The fight for the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series championship begins Tuesday at Darlington Raceway, the first race of the playoffs. Here’s how the 10 title contenders stack up as they inch closer to the $100,000-to-win championship race.
Matt Bussa, Mode Motorsports
Rank: 10 (previously not ranked)
Following a remarkable walk-off win at Michigan, Matt Bussa will represent Mode Motorsports in the playoffs. Although he’ll start this stretch of races with a level playing field in terms of points, the numbers suggest he’s got his work cut out for him. Bussa’s Michigan win was his only finish better than 20th since he came home 14th in April at Kansas. In eight starts at Darlington, his best finish was a fourth-place effort in 2018, the year he raced to the Championship 4.
Bob Bryant, Kligerman Sport
Rank: 9 (previously not ranked)
There’s no better time for Bob Bryant to get back into form than wiping the points slate clean to kick off the playoffs. Since finishing fifth in June at Pocono, the Kligerman Sport driver hasn’t logged another top-15 finish — but still narrowly grabbed the final spot in the top 10. His only start at Darlington resulted in a 29th-place finish last year.
Vicente Salas, Spacestation Gaming
Rank: 8 (previously not ranked)
It’s time to see what the rookie can do under pressure. With Darlington’s notoriously tough track and with no experience at the Coca-Cola iRacing Series level, Vicente Salas needs to start off his playoffs on the right note. However, a 39th-place finish at Michigan isn’t exactly the ideal note on which a driver would like to end the regular season.
Bobby Zalenski, Letarte Esports
Rank: 7 (+1)
It’ll be interesting to watch Bobby Zalenski’s performance in the playoffs. In the past few seasons, the road-course expert would grab the win at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval and lock into the Championship 4, but this year, there are no road courses in the playoffs. Yet, at the same time, that might not matter much; Zalenski’s lone win this year came at Pocono, an oval. In four Darlington starts, he has a 16.3 average finish, which is … average.
Jimmy Mullis, Richmond Raceway eSports
Rank: 6 (+1)
In four Darlington starts, Jimmy Mullis has a 20.8 average finish. Not super great. But Mullis has proven time and again he can bust the expectations and perform when it matters — and, now, with the playoffs here, it matters.
Graham Bowlin, Stewart-Haas eSports
Rank: 5 (-4)
Darn those 25th-place finishes! Graham Bowlin finished P25 at Michigan, snapping a three-race top-five streak. Now, he returns to Darlington, where, in his lone start in last year’s rookie campaign, he finished … wait for it … 25th.
Mitchell deJong, 23XI Racing
Rank: 4 (-1)
The top-seeded playoff driver has no Darlington experience of which to speak, y’know, since he’s a rookie. Mitchell deJong should be just fine, though; he’s logged an iron-clad 6.6 average finish in the last five races. And at the track that’s “Too Tough To Tame,” the ability to survive — something deJong’s proven consistently that he can do this year — we expect he’ll bolster that number.
Logan Clampitt, William Byron eSports
Rank: 3 (previously not ranked)
Sure, Logan Clampitt’s last top-five finish came all the way back in April at Kansas, but history suggests Darlington is one of Clampitt’s best tracks. In his five starts there, he’s finished top 10 in all of them, including three top fives. After being shut out of the playoffs the last few seasons, now racing for a championship — and kicking off at a track that’s good for the No. 97 — Clampitt should be smiling.
Keegan Leahy, 23XI Racing
Rank: 2 (+7)
We’re still puzzled by Keegan Leahy’s lack of performance in recent weeks (months?), but that should change Tuesday. The defending Darlington winner hasn’t finished worse than 10th in his three starts at the track. There’s no better opportunity for Leahy to snap his top-five-less streak that dates back to May.
Michael Conti, JR Motorsports
Rank: 1 (+3)
There may be no driver better equipped to begin this year’s playoffs than Michael Conti. While he had a relatively quiet year beyond his season-opening Daytona win, he’s managed to score more top 10s (seven) than any playoff driver in the regular season. His Darlington record is stellar, too: he’s 6-for-9 in terms of top fives (nice), and in the last three races at the track, he’s either won the race (2018) or qualified on pole (2019, 2020). Considering the playoff races before the Texas finale are Darlington, Bristol and Talladega, Conti has a great shot at making the Championship 4.
Catch the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series playoff opener 9 p.m. ET Tuesday, Aug. 31 at eNASCAR.com/live.