Race Weekend Central

Steven Wilson Wins, Bobby Zalenski Secures Final Coca-Cola iRacing Playoff Spot

In a season rooted in parity, Steven Wilson may have just established himself as the championship favorite in the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series.

The driver of the No. 10 Smithfield/Stewart-Haas eSports Ford captured his third checkered flag of 2022, the most of any driver, winning at the virtual Darlington Raceway on Tuesday night (Aug. 30).

“Yeah, it’s a little boost of the ego,” Wilson said. “I do have a lot of confidence this year. I’ve been pretty good at every track this season, and I was good at Bristol last year.”

Wilson’s win left one final spot available in the playoffs on points, and it was Bobby Zalenski that snagged that last position on the playoff grid with a third-place finish in his No. 18 Interstate Batteries/Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. Zalenski led 69 of the race’s 120 laps, the most of any driver.

“I’m actually pretty mad I didn’t win that race,” Zalenski said. “But I’m relieved that everything else went my way tonight and to be in the playoffs.”

With only 10 playoff spots, someone good had to be the first driver out, and that dubious distinction went to Blake Reynolds, who came up just short of racing his way into the postseason with a runner-up finish in his No. 15 Jim Beaver eSports Ford.

“Crazy night,” Reynolds said. “I did my best. I didn’t get the last spot on points, but congrats to Bobby [Zalenski].”

See also
Presley Sorah Takes Home the Championship, David Schildhouse Scores the Win in Wild MNR Finale

It was a tale of two Toyotas during the first half of the race. Defending series champion Keegan Leahy put his No. 45 23XI Racing Toyota on the pole for the 15th time in his Coke Series career. He took advantage of the top starting spot to get a good jump on the start and lead the opening laps, with Zalenski right on his tail. Zalenski pressured Leahy and eventually passed him for the lead on lap 30.

Zalenski then pulled away from Leahy and Matt Bussa as green-flag pit stops got underway, with some teams trying an alternate pit strategy to gain track position. In the middle of that pit cycle, the first caution came out on lap 58 for an incident involving Dylan Ault in the No. 40 Chevrolet and Jimmy Mullis in the No. 46 Rise eSports/Sonoco Chevrolet.

As the sun went down at virtual Darlington and the race entered its second half, new contenders rose to the front. Wilson maneuvered his car to the lead for the first time with a power move going into turn 1 on lap 77. Wilson stayed on point for 17 laps until Zalenski blew back by on lap 94.

Leahy re-entered the picture as the laps wound down, making his way back to the runner-up position and closing the gap on Zalenski. It looked as if the race would come down to a duel between the previous two Darlington winners.

However, the race’s second yellow flag on lap 115 changed everything, setting up a pit strategy opportunity. Leahy stayed out to take the race lead, while Zalenski put on four fresh tires and others took two to line up in between the two for the first overtime attempt.

On the ensuing restart, Leahy surprisingly held for most of the following lap, at least until Wilson made his way back around just before a massive wreck on the frontstretch involving several drivers. The caution came out before Wilson took the white flag, prompting another overtime restart. Wilson held off Reynolds, Zalenski and the rest of the field over the final two laps en route to victory.

Leahy pitted for tires during that caution and faded back in the running order to finish 21st. He will not have a chance to defend his 2021 Coke Series championship after missing the playoffs.

Odds & Ends

  • Paint Scheme of the Week: The Darlington race week led to a fair share of throwback paint schemes. Zack Novak brought a Dale Earnhardt Jr.-inspired paint job to the virtual Lady in Black, with an “e”-striped pattern similar to Dale Jr.’s iconic DEI paint schemes of the early-to-mid 2000s.
  • It was not hard to spot Blake Reynolds on the track on Tuesday night. He sported a brightly-colored look that harkened back to Travis Pastrana and his time in the NASCAR Xfinity Series in the mid-2010s.
  • Leahy was far from the only notable driver to miss the playoffs. Other drivers on the outside looking in include four-time series champion Ray Alfalla, 2019 champion Novak and 2017 champion Ryan Luza.

Playoff Grid

Steven Wilson 2,009 points
Nick Ottinger 2,006 points
Michael Conti 2,006 points
Casey Kirwan 2,003 points
Matt Bussa 2,003 points
Graham Bowlin 2,003 points
Mitchell Dejong 2,003 points
Femi Olatunbosun 2,003 points
Garrett Lowe 2,003 points
Bobby Zalenski 2,000 points

With the playoff field now set, the point totals for each of the 10 playoff drivers is reset to 2,000, plus three points for each regular season win. The Round of 10 consists of races at Bristol Motor Speedway, Talladega Superspeedway and Homestead-Miami Speedway. The four drivers highest in the playoff standings after Homestead will go on to the championship race at Phoenix Raceway, with the highest-finishing driver out of those four claiming the 2022 series title.

Next Race

The playoffs get underway in two weeks on Tuesday, Sept. 13 with 175 laps around Bristol. It will be the series’ second trip to Bristol this season following Nick Ottinger’s victory on the dirt configuration of the half-mile oval. The coverage begins at 8:30 p.m. ET and will be broadcast live on eNASCAR.com/liveYouTube.com/iRacing and Twitch.tv/iRacing.

MORE iRACING: JERRY NADEAU MAKES HIS DEBUT IN MONDAY NIGHT RACING LEAGUE

About the author

Andrew Stoddard joined Frontstretch in May of 2022 as an iRacing contributor. He is a graduate of Hampden-Sydney College and the University of Richmond. He is a high school history teacher and cross country/track & field coach for his day job.

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