Just under two weeks ago, the 2022 eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series Playoff field was set in dramatic fashion at Darlington Raceway. Nine drivers came into the night locked and loaded and only one spot remained for about 17 drivers to potentially take.
Four-time champion Ray Alfalla, a winner at Nashville Superspeedway, was unable to place himself in the Top 20 by the end of the Regular Season. Steven Wilson, already a two-time winner on the season, snatched his third win up at Darlington. These events forced the final spot to be decided upon by points.
Bobby Zalenski came into the Darlington race in the final transfer spot with only a small points advantage over Zack Novak and Blake Reynolds. Novak was never truly in the conversation through the night, but Reynolds strategized his way to a second place effort on the night. It would not be enough to overtake Zalenski, however. Zalenski would come home third and take the final position in the playoffs.
Ten drivers enter this week’s race at Bristol Motor Speedway with a chance to advance through to the Championship 4 at Phoenix Raceway. Bristol, along with Talladega Superspeedway and Homestead-Miami Speedway, will be the three tracks contested in the Round of 10. A win by one of the 10 playoff drivers will be automatic advancement. Otherwise, the remaining spot or spots will be filled by points.
NO. 1 SEED: STEVEN WILSON
|3 Wins||7 Top 5’s||9 Top 10’s||387 Points||Second season in eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series|
He’s the undisputed Top Seed entering the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series playoffs. Steven Wilson has had no sophomore slump to speak of in the 2022 season. After missing out on the playoffs in his rookie campaign last season due to not collecting a win, Wilson made the move from RFK Racing to Stewart-Haas Esports in the off-season, and the payoff has been huge on paper.
Working together on the backend with Deadzone Racing, Wilson has been able to lead the charge with victories at old Atlanta, Road America and his most recent one, two weeks ago at Darlington. Wilson also scored the eNASCAR All-Star victory at the Chicago Street Circuit.
Last season, Wilson finished a dismal 39th place at Bristol after a late race incident with Bobby Zalenski and Michael Conti. At Talladega, his team’s strategy was good enough for an 11th place. Homestead, the second race of 2021, saw Wilson finish 18th. While the previous results may not give much hope for this round, Wilson has still been able to improve greatly on most of his rookie finishes through this year.
NO. 2 SEED: NICK OTTINGER
|2 Wins||5 Top 5’s||8 Top 10’s||313 Points||Eleventh season in eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series|
The 2020 Series Champion, Nick Ottinger is back in the playoffs for the third time in six attempts, back when the eNASCAR playoffs were implemented in 2017. Ottinger is a perennial favorite for the title from the drop of the first flag of the season. With the second-most wins in series history, only behind Ray Alfalla, Ottinger brings more experience than almost anyone else to the playoffs as the No. 2 Seed.
Once again piloting a William Byron Esports entry for the third-straight season, Ottinger and his Team Conti backend teammate Michael Conti started off the season extremely strong. Ottinger collected the inaugural Bristol Dirt Race victory and then followed it up with a concrete ‘dub’ at Dover.
Back on the concrete at Bristol this week, Ottinger was able to finish ninth at the ‘Last Great Colosseum’ last season and has a best career finish of seventh back in 2019. Talladega was a winner for the champ last year, despite not being in the title hunt. As for Homestead-Miami, he finished seventh last season, has a career-best finish of second in 2012, and finished fourth when he won his title here back in 2020.
NO. 3 SEED: MICHAEL CONTI
|2 Wins||4 Top 5’s||6 Top 10’s||296 Points||Twelfth season in eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series|
Michael Conti made his first start in the second-to-last race of the 2011 season, but he’s been a full time threat since 2012. The 2014 champion, like his backend Team Conti teammate Nick Ottinger, has been a perennial powerhouse with nine of his previous full season campaigns ending with a Top 10 in the standings.
This will officially be the tenth Top 10 finish as he’s racing once more for his possible second title. Before Ottinger scored his two wins, Conti was able to score his before the fifth race of the season. Conti scored a victory at Las Vegas, the second race of the season. Not to have to worry late in the season whether one win would be enough, eDriver 8 got the second later in the same month at Richmond.
An unfortunate incident late in last season’s Bristol Playoff race saw Conti score a 38th. However, he does have a fourth place best effort back in 2020. Talladega was a career-best fifth place effort last season in a dominant run together with his Team Conti teammates. Conti at Homestead-Miami is hit or miss. He’s got three career third place efforts in 2017, 2018, and in his title winning season, 2014.
