As part of winning the 2022 eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series championship, XSET driver Casey Kirwan agreed to walk us through not only his experiences on site at the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte for his $100,000 championship win, but also his visit to Phoenix Raceway to celebrate the title and even his 2022 season as a whole. Here’s a look back in Casey’s own words, accompanied by some images from his title-winning night and trip to Phoenix:
I had a lot of good momentum heading into the 2022 season after how well we ran in 2021 and also with some fresh energy switching to the #95 for 2022. We kicked things off with a win at the Clash at the LA Coliseum, which I wanted to win pretty badly just from being a fan of the whole project.
From the start of the season we had really good speed and were constantly running top 5/10 every week it seemed. Once the month of May hit was when we really started to gain momentum. I led laps and was in contention to win at Kansas and then led laps at Charlotte and Gateway and just strategy didn’t work out. Nashville and Road America we ran really strong as well and this all led into Pocono.
At this point in the season I believe there were seven or so winners, and I was starting to get a little worried not having a win and having what happened in 2021 happen again and miss the playoffs while being top five in points. Pocono has been my favorite track for a long time and I had a lot of confidence going into that race. I don’t remember exactly where we started but I remember being incredibly fast after about 20 laps into the run and driving to the lead before the first cycle of green flag pit stops.
We ended up getting caught out by a caution in the cycle and trapped us down around 15th or so I think. Somehow we worked our way back to the front and got another yellow at some point and came down to take two tires and get back towards the front. We got the lead and then lost it on multiple green-white-checkered attempts, and it all came down to the final attempt. I knew a lot was on the line and was going to do everything to not lose another opportunity on locking into the playoffs, and with quite some physical contact to the line we barely got the win and made the playoffs.
Fast forward to the start of the playoffs at Bristol. I qualified terribly and worked my way up to close to the top 10, and then got involved in a wreck and half flipped and destroyed the car. Luckily through some extra chaos we salvaged a P22 finish but we had some work to do to make the final four. I was super excited for Talladega because I’ve really enjoyed the superspeedway package in the Next Gen cars and thought I could do really well there. Well come down to the end of it I found myself pushing Collin Bowden broken away from the pack coming to the finish and ended up in a lot of contact and neither of us winning and Zalenski stealing a final 4 spot which stung being that close to being locked in with a shot at 100k but it was still solid points with a P3.
Onto Homestead, I believe from second to sixth was separated by maybe six points, and I managed to pull out to the best qualifying lap of my life and put it on pole. That speed carried throughout the rest of the race and looked like we were clear sailing to get a win and make the final 4 and then a late yellow changed all of that. Lost the lead on the final pit stop but thankfully still salvaged a P3 and made the final four.
Onto the finale. Racing inside the Hall of Fame was going to be something none of us had ever experienced. I had the luxury of being local so I tore my whole rig apart Monday night after two weeks of upwards of 2,000 laps of practice for this race and took it uptown to the Hall. Another bonus of being local was having a bunch of friends and family be able to come and watch and see a lot of familiar faces pre-race. The whole lead up to the race was super cool and feeling just any sort of atmosphere compared to being at home was awesome. Once we started the race your concentration and tunnel vision kicks in and blocks out most of the outside noise.
On the final restart I lined up fourth of the final four, and this is where the intensity really picked up. While we were all battling you could hear the crowd getting louder and really gave even more energy to the whole race. Once I had the lead and we started closing in on the finish inside 20 to go I started hearing the broadcast a bit more and hearing them get animated about some contact here and there and I was just praying for no yellow. Thankfully, a yellow never came—taking the white flag was the biggest sigh of relief of my life and it started to set in. The feeling of crossing the line will forever be etched in my memory, of just all the hard work and everything throughout my whole career paying off. It was super special to share that moment with all the family and friends I mentioned earlier being able to be there and just experience all of it.
Then to the best part: the trophy. Most won’t believe me when I say once I saw the trophy that I wanted that just as much if not more than the $100K. That’s the one downside to virtual racing: there aren’t a lot of trophies for winning things, and I’ve really wanted a nice trophy for the stream background for awhile. And for it to bear Dale’s name was super special and for him to present it with everything he’s done for iRacing and sim racing. It was also super cool to chat with Dale a bit and check out some cool cars on Glory Road after. One of the highlights of the night was heading upstairs and going to the Lightning McQueen, and taking pictures with the trophy after winning in the 95 was just perfect.
Two weeks later we got to make the trip to Phoenix for Championship Weekend. It was a super fun trip with of course getting to see all three championship races in person and in the NASCAR suite was awesome. But also meeting so many cool people and getting to catch up with some old friends I hadn’t seen in awhile. On Sunday we got to do the check presentation on stage before the Cup race and cap off an incredible weekend and year.
Huge thanks to NASCAR and iRacing for the whole experience and everything they’ve done for the series along with Coca-Cola. Also a big shoutout to XSET for the support over the past 2 years and it was super cool to get them a championship. Look forward to 2023 to try and do it all again!
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About Chris Leone
Chris Leone covers multiple iRacing World Championship series. He is the former media director of Red Bull Global Rallycross and has worked numerous stock car, open wheel, and off-road races as a writer and social media expert. Chris can be found on Twitter at @christopherlion.