A new driver will hoist the eNASCAR PEAK Antifreeze iRacing Series championship trophy on Oct. 10 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. With the Championship 4 set following the Charlotte Roval elimination race, it’ll be winner-take-all on national television for a $40,000 top prize.
Here’s what happened Tuesday night at the virtual Charlotte road course.
Finally, a playoffs driver won a race in the playoffs.
Bobby Zalenski — who entered Charlotte 54 points out of the lead and ranked last in the playoff standings after a late-race fuel mishap at Indianapolis — rose to the occasion and scored the first victory for a championship-competing team in the 2019 playoffs.
The Joe Gibbs Racing driver won the pole and led every lap of Tuesday night’s showdown at the Charlotte Roval — a statement victory that put his No. 18 Toyota in the championship race.
— Bobby Zalenski (@bobbyzalenski) September 25, 2019
Zalenski’s stomping of the field was his fourth consecutive road-course victory, maintaining his 100% record since his series debut in 2017. The last driver not named Bobby Zalenski to win on a road course was PJ Stergios in August 2016 at Watkins Glen.
It was the performance Zalenski needed, and he executed it flawlessly.
The Championship 4 is set. The highest-finishing driver of these four on Oct. 10 at Homestead-Miami Speedway wins it all.
Meet your PEAK @iRacing Series Championship 4:
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) September 25, 2019
Bobby Zalenski, Joe Gibbs Racing
The master of turning right now has five career victories — and four of them are on road courses. He’ll likely need to improve on his 9.0 average finish at Homestead to bring home the money, however.
Yes! We’re going to the @iRacing #Championship4 race at virtual @HomesteadMiami!@bobbyzalenski dominates and wins the #Roval! #TeamInterstate & #TeamToyota are going for an #eSports Championship! He worked his tail off. pic.twitter.com/FDYJxWuTfg
— Joe Gibbs Racing (@JoeGibbsRacing) September 25, 2019
Keegan Leahy, G2 Esports
Most of the competition considers Leahy the driver to beat at Homestead. His impressive count of 11 top-five finishes in 17 races this year exceeds any other driver (the next has seven), and the No. 62 has had green-flag speed unlike any others, particularly on larger, faster, aero-sensitive tracks — you guessed it, just like Homestead. Despite the speed, the PEAK iRacing Series’ fastest Canadian driver hasn’t visited Victory Lane since June at Chicagoland.
YES! I brought it home 5th and locked myself into the big finale. I'll be going up against some very tough competition. No idea how it will play out; I just know I'll be giving it my best shot for myself and for everyone who supports me.@realVRS @G2esports @CoandaSimsport pic.twitter.com/UvoPxslb6S
— Keegan Leahy (@KeeganLeahy) September 25, 2019
Zack Novak, Roush Fenway Racing
Nobody has won more races than Novak in 2019, yet he nearly didn’t make the playoffs. Since then, he’s had a just-safe-enough stretch of races to put him in championship contention — and his stats on intermediate speedways this year shouldn’t be ignored. He won at Kansas and Kentucky, and likely would have won Charlotte had connection issues not plagued him late in the race — not to mention near-wins at Darlington, Las Vegas and Auto Club.
Very solid finish for our #6 @PerformancePOil @roushfenway Ford tonight. We set our goal at a top-15 and did exactly that. Should've qualified better but I put myself in a slight hole to start and just rode for most of the race. On to Homestead to race for our first eNPAiS title! pic.twitter.com/77IRtp5SJD
— Zack Novak (@znovak15) September 25, 2019
Blake Reynolds, Team Dillon Esports
Still winless, Reynolds has been the model of consistency throughout 2019. Reynolds held on to stay ahead of hard-charging rookie Garrett Lowe and claim the final championship spot on points. The two entered Charlotte tied for third in points — but Bobby Zalenski’s victory turned it into a fight for the final playoff spot. Reynolds and Lowe ran together on the track much of the night, culminating in a spirited, contact-riddled battle late in the race that elevated the No. 30 into championship contention.
Wow. We just did that. The @TeamDillonMgmt @BN3THapparel Chevy was insane and got me into the championship 4! This team has fought so hard to get this and I'll make the most of it! Prep for @HomesteadMiami starts tomorrow 😄 pic.twitter.com/yzTaiVeHpM
— Blake Reynolds (@breynolds_66) September 25, 2019
We say so long to four drivers in the playoffs, too.
Garrett Lowe, Team Renegades
Just a few points shy of competing for the championship after a tough fight with Reynolds, it’ll be tough for Lowe to lament his rookie season, where his initial goal was to finish top 20 in points — until he started regularly contending for wins, including scoring his first at Michigan.
Michael Conti, JR Motorsports
Driver No. 8 didn’t make the cut, but it wasn’t for a lack of effort. There was no argument he was the second-best driver at the Charlotte Roval, but when the winner comes from below the cutline, second isn’t quite enough.
Ryan Luza, FlipSid3 Tactics
It seemed Luza was the clear championship favorite early in the season when he went three-for-five with race wins, but a rough summer stretch knocked Luza off the throne, and the bleeding didn’t stop in the playoffs. With his last shot to claw back to the top four at a road course — his kryptonite — title No. 2 wasn’t meant to be this year.
Jimmy Mullis, Richmond Raceway Esports
Despite a valiant effort to finish sixth at Charlotte, rough opening rounds of the playoffs mired the Pocono winner 25 points below the cutline before the green flag Tuesday. Expect Mullis to come back with a vengeance in 2020.
Catch the 2019 eNASCAR PEAK Antifreeze iRacing Series championship finale at 5 p.m. ET on Thursday, Oct. 10 on NBCSN.