February 8th, 2021 by Chris Leone
The wait is over: 40 of the top iRacers in the world finally take the green flag on the 2021 eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series season tonight at Daytona International Speedway. And after multiple years of explosive growth across the series (and sim racing as a whole), what we see on track tonight just may foreshadow the most intense eNASCAR season yet.
The 18-race calendar sees an expanded prize pool to $330,000, multiple new teams on the grid, and a ton of major offseason driver moves. Of last year’s Championship 4, Nick Ottinger returns to William Byron eSports to defend his title, and Michael Conti continues his relationship with JR Motorsports, but Bobby Zalenski (Letarte Esports) and Ryan Luza (XSET) have each moved on to new pastures.
It’s like that down most of the grid, as many returning teams have entirely new driver lineups and some rookies in high-profile spaces. The rebranded Kligerman Sport will put its faith in 2020 Pro Series champion Isaac Gann to replace Logan Clampitt, who moved on to partner with Ottinger and won last week’s non-points Clash. Meanwhile, Mitchell deJong, a regular among multiple other iRacing World Championships, will join Keegan Leahy as Denny Hamlin Racing rebrands to 23XI for 2021; he’ll race the same #23 Toyota that Bubba Wallace will debut in this weekend’s Daytona 500. Williams Esports will even field two rookies for this year, including Jake Matheson, who was the top-finishing rookie in the Clash in fourth.
If you watched the Clash and are tuning in tonight, don’t expect quite the same level of aggression throughout the field as you saw last week. Slowed by seven cautions, the Clash featured what would be uncharacteristically aggressive driving for a Daytona points race, as well as drivers trying out alternate strategies in hopes of learning something for tonight. Last year’s event went caution-free, with the only wreck coming after drivers made contact in the middle of the field in the tri-oval with the checkered flag in sight.
That said, if there’s one thing to take from the past few years, it’s that a charge to the championship begins with a good finish at Daytona. Ottinger finished second to Leahy on the way to the 2020 title, while Zack Novak’s 2019 championship began with a win here. The last time the eventual series champion didn’t come from the top 10 at Daytona was 2015, when Kenny Humpe finished 14th.
Coverage of the 2021 eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series opener from Daytona International Speedway begins at 9PM ET/6PM PT on eNASCAR.com/live, iRacing.com/live, and NASCAR and iRacing social media channels. After tonight, the season continues on February 23 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, where Chris Shearburn won last year’s season finale as Ottinger claimed the title. 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.