In his first-ever eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series playoff appearance, and the series’ first-ever live finale from the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, XSET driver Casey Kirwan claimed the $100,000 series title and inaugural Dale Earnhardt Jr. Trophy by outdueling his Championship 4 rivals on Tuesday night on the virtual Phoenix Raceway. Finishing behind race winner and defending eNASCAR champion Keegan Leahy of 23XI, Kirwan withstood pressure from Joe Gibbs Racing driver and title contender Bobby Zalenski to earn the title.
“I don’t even know what to say,” Kirwan, one of eNASCAR’s most popular drivers and Twitch streamers, said at the trophy presentation. “I’ve always joked, with streaming, that I need a nice trophy for the backdrop. I’ve won a lot of big races, but they never come with trophies, and this thing’s even bigger than a stream backdrop, so I may have to work on the camera angle to make sure it all gets in there!”
All four Championship 4 qualifiers made the trip to Charlotte, racing in front of a select crowd of industry luminaries and invited guests in the shadow of the Hall’s famous Glory Road. But if the environment or any alterations from their normal setup were bothering them, none would show it; Charlotte Phoenix driver Graham Bowlin and Zalenski would take the front row in time trials, Stewart-Haas eSports’ Steven Wilson would qualify next to Leahy in fourth, and Kirwan would remain within striking distance in seventh.
Immediate back-to-back cautions were an early source of stress for the field, but when the race got going, Zalenski quickly took the hilt from Bowlin and hung on through the first half of the race. Back-to-back cautions would happen again at the midway point of the race, forcing the only pit stops of the night and shuffling up the field. Of the title contenders, Wilson would make the biggest gamble, trading two tires for track position and restarting in second.
Leahy would take the lead out of what turned out to be the final green flag of the night, and the entire Championship 4 would be making contact in the fight for second behind him soon after. But Wilson’s two-tire call and adjustments by Bowlin would cause them to falter, leaving Kirwan and Zalenski to settle it between themselves. The top three would put a huge gap on the field with Leahy firmly out in front, but Kirwan successfully defended second throughout the breakaway.
As he approached the checkered flag, Kirwan slid across the line to the cheers of those gathered in Charlotte, including his dad, who helped him relocate his sim setup from nearby Matthews, NC for the event. Kirwan accepted the champion’s trophy from Earnhardt Jr. and fielded congratulations from numerous others, from his playoff rivals to NASCAR and iRacing officials and other key figures in sim racing who made the trip to Charlotte.
In the teams’ championship, Wilson’s slide through the field still wasn’t enough to knock Stewart-Haas eSports out of the top spot. Wilson and Dylan Duval gave SHR an 18-point lead coming in over Jim Beaver eSports, but a top-10 from Duval kept them on top. Ryan Luza joined Kirwan in the top five for XSET, which snuck past JBeS into second by a single point; the three teams were separated by just six when the dust settled.
Finally, in the battle for the 20th spot in points and the final guaranteed spot in next year’s series, Leahy’s win elevated him to 19th, while top rookie Donovan Strauss of Williams Esports claimed the final spot above the cutoff by nine over four-time series champion Ray Alfalla of Joe Gibbs Racing. Alfalla will head up the drivers who will compete in the eNASCAR Road to Pro Contender Series over the next two months for a spot on the 2023 grid.
eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series Championship Finale presented by the NASCAR Hall of Fame results were as follows:
|3||2||18||Bobby Zalenski||Joe Gibbs Racing||110||-1.761||43||27.296||34|
|4||8||97||Logan Clampitt||William Byron eSports||110||-7.801||0||27.478||33|
|6||11||15||Blake Reynolds||Jim Beaver eSports||110||-8.020||0||27.390||31|
|7||24||8||Michael Conti||JR Motorsports||110||-8.111||0||27.324||30|
|8||29||31||Garrett Manes||Elliot Sadler eSports||110||-8.264||0||27.695||29|
|9||5||41||Dylan Duval||Stewart Haas Racing||110||-8.544||0||27.509||28|
|10||17||79||Femi Olatunbosun||Clint Bowyer Racing||110||-8.548||0||27.579||27|
|11||22||3||Corey Vincent||Team Dillon Esports||110||-8.564||0||27.465||26|
|12||21||75||Matt Bussa||Mode Motorsports||110||-8.803||0||27.459||25|
|13||25||9||Michael Guest||Jim Beaver eSports||110||-8.855||0||27.506||24|
|15||31||16||Blade Whitt||Wood Brothers Racing||110||-10.086||0||27.403||22|
|17||15||43||Kollin Keister||Charlotte Phoenix||110||-12.038||0||27.490||20|
|18||1||48||Graham A. Bowlin||Charlotte Phoenix||110||-12.689||10||27.275||19|
|19||10||24||Cody Byus||Mode Motorsports||110||-12.730||0||27.588||18|
|20||23||51||Ray Alfalla||Joe Gibbs Racing||110||-13.589||0||27.573||17|
|21||34||40||Dylan Ault||Letarte Esports||110||-13.748||0||27.576||16|
|22||4||10||Steven Wilson||Stewart Haas Racing||110||-14.712||0||27.314||15|
|23||20||21||Garrett Lowe||Wood Brothers Racing||110||-14.863||0||27.340||14|
|24||16||5||Zack Novak||Rise eSports||110||-15.000||0||27.629||13|
|25||37||17||Kaden Honeycutt||Roush Fenway Keselowski||110||-15.976||0||27.600||12|
|26||26||36||Brian Mercurio||Letarte Esports||110||-17.157||0||27.576||11|
|27||32||2||Liam Brotherton||Elliot Sadler eSports||109||-1L||0||27.552||10|
|28||18||88||Briar LaPradd||JR Motorsports||109||DNF||0||27.624||9|
|29||14||33||Taylor Hurst||Team Dillon Esports||104||-6L||0||27.536||8|
|30||28||20||Donovan Strauss||Williams eSports||100||-10L||0||27.740||7|
|31||27||46||Jimmy Mullis||Rise eSports||93||-17L||0||27.690||6|
|32||6||25||Nick Ottinger||William Byron eSports||64||-46L||0||27.762||5|
|33||33||12||Derek Justis||iRacing Motorsports||63||-47L||0||27.773||4|
|34||12||6||Parker Retzlaff||Roush Fenway Keselowski||56||-54L||0||27.658||3|
|35||13||7||Malik Ray||iRacing Motorsports||56||DNF||0||27.788||2|
|36||9||55||Allen Boes||Space Station Gaming||4||DNF||0||59.870||1|
|38||38||14||Nickolas Shelton||Clint Bowyer Racing||1||DNF||0||———||1|
Full eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series driver and team standings for the 2022 season can be found here.
Images via Justin Melillo