NASCAR 21: Ignition cover athletes conquer ‘cover curse’ ahead of launch

Justin Melillo

The current assembly of NASCAR drivers adorning the cover of this year’s NASCAR game have all seemingly been able to break any possible cover curse before it could ever begin for the new franchise. The standard copy of NASCAR 21: Ignition will release on 28th October with the the defending NASCAR Cup Series Champion Chase Elliott displayed alongside both Ryan Blaney and Bubba Wallace on the cover.

All three drivers represent one of the three manufacturers in the series. Their primary cars also loosely portray one of the three main colors on the NASCAR logo. The NAPA No. 9 Chevrolet of Elliott races across the cover in a primarily blue car. The red DoorDash Toyota, the No. 23 of Wallace, battles alongside Elliott. The No. 12 Menards/MOEN Ford of Blaney closes in on them both, racing in a car with a yellow body.

For a fresh start in the NASCAR gaming franchise, the thought behind all of that, whether intentional or not, is ingenious. To also pick three of the most popular up and coming drivers in the sport was also a fantastic move. It’s paid off where now where all three have visited victory lane in 2021.

While Elliott and Blaney have multiple wins this season and continue to fight for the 2021 championship, Wallace was able to secure his first career NASCAR Cup Series victory on Monday at Talladega Superspeedway. Not necessarily a surprise victory by any means as Wallace is one of the best at Talladega and Daytona since he started in the Cup Series, but possibly unexpected as the series is in the midst of the playoff battle.

A six-time winner in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, Wallace was able to withstand the snarling pack of cars behind him before weather moved in to end the race. Wallace’s first win is also the first for his 23XI Racing team Co-owned by fellow NASCAR driver Denny Hamlin and NBA legend Michael Jordan. It marked the first win for an African-American driver at the top level of NASCAR racing since Wendell Scott won in 1963.

Since the cover announcement, Blaney also stepped up his game, collecting back-to-back wins for the first time in his Cup Series career at Michigan Int’l Speedway and Daytona Int’l Speedway. Elliott hasn’t technically won since the game cover announcement eight races ago, but he already had two wins in his pocket earlier in the season at Circuit of the Americas and Road America.

The next race up is the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval, a track Elliott has two wins at in the three years that NASCAR has raced on the Roval layout. Elliott already had his hand in breaking a possible NASCAR Heat cover curse last season when he won the 2020 title. He’ll be a favorite to win at Charlotte, as well as a favorite to win the title as the Playoff Round of 12 concludes on Sunday. 

As far as past seasons are concerned, NASCAR has had a hit or miss selection of game cover drivers dating back to the Electronic Arts days. There have been few champions for the years that particular driver adorned the cover of the main game from that year. Jeff Gordon was able to accomplish it in the first game in the EA franchise, NASCAR 98. The game was released in ’97 and portrayed a hypothetical ’98 season. Gordon was the champion of the series in both years.

While Gordon was the champion of the year that NASCAR Thunder 2002 came out in 2001, he wasn’t the 2002 champion. That honor went to Tony Stewart who wound up the cover athlete on the 2004 game. Gordon shared the cover for the first time in 2006 with his teammate Jimmie Johnson. Johnson won the first of five championships in a row starting in 2006.

Other athletes did find some sort of curse in other years. Dale Earnhardt Jr went out with a concussion at the end of the 2012 season. Earnhardt Jr battled concussion issues for the rest of his career and ultimately quit racing full time after 2017.

In 2016, Carl Edwards wrecked in the finale while racing for a championship, deciding a few weeks later to retire from competition. 2018 saw four Hendrick Motorsports teammates on the cover, but it was also the first full-time season that Johnson didn’t score a victory, and didn’t win a race for the rest of his career.

Whether you believe in curses or not, the cover curse is a sports trope seen mostly as a negative for NFL Madden games. Other sporting leagues have had their fair share of curses as well, but NASCAR is somewhat different in the sense that seasons can be viewed retrospectively good or cursed.

The year Edwards wrecked racing for the title, he was a favorite to win after a successful season. Even though Johnson hasn’t won since his last cover appearance, he’s still been competitive to a point. Despite Earnhardt Jr’s concussion at the end of the season, 2012 was still the year he broke a four-year losing streak in the top level of NASCAR Racing.

The next NASCAR game releases later this month. Check out the list of some of the console NASCAR games and their respective cover athletes. Do you believe in a cover curse? Let us know in the comments!

SeasonGameCover Driver(s)Game Release Date
1998NASCAR 98 Jeff GordonOctober 31, 1997
1999NASCAR 99 Dale EarnhardtOctober 31, 1998
2000NASCAR 2000 Dale EarnhardtNovember 30, 1999
2001NASCAR 2001 Tony StewartNovember 7, 2000
2002NASCAR Thunder 2002 Jeff GordonOctober 2, 2001
2003NASCAR Thunder 2003 Dale Earnhardt Jr.September 19, 2002
2004NASCAR Thunder 2004 Tony StewartSeptember 16, 2003
2005NASCAR 2005: Chase for the Cup Kevin HarvickAugust 31, 2004
2006NASCAR 06: Total Team Control Jeff Gordon / Jimmie JohnsonAugust 30, 2005
2007NASCAR 07 Elliott SadlerSeptember 6, 2006
2008NASCAR 08 Tony StewartJuly 23, 2007
2009NASCAR 09 Jeff Gordon / Elliott SadlerJune 10, 2008
2011NASCAR The Game: 2011 Jimmie Johnson / Mark MartinMarch 29, 2011
2012NASCAR The Game: Inside Line Dale Earnhardt Jr.November 6, 2012
2014NASCAR ’14 Tony StewartFebruary 18, 2014
2015NASCAR ’15 Jeff GordonMay 22, 2015
2016NASCAR HEAT Evolution Carl EdwardsSeptember 13, 2016
2017NASCAR HEAT 2Kyle BuschSeptember 12, 2017
2018NASCAR HEAT 3Jimmie Johnson / Chase Elliott
Alex Bowman / William Byron
September 7, 2018
2019NASCAR HEAT 4Kevin HarvickSeptember 13, 2019
2020NASCAR HEAT 5Chase ElliottJuly 10, 2020
2021NASCAR 21: IgnitionChase Elliott / Ryan Blaney
Bubba Wallace
October 28, 2021

Full disclosure – Traxion.GG is part of Motorsport Games and the Motorsport Games family of brands. All Traxion.GG content is editorially removed from Motorsport Games video game development and created by a dedicated team.

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