The NASCAR iRacing.com Series World Championship kicks off its fourth season Tuesday night at 9 pm eastern time with a brand new race car and 50 drivers ready to compete for the $10,500 championship prize. NASCAR’s new Generation 6 car makes its series debut Tuesday at Daytona as 49 drivers try to dethrone two-time defending champion Ray Alfalla.
Also new for 2013 is a partnership with the Motor Racing Network (MRN). Famous for their superior radio coverage of NASCAR, MRN.com will be streaming live coverage of all 18 NiSWC races in 2013, complimenting the now-traditional broadcast coverage on iRacing Live.
The biggest change going into the 2013 season is the new car. Unlike in previous seasons where the car has only undergone minor changes, the Gen 6 car will throw drivers a big curveball. The brand new Ford Fusion joins the Chevrolet SS as the NiSWC features multiple manufacturers for the first time. All those old setups and notes competitors have gathered on the old Chevy Impala are useless now as drivers and teams have to start fresh.
The new car could be what the field needs to close the gap on Alfalla, who led the points for most of the 2012 season. Early testing has shown that the race leaders stay in more of a pack than with the old car, which could lead to closer finishes and more passing. With the closer racing also comes risk of more crashes, something Alfalla has been able to avoid for much of the last two seasons.
Capturing the three-peat will not be easy, as this may be the deepest NiSWC field in series history. Michael Conti, who matched Alfalla with an eighth place average finish, leads the charge of contenders. The 16-year-old sim racing phenom fell just short of the title last year, but now has a year of experience under his belt and is ready to take the next step.
The rest of the top five from the 2012 NiSWC season — Kevin King, Nick Ottinger and Brian Schoenburg — are also strong contenders. King, a sim racing veteran with nearly 15 years experience, is as consistent as they come. If not for some bad luck early on in the season, he would have been in the thick of the 2012 title battle with his strong second half. Ottinger is one of the strongest qualifiers in the series, but could not close the deal in many races and dealt with connection issues throughout the year. If he puts everything together for a full season, look for Ottinger to be in the title hunt all year. Schoenburg spent the first half of last season struggling to find the handle on his car, but turned it around in the second half. If he can carry that momentum into the new season, Schoenburg will once again find himself near the top.
Other veterans who had down years in 2012 could also be primed for a turnaround. Brad Davies and Josh Berry both finished outside the top 20 last year after contending for wins and the championship in years past. However, both look re-energized and ready to rebound in 2013. No one can count out Steve Sheehan either. Sheehan, one of the fastest sim racers, has been plagued by bad luck and poor pit strategy for the past couple years. Look for Sheehan to visit victory lane more than once and improve on his fifteenth place result from a year ago.
There are also newcomers to the championship from the recently concluded NASCAR iRacing Pro Series. NiPS champion Chad Laughton and runner-up Jared Crawford dominated the series and have shown they have the speed to compete for top fives and wins right away. The big question is can they keep their cool when faced with the stiffer competition of the NiSWC? Only time will tell.
Other NiPS transfers to keep an eye on include the aforementioned Berry, former NiSWC winner Jake Stergios, Dustin Montgomery and Joey Brown. Montgomery hung with Laughton and Crawford for most of the races and knows how to keep his nose clean for the end. Brown showed plenty of raw speed, averaging a sixth place start and leading 134 laps, but was involved in wrecks and finished ninth in the NiPS.
The season kicks-off tomorrow at Daytona International Speedway, in a race that promises to be much different than last year’s. The two car tandem was the fast way around the track a year ago, but the new Gen 6 car overheats quicker and is much more unstable in the draft, making tandems risky if done in the corners. Expect pack racing from start to finish along with a big crash at some point during the race. Last time the NiSWC ran in packs at Daytona (2011), Alfalla was the winner so look for him to be strong with the new package.
As always at Daytona, one of the tensest moments for many drivers will be qualifying into the field. With 50 drivers trying for 43 spots, seven drivers will start the year off with heartbreak and a massive hole to dig out of. It would not be surprising to see most of the field within two tenths of a second, or possibly even closer.
The season is upon us. Be sure to catch the action live tomorrow and all season long on iRacing Live and MRN.com. Coverage starts at 9PM eastern time. Also, stay tuned for the post-race report on inRacingNews.com, posted Wednesday morning after every race, and keep on top of all the latest developments in the iRacing World Championships on wcs.iracing.com. But wait . . . there’s more! Check out Hot Laps for an inside look at Tuesday’s 2013 NiSWC opener.