be exactly the same because it’s optimal for that setup on that track and what not.

“There’s not a whole lot that you can do except just making those split second decisions to gain some positions or to help maintain a certain position. I think that will be the most difficult, but Logan Clampitt is the big unknown. We don’t know what they’re going to bring to the race. We know that Team Conti has had really good cars, especially at these style of tracks. Clampitt is really fast as well.

“You never know, man. I think, still, it’s going to be the most difficult beating your teammates. Ideally, we have the best car, and then we can just try and beat each other. We’ll see.”

No. 83 Bobby Zalenski | LETARTE Esports Chevrolet

“I don’t think any of them worry me. The only thing is that I don’t know what Clamp is going to bring for a setup. I know what Mitchell and Keegan will bring, I know their speeds, we’re all working on the car together because we’ve been all working together all year.

“We’re in a very privileged position to have the three of us in the final four, which has just never happened in the history of this final four, you’ve never had three people from a working group that work on setups together in that final four. The most it’s ever been was two. Maybe that hurts us, maybe that helps us because we’re all racing each other. Clampitt might have teammates just pushing him by, and it’s a result of teamwork that wins him the championship.

“I hope we can all just race for ourselves and the best man wins, but some people get help. I don’t know.”

No. 32 Keegan Leahy | 23XI Racing Toyota

“Honestly, Logan Clampitt is going to be probably almost the exact same speed (as the three Coanda drivers). It’s not secret that all of the top teams are extremely close on speed. There are such small differences in the setups nowadays. We may as well just all work together and do a fixed setup, or something.

“It’s going to come down to track position, what people’s strategies are, and how aggressive people are on restarts and how well they move forward when it’s possible to move forward before that dirty air starts stringing people out.

“I’m not really looking at any driver in particular. I’ll probably just be paying attention to the guy that’s closest to me and probably whoever is running fourth. Let’s be honest, whoever is running fourth, they’re probably going to do some crazy strategy call. They’re going to be trying to make it to the end on one less stop or they’re going to run the fuel out to the end or they’re going to short pit a lot.

“They’re just going to do whatever contrarian strategy they can to give themselves a small chance at catching a caution at the right time. I’m just going to play it by whatever scenario I’m give during the race. I’m not focusing on one particular driver right now.”

WHAT TO DO WITH $100,000

To win the 2021 eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series Championship also comes with a life-changing amount of money. For some of these drivers, it’s a second thought. Money will come and go, but the status of being an eNASCAR champion lasts forever.

Still, what would these drivers do with such a large amount of money if they happened to win it all?

No. 97 Logan Clampitt | William Byron Esports Chevrolet

“If I were to win the championship and win all of that money, I’d try to be smart with my money. I’d probably just put it away, to maybe buy a house in the future, or something like that. Maybe I would invest a little bit, I suppose? If the market were to go down, just a little more, it would be smart.

“I wouldn’t want to just blow all of my money away on something. I’d very much like to save it for the future and future needs. Maybe taking a small vacation somewhere or upgrading my computer, you know, maybe something like that I would probably use the money for, but most of it is going to be going away, just kind of saving it towards the future.”

No. 23 Mitchell deJong | 23XI Racing Toyota

“I’m not sure, to be honest. For me, the money doesn’t really motivate me. I don’t know why. I’ve never really had that. I just love competition. For me, winning the title is a bigger draw than the 100k. The 100k is really good, no complaints with that.

“We’ll have to see. If it all works out, we’re going to let it all sink in, and then figure it out from there, not to get ahead of ourselves.”

No. 83 Bobby Zalenski | LETARTE Esports Chevrolet

“Yeah, if I win 100 grand, I’m not going to go blow it. I honestly haven’t thought about the money too much. I’m actually just obsessed with winning the title. Whether you think its immature, because finances matter a lot in the real world for your future and stuff, and I’m going to be smart with that money if I win it, but childishly, I just want to win the championship.

“I want to just do that for me and no one else, really, for me, first and foremost, and then I’ll think about the money and everything that goes with the championship. I’ll be smart with the money.”

No. 32 Keegan Leahy | 23XI Racing Toyota

“Like a lot of people, more recently I’ve been looking into how investing works and trying to learn that. I kind of always think analytically and keep probabilities in mind. I’m not a poker player. I think about races in terms of that sort of mindset. It’s all an expected value, optimizing for probabilities.

“That’s what I would probably do with my money – pick the best way to invest it, probably. I’m not going to blow it or do something crazy. I’ll pay off my student loans, I guess if it makes financial sense. I’ll pay down my house. Buy a new car, maybe? You know, things that enhance my life but I’m not just going to bet it all on red at a casino or something.

“It’s a lot of money. It makes my year, or makes a few years probably. I don’t think it would change my plans. Maybe I’ll go do a trip next year and that will be my gift to myself, or buy a nice large pizza the next day.”

***

The Championship finale will take place on Tuesday night, 12th October, at 9:00 p.m. ET / 2:00 a.m. BST. The Countdown to Green will start earlier than normal, but the green flag will be the same as usual. Tune in at eNASCAR.com or on the iRacing social channels.

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