Bobby Zalenski, Steven Wilson, Graham Bowlin and Casey Kirwan are the final four drivers that will compete for the 2022 eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series championship from the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
They represent two mainstream NASCAR teams in Joe Gibbs Racing with Zalenski and Stewart-Haas Racing with Wilson, and two dedicated eSports operations with Bowlin representing the Charlotte Phoenix and XSET’s Casey Kirwan.
It will be the first time that the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series competes in an officially sanctioned in-person event. Dale Earnhardt Jr will be in attendance to present the trophy, which will be named after him.
Bowlin once competed in front of a live audience as part of a promotional event for the Charlotte Phoenix. Kirwan will have home field advantage, as he lives just a short drive away from the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Bowlin and Wilson will travel from Houston and Iowa respectively. For Zalenski, it will be the first time the California-native leaves the Pacific time zone.
One of the biggest question marks for the final four drivers was what the details of their sim racing rigs would be. Each of the four drivers compete using specialized equipment that they are familiar with and accustomed to. Who can get comfortable in the environment at the NASCAR Hall of Fame will be a big factor in who takes home the $100,000 prize.
“I won’t be 100% comfortable (on the sim rig) but I’ll make do with what we’ve got,” Bowlin said.
“I’ll probably be up to speed, or at least close, I’ll just be a little bit inconsistent by like a couple hundredths, like two hundredths probably, but it’ll probably take me one race length to get totally used to it. So about 134 laps or just some practice laps and then I’ll be fine, probably.”
Wilson secured his spot in the final four with a win on Tuesday night from the virtual Homestead-Miami Speedway. It was his series-leading fourth victory of the year.
“I don’t really know if I’m bringing my own rig, I still have to work that out over the next week and a half,” Wilson said.
“It’s just going to be a lot of planning from now until then while also making sure I’ll show up no matter what equipment I have and run well. Hopefully everything equipment-wise works well and then it’s up to me on the track.
“iRacing has already asked everyone what we use so I assume that our equipment will be exactly the same or very similar, so I think it shouldn’t be too big of a problem. I think a couple test days would probably be fine for me.”
In addition to the $100,000 in prize money, the champion will take home the Dale Earnhardt Jr. Championship Trophy. Earnhardt Jr. has been a longtime supporter of iRacing and serves as the company’s Executive Director. He won the first eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series race from Daytona when the series was in its infancy in 2010.
“I wasn’t thinking that like, ‘man, this is the first race of what’s going to be this long series that’s going to be so prevalent today in the iRacing community.’ But all I remember was that I finished first in a field of the best sim racers on the service,” Earnhardt Jr. said.
“I had raced them individually at times and beat them but not all collectively. That was the best thing about the series for me, that this was the way we could collectively get everyone into the same race and really see, over time, who the best was.”