For Bobby Zalenski, the pressure is off for about a month. For the other nine members of the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series playoff field, the stakes couldn’t be higher.
Zalenski took full advantage of late cautions that impeded the progress of polesitter Mitchell deJong two weeks ago at Darlington Raceway to score his second win of the season and guarantee his spot in the Championship 4 next month in Texas. The action continues tonight from Bristol Motor Speedway at 9PM ET on eNASCAR.com/live, with eNASCAR team owner and NASCAR Cup Series race winner Elliott Sadler set to make a special appearance alongside the broadcast team of Evan Posocco, Steve Letarte, and Parker Kligerman.
In some ways, there couldn’t have been a more fitting driver than Zalenski to punch the first championship-eligible ticket of the year. Over the past few seasons, the road course expert took full advantage of the need to turn both left and right in the playoffs, winning his way into multiple Championship 4 appearances. But when deJong joined the series, he took the wins at both Circuit of the Americas and Road America, and Graham Bowlin beat them both at Watkins Glen, forcing Zalenski to adapt and earn a playoff spot through a victory at Pocono instead.
Instead, the pressure now turns to deJong, who was the dominant driver at Darlington and looked to have made the possible winning pass on 2020 series champion Nick Ottinger as both drivers cut through the field on fresher tires. But when a series of crashes in the closing laps sent the race to overtime, everyone had to pit, giving Zalenski the track position he needed to close it out. deJong’s rookie eNASCAR season has seen him show plenty of pace, to the tune of five poles, but he’s only got two more chances to put his first oval victory towards a Texas title bid.
Any spots in the Championship 4 that aren’t set by wins go to points, and that battle is shaping up to be a barn-burner after the playoff reset. The spread from second place deJong to seventh place Michael Conti is just 12 points, with Jimmy Mullis, Matt Bussa, Logan Clampitt, and Vicente Salas all jammed in between them. Graham Bowlin and Bob Bryant aren’t far off, either. Finally, a late Darlington wreck may have knocked Keegan Leahy to the bottom of the grid, but as one of the most consistent drivers in the series, counting him out of winning his way into a title berth is a mistake few observers would make.
Before the action gets underway, iRacing Countdown to Green will begin streaming live at 8:30PM ET/5:30PM PT. Host Amy Long will join series veterans Brandon Kettelle, Michael Guariglia, and Chris Overland to preview tonight’s race and predict the winners.
Coverage of eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series action from Bristol Motor Speedway begins at 9PM ET/6PM PT on eNASCAR.com/live, iRacing.com/live, and NASCAR and iRacing social media channels. After tonight, the playoffs will continue in two weeks’ time from Talladega Superspeedway. For more information on the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series, visit www.eNASCAR.com. For more information on iRacing and for special offers, visit www.iracing.com.