Forty drivers qualify for the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series every year. Just a quarter of that group manages to earn its way into the playoffs, and only four of that select 10 have the opportunity to compete for a driver’s championship at the end of the season. With just one opportunity to do it, those drivers have to put their best foot forward in the season finale to stake their claim of the $100,000 series title.
The stakes are higher this time around. Not only is the all-new Dale Earnhardt Jr. Trophy on the line, but the Championship 4 drivers will also be heading to the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte to do battle for it in a live event for the first time, with Earnhardt Jr. there in person to present one of them with the trophy and winner’s check. Add in the fact that none of this year’s qualifiers have won a series championship yet, making for an extra special experience for whoever comes out on top.
Each of this year’s eNASCAR Championship 4 drivers have faced plenty of adversity and stress to get this far — here’s a look at the elite quartet, their seasons so far and their other accomplishments:
What a difference two races make: After being the only driver to race his way into the eNASCAR playoffs on points, Zalenski snuck past playoff rival Casey Kirwan in a photo finish at Talladega to become the first driver to secure a Championship 4 berth with a win. Besides having a stress-free final playoff race, the Fresno native has one other advantage up his sleeve: Phoenix was the site of his first-ever eNASCAR win in 2017.
Away from eNASCAR, Zalenski is a veteran of most of iRacing’s pro esports series, having spent time in the Porsche TAG Heuer Esports Supercup and iRacing Rallycross World Championship. He’s also no stranger to the Championship 4, having used multiple road-course victories over the years to earn his way in.
Few offseason moves have borne as much fruit for an eNASCAR team as Stewart-Haas eSports’ deal to bring Wilson into their familiar No. 10 Ford. The Iowa native secured the top seed in the playoffs with three regular-season victories and outlasted the field at Homestead-Miami across multiple late-race restarts to guarantee himself a seat at the NASCAR Hall of Fame with his fourth win of 2022.
Wilson’s iRacing career has also seen him compete at the highest level of dirt oval racing, with multiple iRacing World of Outlaws ButtKicker Late Model Series appearances. In fact, he pulled double duty across both championships in 2022, cracking the podium and frequenting main events at the same time that he was pacing the eNASCAR standings.
Few members of iRacing’s oval racing community are as popular as the affable Kirwan, who has been a mainstay at XSET ever since they joined the series. After a strong summer, he punched his playoff ticket by muscling his way to the win at Pocono, and nearly got a playoff win at Talladega despite facing the same kind of contact. With a pole run at Homestead and plenty of time spent in the lead there, he’ll be heading into the finale with the right mix of momentum and something left to prove.
Kirwan is a popular iRacing streamer both during and away from eNASCAR events, having earned invitations to both Porsche TAG Heuer Esports Supercup and iRacing Rallycross all-star events. Like multiple other Championship 4 drivers, Kirwan also has experience in multiple iRacing pro series, including the iRacing World of Outlaws ButtKicker Late Model Series.
Ever since first cracking the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series, Bowlin has been a constant at the front of the field. He scored his first career series win at Watkins Glen last year by holding off two of the top road racers in the series and built off that success after a move to Charlotte Phoenix this year by returning to the playoffs with a win at Gateway. Bowlin survived a razor-thin cutoff margin at Homestead despite getting caught in a last-lap wreck across the finish line.
Bowlin’s ace in the hole is his team’s esports center in Charlotte, where he’s raced in a live environment once before; he’ll be able to utilize familiar Charlotte Phoenix equipment for the title race as well. With the home team advantage firmly in his back pocket, he’ll will be hoping to convert his first Championship 4 appearance into his first series title.