Ray, Manes, Bowden, Cosey Jr among those seeking first career eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series win at Atlanta 

Coming into the third race of the 2024 eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series season at Atlanta Motor Speedway, there are 16 drivers looking to score their first career victory in the series. Nearly half of the field of the 40 best stock car sim racers haven’t won at the top level. If you discount the four rookies that are brand new to the series, that’s still 12 drivers, just under one-third of the field, that are seeking that feeling that drivers like Wyatt Tinsley and Donovan Strauss have gotten in two of the last three races in the series.

Superspeedway racing isn’t for the faint of heart in the real world, with death-defying crashes and tight quarters racing. However, more times than not, the case is brought up that anyone could win them at the end of the day. In the virtual world, the same notion holds true where the racing product has a tendency to become a great equalizer, bringing many less established drivers into the mix for victory. With that said, there are still some drivers that could be considered skilled pack racers, and they seem to always end up in the conversation for the victory.

Last season at Atlanta, the eventual series champion, Steven Wilson, was able to succeed for what would be his only win of the season. Just behind him were two equally skilled racers that are often found at the front of these types of races, Kollin Keister and Michael Guest. 

If you ask many of the front runners, they’ll agree. Just as Bobby Zalenski is to eNASCAR road and street course racing, there are a number of drivers who are top superspeedway drivers, names such as Casey Kirwan who always fight for those wins. Some of the top superspeedway drivers in the series are still searching for a first win, however, and four of them in particular have a good chance at closing out the deal on Tuesday night at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Every time the series shows up to tracks like these, Malik Ray’s name is often brought up. With 93 career starts, Ray has the most starts in the series without a win, that record previously belonging to Michael Guest before his instant classic of a finish at Pocono last season, a streak that ended at 106 attempts since the 2018 season.

Last season was Ray’s best to date. Nearly a playoff driver, had Guest not won that Pocono race, he collected six top fives and eight top 10s enroute to a 15th place finish overall. Two of those finishes were runner-ups at Daytona and Talladega. “I always love superspeedways,” said Ray after crossing the line in third at Daytona earlier this season. “Anytime we go to them, I feel I always have a pretty good shot.”

That stat holds true, as he’s both a former Podium 500 winner, a Daytona 500-style community event held every start of the year, as well as a two-time eNASCAR Contender iRacing Series winner at Daytona in 2018 and 2021. “I know I’m capable of it, of winning a race,” said Ray. “I just need to put all the finishing pieces together.”

For those two races last season, as well as this year’s opener at Daytona, it was essentially a coin toss as to whether he’d be the winner or not. Talladega, in particular, Ray led just a couple hundred of feet ahead of the line. His current Spire teammate, Casey Kirwan, got the shove of a lifetime to eke by for the win. Regardless, being in the conversation as much as he’s been, it’s more of a question of ‘when’ as opposed to ‘if’.

Garrett Manes is another name that’s often brought up, and sure enough, he has the second-most starts without a victory yet. His closest chance came at a superspeedway, at Daytona, in a three-wide finish with Wilson and the eventual winner in the 2022 event, Femi Olatunbosun. “I feel like I’m strong on plate tracks,” said Manes after that race. “Honestly, Talladega, Daytona, it’s shocking. It never used to be something I liked, but plate racing has really grown on me.”

That was two years ago. Today, he may be more potent of a superspeedway racer than ever before, despite what the results show. Since the 2022 Daytona race, Manes hasn’t finished in the top 10 in any race at Daytona, Talladega, or Atlanta. Following his season-opening 13th place finish at Daytona this year, however, Manes picked up a top split iRacing Daytona 500 victory days later.

Atlanta last season wasn’t what he had hoped for either, finishing 34th, but he’s been knocking on the door more frequently. At the inaugural Milwaukee Mile visit, Manes took home a third place finish. A few months later, after a string of great results, he finished second to Tucker Minter at Charlotte. Two weeks later, his decision to lead the field to the green at WWT Raceway on older tires almost paid off in a win with an appropriately timed caution. Instead, he was the caution after contact with eventual race winner Jordy Lopez.

