Six will enter Texas Motor Speedway on Tuesday night looking for a spot in the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series Championship 4. Four will go home empty handed.
With Bobby Zalenski and Nick Ottinger already accepting their dates with destiny and a shot at $100,000 by virtue of playoff wins in the last two races, the penultimate round of the season only gives the rest of the playoff drivers one shot to claw their way into third or fourth in the standings and move on. Jimmy Mullis and Ryan Luza currently hold them; Garrett Lowe is just eight points back, while Keegan Leahy and Ray Alfalla may need a little help if they don’t take the win, and Michael Conti’s only shot to move on is a checkered flag.
Leahy is the surprise driver on the outside looking in, after dominating most of last week’s race at Kansas Speedway but falling victim to a late-race accident. Last year’s championship runner-up is 19 points adrift of Luza thanks to the mishap, but with wins in the crown jewel events at Daytona, Indianapolis, and Darlington, is as clutch as any driver in the series—and won’t be taken for granted by his playoff rivals.
But if you’re looking for drivers who have won on mile-and-a-half ovals like Texas, Leahy is due to face some stiff competition. Alfalla took the top spot in Atlanta in May, while Mullis’ win at Las Vegas put him in position to force his way into the playoffs in the first place. And although the updated-for-2020 version of Texas has some substantial differences from the one used each of the last two years, Luza is the two-time defending winner at the track.
Still, it’s better to be fighting for your playoff life than your series license, and none of the top eight need worry about whether or not they’ll be back next year. Defending series champion Zack Novak, meanwhile, is on the 20th place bubble that determines whether a driver comes back or has to run the Pro Series this winter. He’s got just a four-point advantage over Christian Challiner and Matt Bussa, but is also within three points of Michigan winner Casey Kirwan for 18th as the cutoff line continues to tighten. The gap between Kirwan and 26th place Eric Smith is just 20 points, meaning a surprise victory by a bubble driver in the next two rounds could be the difference between punching your ticket into the series in 2021 and a stressful December.
eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series action from Texas Motor Speedway kicks off tonight at 9PM ET on eNASCAR.com/live and the iRacing Facebook, Twitch, and YouTube pages. NBC Sports NASCAR analysts Steve Letarte and Parker Kligerman will join tonight’s broadcast. For more information on iRacing and for special offers, visit www.iracing.com.