NO. 4 SEED: CASEY KIRWAN
|1 Win||5 Top 5’s||9 Top 10’s||364 Points||Fifth season in eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series|
The best of those with only one win on the season. Casey Kirwan did what was needed to edge out Zack Novak for a place in this season’s eNASCAR Playoffs. Granted, by the look of things, Kirwan still would have outscored Bobby Zalenski in points. However, what’s to say he wouldn’t have did what he needed to do at either Darlington or Watkins Glen?
Surprisingly, this is Kirwan’s first appearance in the eNASCAR Playoffs. In four previous seasons, he’s gotten close, being in position to be there if wins weren’t more important than points, a rule that went into effect… *checks notes*… last season. Kirwan has his win this year after winning the photo finish at Pocono. He’s also got the non-points Clash victory at the L.A. Coliseum.
Kirwan’s first career win came in 2019 at Bristol, the site of the first 2022 Playoff race. If not Bristol, Talladega might be a tough one for Kirwan based on his Coke Series history, never scoring a Top 20 in his three previous starts. Homestead-Miami was a 13th place effort for Kirwan in 2021, but he does have a Top 5 at the venue back in 2018.
NO. 5 SEED: MATT BUSSA
|1 Win||2 Top 5’s||8 Top 10’s||363 Points||Tenth season in eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series|
The third and final Team Conti backend driver in the 2022 eNASCAR Playoffs, Matt Bussa has emerged once again as a top driver in the series ever since moving from Williams Esports to Mode Motorsports. Almost a Championship 4 driver last season, Bussa has been on the come up ever since his incredible last lap pass for the win at Michigan a season ago.
Another one of the “elder statesmen” of the series, Bussa finds himself in his tenth season of competition. This time around, Bussa was able to get his win out of the way thanks to a solid strategy at Charlotte. One of the best in strategizing a win, all the cards finally fell into place for him for a solid victory. At one point, Bussa led the overall standings, a testament to his consistency throughout this year’s campaign.
While a previous best finish of ninth at Bristol in 2019, fourth at Talladega last season and eighth at Homestead in 2018 are all respectable numbers, what got Bussa to the Championship 4 in 2018 was his ability to win at Atlanta during the Playoff round. With the competition as fierce as ever, points is definitely a possibility, but a win is the only thing that will see anyone dancing for sure.
NO. 6 SEED: MITCHELL DEJONG
|1 Win||3 Top 5’s||4 Top 10’s||310 Points||Second season in eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series|
Two-for-two in making the eNASCAR Playoffs, Mitchell deJong’s sophomore season hasn’t quite been what would have been expected from the Championship 4 driver from a season ago. Despite less time near the front of the field, deJong did make the playoffs by virtue of a third career road course win at Watkins Glen a few weeks ago.
That’s more than can be said for his 23XI Racing teammate and the defending series champion Keegan Leahy. Coanda Esports did get two cars out of three into the playoffs, but Leahy will not be defending his title after a winless Regular Season. Back to deJong, an iRacing World Champion back in 2018, his path back to the Championship 4 is a much greater one than a season ago.
While deJong has finishes of fourth at Bristol, eighth at Talladega and 11th at Homestead-Miami Speedway a season ago, it’s the new car that seems to be more of a challenge than the Gen 6 from a season ago. A primarily road course racing driver, deJong will need to strike gold and finally win at an oval in the next three races, or at least find the consistency he had from a season ago.
NO. 7 SEED: GRAHAM A. BOWLIN
|1 Win||6 Top 5’s||6 Top 10’s||309 Points||Third season in eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series|
Now a third year driver, Graham A. Bowlin has been a bigger threat to the top of the leaderboard than ever before. Now driving for Charlotte Phoenix after stints at Joe Gibbs Racing and Stewart-Haas Esports, Bowlin has elevated the new team to contenders in their first season of competition.
Week in and week out, Bowlin is able to set one of the fastest laps in final practice, and will often find his way to the front during race conditions. Despite the speed, Bowlin only has been able to capture a single victory, in the inaugural eNASCAR event at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway. If Bowlin can start to translate his raw speed into better results in the Playoffs, look out!
