Could the Top 20 cut line affect the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series playoff picture again in 2024?

Win and you’re in’ is a popular tagline in the current-day NASCAR playoff system. Whether it’s the Cup Series, Xfinity Series, Craftsman Trucks, or even the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series, the only sure way to compete for a title is to collect a victory during the regular season.

There are some stipulations, however. In the real-world action, drivers need to attempt every race, or in worst case scenarios, be approved for a waiver to utilize a win towards the playoffs. Winners also have to watch their points in case there are more winners over the course of the year than there are playoff spots.

These stipulations also apply to the virtual competition, where drivers need to attempt 12 of the 14 events and be one of the top 10 when it comes to those who have won. More importantly, as we’ve seen in recent years, is the caveat of the top 20 cut line being in play.

As it stands in 2024, there have been five winners in five races. Two of those winners, however, are currently on the outside looking in.

A QUICK HISTORY LESSON

The first year that the win-and-in system was adopted in the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series was 2021. In the 14-race regular season, there were 13 different winners, and only 10 spots for the playoffs.

Three drivers were left on the outside looking in. Las Vegas winner, Ryan Luza, Kansas winner, Chris Shearburn, and Charlotte winner, Ray Alfalla, were behind ten other drivers in the points standings by the end of the regular season. There were even a handful of drivers who sat in the top five in the standings at the end of the regular season who weren’t able to compete for a title because of not having that win ticket.

Luza was above 20th place, which means he would have made the playoffs had Matt Bussa not walked off into the playoffs with a win at Michigan. Both Shearburn and Alfalla would have missed it either way, not being one of the ten top winners and not being above 20th place.

Then, in 2022, Alfalla collected his 27th career victory at Nashville, at the time becoming the eighth different winner of the season in 10 races. He’d be 15th in points leaving Nashville, but only three races later, after Watkins Glen, Alfalla was 23rd in points, below the top 20 line and behind nine other winners.

What seemed to be another golden ticket for another chance at a fifth title began to rip apart entering the 14th and final regular season race at Darlington. If there was a new winner ahead of him in points, or if he couldn’t make it back into the top 20, he would not compete for a title and instead would be in the fight for his Coke Series life, contesting the top 20.

While 2023 didn’t have the same drama as the previous two seasons, could 2024 be setting up for said history to repeat?

AFTER BRANDS HATCH…

Two winners in the 2024 season currently find themselves below that 20th place line after the fifth race of the year at Brands Hatch. Las Vegas winner Keegan Leahy (23XI) and Atlanta winner Malik Ray (Spire Motorsports) are both on the outside looking in, but they’ve both still got nine races to figure it out.

The other three winnersWyatt Tinsley, Steven Wilson, and Bobby Zalenskiall find themselves in the top seven leaving Brands Hatch. It’s not a sure bet that they’ll be racing for the title, but they are surely in a better position to be than the other two. 

However, I’m not particularly worried for either Ray or Leahy just yet.

Keegan is a past champion of the series, and while his win was a bit of a surprise earlier this season, that doesn’t take away from the fact that he’s yet to be relegated out of the series in his illustrious career. It was close last season, winning a tie-breaker to take 20th. Still, Leahy has a solid team around him and could be a threat any race week.

As for Malik, he’s been on the rise since the start of the 2023 season. Even without a win last year, it was his best season-to-date, and that momentum carried into a victory early into the 2024 season at one of his best tracks. Brands Hatch wasn’t kind to him, and with that 34-point Daytona penalty still looming over him, his current position doesn’t truly tell the whole story.

LOOKING AHEAD

Dover could prove to add another new winner on Tuesday night. William Byron eSports’ Nick Ottinger is always a threat, having won the last three straight. Ottinger is already up there in points, as well, only behind Casey Kirwan and Steven Wilson. After Dover, Talladega could also add a new winner, being the great equalizer that it is. 

When the series gets to Charlotte, however, new winners could start to become scarce. Charlotte, Darlington, Iowa, and Nashville are tracks that the top drivers already will likely find more success. 

Sure, there are threats like Ottinger, his teammate Tucker Minter, BS+COMPETITION’s two zebras Garrett Lowe and Jordy Lopez, and more who could win at any given moment. On the other hand, Steven Wilson is really good this season, and it wouldn’t be completely out of the question to see the defending champion knock off a couple more wins before the playoffs begin.

Previous eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series winners that are winless so far in 2024:

  • 1st, Casey Kirwan (5 wins)
  • 3rd, Nick Ottinger (20 wins)
  • 4th, Vicente Salas (1 win)
  • 8th, Zack Novak (6 wins)
  • 9th, Donovan Strauss (1 win)
  • 10th, Kollin Keister (1 win)
  • 11th, Matt Bussa (3 wins)
  • 13th, Tucker Minter (3 wins)
  • 14th, Jimmy Mullis (6 wins)
  • 17th, Garrett Lowe (4 wins)
  • 20th, Jordy Lopez (1 win)
  • 23rd, Michael Guest (1 win)
  • 24th, Darik Bourdeau (1 win)
  • 26th, Graham A. Bowlin (2 wins)
  • 27th, Dylan Duval (1 win)
  • 29th, Femi Olatunbosun (1 win)
  • 30th, Ryan Luza (17 wins)
  • 32nd, Taylor Hurst (1 win)
  • 38th, Cody Byus (1 win)
  • 40th, Ray Alfalla (27 wins)

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.

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.­­