Win, and you’re in. When you make it into the NASCAR playoffs, it’s the only surefire way to guarantee yourself a spot in the next round. And after 16 rounds of points racing for the top names in the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series, it’s the dominating mindset over the next three, as this year’s eight-driver playoff field hits the track at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval tonight in hopes of punching their ticket into the Championship 4.
There aren’t many surprises in this year’s playoff field, as all eight drivers have established themselves as some of iRacing’s marquee drivers. Four-time series champion Ray Alfalla is back in the mix after an uncharacteristic 2019, as are fellow past series champions Michael Conti and Ryan Luza. Keegan Leahy and Bobby Zalenski return after being part of last year’s Championship 4, while Jimmy Mullis and Garrett Lowe return from last year’s playoffs and Nick Ottinger secured his spot being the first driver out last year.
Out of that eight-driver group, Zalenski is viewed as a heavy favorite to take the checkered flag in Charlotte. A front-runner in multiple other iRacing World Championships that rely on a road racing pedigree, he’s been such a dominant force on the road courses thus far that he set the all-time margin of victory record for the series when he conquered the Daytona International Speedway road course earlier this year. Last year, when the Roval was the penultimate round of the season, he needed a win to advance to the Championship 4, and responded to the pressure by leading every single lap.
Zalenski may be seen as head and shoulders above the rest of his competitors on the road courses, but that doesn’t mean his title rivals will be fighting for table scraps if he pulls away. Conti, Ottinger, Leahy, and Mullis all finished within the top six here last year, while Mullis and Ottinger scored second and third at Daytona over the summer as Conti, Lowe, and Leahy scored top 10 finishes of their own. In a season that’s been anything but predictable, should Zalenski have any trouble along the way, it won’t be much of a surprise if another playoff driver comes out of Charlotte with the checkered flag.
Meanwhile, with just four races left in the season, the battle for the top 20 in points and a guaranteed license for 2021 looks to be just as exciting as the championship hunt. As of now, Casey Kirwan holds a four-point advantage over Matt Bussa for the final guaranteed spot, but 18th place John Gorlinsky through 25th place Kollin Keister are separated by just 25 points, and even defending series champion Zack Novak finds himself in that mix after an unlucky 2020 campaign.
eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series action from the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval 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.