“Thought we had something there,” Manes wrote on X after that race. “I knew the win was unlikely, but getting cleaned out on the last lap was probably the worst case scenario. Went from P1–>P30 with 3 corners left. They’ll see us again.” 

Behind those two, there are a host of drivers in the series that joined in the last few seasons that have had a mixed bag of results. Now in their third seasons, Dylan Ault, Collin Bowden, Ryan Doucette, and Kaden Honeycutt are looking to find their way into the winner’s circle. From this particular group of veterans, Bowden’s been the closest to a win on two separate occasions, both at Talladega in consecutive years.

Back in 2023, when he pushed Kirwan around Ray for the Talladega win, who knows if we’d be talking about a Bowden win today if Kirwan stayed in line. Like Ray and Manes, Bowden is often seen at the front of these fields. Despite his results on the other types of tracks, Bowden says that this type of racing resonates with him.

“There’s maybe a handful of us, maybe five to ten people, that when Daytona, Talladega, or Atlanta roll around, we’re racing. We’re racing as much as we can,” said Bowden after his third place Talladega finish last year. “It’s an enjoyable craft for me, granted, it’s a lot of luck, but when you look at these finishes, coming to the flag to take the picture, over and over again, a lot more times than not, I’ll point out the people that are in the picture are doing this a lot. They’re racing it.”

Bowden was a player at Daytona earlier this season in his new #17 Build Submarines Mustang. He wound up 25th by the end of it. Atlanta last season was also not where he wanted to place, 31st by the end of the day after a promising run throughout. While these superspeedway tracks can be a great equalizer, Bowden argues that those who succeed are those that take the time to learn how to race it. “I always feel like I learn something in every race, ” he said. “I don’t think you can just sit around and not do these races… This package, if you do the reps, you’re going to be good at it.”

Then there’s the sophomores who haven’t won yet, a list that includes Michael Cosey Jr, Daniel Faulkingham, Tyler Garey, Timmy Holmes, Briar LaPradd, and Parker White. 

When it comes to superspeedway racing on the iRacing platform, Michael Cosey Jr might just be one of the most renowned. He’s a multi-time champion in the community superspeedway league known as RODDCAR, and he’s also a former VCO Simmy Award winner back in 2021.

Oh yeah, in 2021, he was pushed to an eRacr.gg Firecracker 400 victory by NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt Jr. If anyone knows how to win these types of races, it’s the popular streamer-turned-Coke Series competitor.

However, in Cosey’s four eNASCAR superspeedway starts, the best he’s managed is a fourth at Atlanta last season. “I feel like, with my experience on the plate stuff, even Atlanta, it’s so important to take advantage of what I can,” Cosey said after that fourth place finish. “I feel really comfortable at Richmond, but these guys are the best of the best, so I have to take advantage where I can.”

After leading laps in this season’s opener and finishing in the top 10, Cosey will be poised to finally break through and score a win on Tuesday night at Atlanta. Like he says, though. These are the best of the best. 24 drivers will be looking to add to their collection of wins as well. For Cosey, as well as Malik, Manes, and Bowden, this may be their best shots.

Most eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series starts without a win:

  • Malik Ray – 93
  • Garrett Manes – 55
  • Dylan Ault – 38
  • Collin Bowden – 38
  • Ryan Doucette – 38
  • Kaden Honeycutt – 37
  • Michael Cosey Jr – 20
  • Daniel Faulkingham – 20
  • Tyler Garey – 20
  • Timmy Holmes – 20
  • Briar LaPradd – 20
  • Parker White – 20

The quest for the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series championship, and the road to $500,000, continues tonight at 8:00 pm ET, live on eNASCAR.com/live. Tune in to the pre-race Countdown to Green starting at 7:30 pm ET.

The most recent NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series first-time winner, and longtime iRacer, Rajah Caruth, is scheduled to make an appearance on tonight’s show.

For more information on the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series, visit eNASCAR.com or iRacing.com/eNASCAR. For more information on iRacing and for special offers, visit iRacing.com.­­