Last season, Bowlin scored an eighth at Bristol, a 13th at Talladega, but his run at Homestead-Miami Speedway was cut short by intermittent connection issues that plagued a chunk of the field. In either 2020 event, Bowlin wasn’t able to score a Top 20 at the track. Regardless, this season has been Bowlin’s best-to-date and he could potentially play a role in the decision of the championship.
NO. 8 SEED: FEMI OLATUNBOSUN
|1 Win||3 Top 5’s||6 Top 10’s||307 Points||Second season in eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series|
In a spectacular ending to the opening round of the 2022 season, Femi Olatunbosun all but clinched his spot in the post season before anyone else. With a late push from his Deadzone Racing backend teammate Steven Wilson, Olatunbosun is racing for the title as opposed to the man he edged out, Garrett Manes.
It wasn’t just the win at Daytona, however, that made this a standout second season for the Clint Bowyer Racing driver. Olatunbosun’s rookie year with Joe Gibbs Racing was outright awful, sending him down to the Contender level to re-qualify for the series. After returning confidently through the re-qualification, Olatunbosun’s been on a tear, finishing the Regular Season inside the Top 10 in the points.
A 31st at Bristol, a 12th at Talladega and a 19th at Homestead-Miami in his rookie season doesn’t give off the strongest historical data for the sophomore. However, Deadzone in general has been pretty quick as of late. Olatunbosun definitely could shine in these next three races, especially Talladega as he’s the only one who’s won on a superspeedway track this season.
NO. 9 SEED: GARRETT LOWE
|1 Win||1 Top 5||4 Top 10’s||277 Points||Fourth season in eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series|
One might call it a chaos victory, as it was Garrett Lowe’s only win and Top 5 of the season at Kansas Speedway earlier this season, but it was an impressive chaos victory, no doubt. On the final round of pit stops, Lowe took the right strategy and made the right moves to put his Wood Brothers Racing Ford in position to win. He was able to hold off Femi Olatunbosun to punch his ticket to the Playoffs.
It’s not the first time that Lowe’s been to the playoffs, however. In fact, this will be Lowe’s third attempt to race for the title. Back in 2019 and 2020, Lowe was a threat to make the Championship 4, barely missing out in his first attempt in a fantastic battle against Blake Reynolds. This is Lowe’s fourth season of competition
It was joked before the win that Garrett was great and getting runner-up finishes. He has one of those runner-ups from a Bristol race in 2020, a third on his resume at Talladega in 2019, and a fourth place run at both a 2020 and 2021 Homestead-Miami race. Lowe could definitely be a sleeper pick to challenge the Championship 4 at the end of the season.
NO. 10 SEED: BOBBY ZALENSKI
|0 Wins||3 Top 5’s||6 Top 10’s||332 Points||Sixth season in eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series|
The only driver without a win in the 2022 eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series Playoffs, but for sure, Bobby Zalenski’s been a threat to win in some of the most recent races. Zalenski nearly won it at Darlington, had it not been for the late race yellow. His teammate at Joe Gibbs Racing, Ray Alfalla, did win at Nashville, but Alfalla didn’t have the points at the end of the Regular Season to make the Top 20.
Technically fourth in the Regular Season standings, defeating Blake Reynolds by only five points to advance, Zalenski officially hasn’t missed a playoffs yet since their inception in 2017. Zalenski has also made the Championship 4 four times in five attempts, mainly due to there being a road course in the playoffs and holding the road course crown for as long as he did.
There’s no road course, only a Bristol where he’s got a best finish of fifth in 2020, a Talladega where his best finish was fourth, also in 2020, and a Homestead-Miami where he’s got another fourth place, this time in 2019. All tracks where Zalenski’s run well at. He didn’t need a win to get this far. Can Zalenski make it to the title bout with or without one this season as well?
Tune in at 8:30 p.m. ET on 13th September to see the green flag wave on the 2022 eNASCAR Playoffs. 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.
2022 ENASCAR COCA-COLA IRACING SERIES SCHEDULE
|13-Sep-22||PO1 | 15||Bristol Motor Speedway||175|
|27-Sep-22||PO2 | 16||Talladega Superspeedway||70|
|11-Oct-22||PO3 | 17||Homestead-Miami Speedway||100|
|25-Oct-22||C4F | 18||Phoenix Raceway||110|