Coke Series 2021 Season Opener Preview Enascar

Previewing tonight’s Coca-Cola Series season opener

The eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series kicks off its 2021 season Feb. 8 with a trip to the virtual Daytona International Speedway. Here’s everything you need to know.

What is this?

Now in its 12th season, the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series features 40 of the world’s best sim racers competing head-to-head using the iRacing simulation platform, racing virtual replicas of NASCAR Cup Series cars on digital versions of real NASCAR tracks.

Who’s racing?

The Coca-Cola iRacing Series is comprised of 40 esports pros who qualified through iRacing’s ladder system. The top 20 drivers from last year’s Coca-Cola iRacing Series return, plus a new crop of talent graduating from the winter iRacing Pro Series.

No NASCAR Cup Series drivers are competing in the field – at least this year. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Timmy Hill have competed – and qualified just like everybody else – in seasons past. (If you’re looking for NASCAR stars competing on iRacing, you might want to check out the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series, which returns for 2021.)

The 40 Coca-Cola iRacing Series drivers teamed up over the winter with 20 real-world NASCAR teams and pro esports organizations to form this year’s lineup:

No. 1: Garrett Manes (R), Elliott Sadler eSports

No. 2: Ashton Crowder, Elliott Sadler eSports

No. 3: Corey Vincent, Team Dillon eSports

No. 4: Ryan Michael Luza, XSET

No. 6: Nathan Lyon, Roush Fenway Racing

No. 8: Michael Conti, JR Motorsports

No. 9: Michael Guest, Jim Beaver eSports

No. 10: Graham A. Bowlin, Stewart-Haas eSports

No. 11: Malik Ray, Spacestation Gaming

No. 14: Blade Whitt (R), Clint Bowyer Racing

No. 15: Caine Cook, Jim Beaver eSports

No. 16: John Gorlinsky, Wood Brothers Racing

No. 17: Steven Wilson (R), Roush Fenway Racing

No. 18: Femi Olat (R), Gibbs Gaming

No. 21: Garrett Lowe, Wood Brothers Racing

No. 23: Mitchell deJong (R), 23XI Racing

No. 24: Jake Nichols, Mode Motorsports

No. 25: Nick Ottinger, William Byron eSports

No. 29: Zack Nichols (R), Williams Esports

No. 32: Keegan Leahy, 23XI Racing

No. 33: Taylor Hurst, Team Dillon eSports

No. 36: Chris Shearburn, Letarte Esports

No. 37: Derek Justis (R), JTG Daugherty Racing

No. 38: Casey Kirwan, XSET

No. 41: Dylan Duval, Stewart-Haas eSports

No. 44: Isaac Gann (R), Kligerman Sport

No. 46: Jimmy Mullis, Richmond Raceway eSports

No. 47: Brian Schoenburg, JTG Daugherty Racing

No. 51: Ray Alfalla, Gibbs Gaming

No. 52: Jake Matheson (R), Williams Esports

No. 55: Vicente Salas (R), Spacestation Gaming

No. 66: Blake Reynolds, McLaren Shadow

No. 67: Allen Boes, McLaren Shadow

No. 75: Matt Bussa, Mode Motorsports

No. 77: Bob Bryant, Kligerman Sport

No. 79: Ryan Doucette (R), Clint Bowyer Racing

No. 83: Bobby Zalenski, Letarte Esports

No. 88: Brad Davies, JR Motorsports

No. 90: Zack Novak, Richmond Raceway eSports

No. 97: Logan Clampitt, William Byron eSports

What’s at stake?

Ah, the big question. Glad you asked. This year, a record $330,000 is up for grabs over the 18-race season. 2020 champ Nick Ottinger walked away with $100,000 last year – not to mention a couple of other perks.

What’s new for this year?

We’ll keep it simple:

– The prize pool expands to $330,000.
– The 18-race schedule adds two new tracks, Circuit of the Americas and Road America.
– The season wraps up at Texas Motor Speedway for the first time ever.
– The playoff field expands from eight drivers to 10 drivers.
– A win-and-in format will be used to determine playoff drivers (assuming they’re ranked in the top 20 when the playoffs begin). Previously, drivers had to rank in the top eight to make the playoffs, regardless of win status.
Four new teams have joined the series: McLaren Shadow, Elliott Sadler eSports, Spacestation Gaming, and XSET. (And Denny Hamlin Racing will take over the 23XI Racing name.)
– Eleven rookies will make their debuts: Mitchell deJong, Ryan Doucette, Isaac Gann, Derek Justis, Garrett Manes, Jake Matheson, Zack Nichols, Femi Olat, Vicente Salas, Blade Whitt, and Steven Wilson.

What are the storylines?

1. The big prize
Everybody wants a piece of that $330,000. A new season means a fresh start, and oftentimes that means the season opener at Daytona can set the tone for the season – take last year, for example, where the top three finishers all ended up racing their way into the playoffs (including eventual champ Nick Ottinger, who finished second by a nose).

2. A seat for next year
Priorities in the Coca-Cola iRacing Series are straightforward. If you can’t win the championship, make the playoffs. If you can’t make the playoffs, finish top 20 in points – and for good reason. The top 20 drivers are guaranteed a spot in the following year’s field. Sure, it’s a little early to start thinking about 2022, but expect to see drivers complete every lap of every race in order to dodge relegation. Finishing in the bottom half of the points standings means a driver will have to claw their way back up to the Coca-Cola iRacing Series over the winter, mixed in with up-and-coming talent in the iRacing Pro Series.

3. New teams
With Elliott Sadler Esports, McLaren Shadow, Spacestation Gaming and XSET throwing their hats (headsets?) into the ring, they’re going to expect success, even against the heavy hitters of the Coca-Cola iRacing Series. Like any racing series, there are sponsors to keep happy and there are names to be made.

4. A crowded rookie field
Over a quarter of the field will take the green flag for the first time at the top level Monday – an insanely full crop of rookies. Unproven talent mixed with plenty of series veterans makes for an interesting mix; it’s tough to predict which drivers will stand out and who will struggle. The 2020 Coca-Cola iRacing Series typically featured below-average caution counts – will inexperience, combined with the already-high stakes, create chaos?

5. Win-and-in playoffs
Unlike previous seasons, a win in the regular season will mean a driver nabs a spot in the 10-driver playoffs (assuming they still finish top 20 in points). Previously, a driver had to put together a consistent season and finish the regular season top eight in points – regardless of win status. Consistency is still important, but a win from a driver who’s exceptionally good at superspeedways (draft-wizard Malik Ray comes to mind) could start the season off on the right note by making the playoffs right out of the gate with a Daytona win.

How do I watch?

The season opener at Daytona airs tonight, Monday, February 8 at 9:00 p.m. ET.

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