Casey Kirwan’s fifth season in the Coca-Cola iRacing Series ended on top of the eNASCAR mountain.
By virtue of his runner-up finish at the virtual Phoenix Raceway on Tuesday (Oct. 25), Kirwan became the 10th different champion in the series’ 13-year history, receiving the $100,000 championship cash prize. Kirwan held off fellow championship contenders Bobby Zalenski, Graham Bowlin and Steven Wilson.
“I don’t even know what to say,” an emotional Kirwan said after accepting the Dale Earnhardt Jr. Championship trophy from the award’s namesake. “I’ve won a lot of big races, but they’ve never come with trophies like this.”
— Justin Melillo (@justinmelillo) October 26, 2022
Kirwan won the title in front of a live audience at the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, N.C. Kirwan’s dad was among those in attendance, which made the moment that much more special for the champion.
“It meant a lot,” Kirwan said. “My dad has supported me for a long time. We’ve got 100,000 reasons to be pretty happy about the decision [to go iRacing] now. My dad has been my biggest supporter since back when I started five years ago.”
— Justin Melillo (@justinmelillo) October 26, 2022
For Zalenski, a third-place finish in the race was not enough, as his fifth Championship 4 appearance in six years ended in heartbreak once again.
“I don’t know what else I could have done in that race,” Zalenski said. “To make the final four five times and still not win it, it kills me. If I have to be the series’ Mark Martin, that’s an honor because he’s one of the greatest. That’s life.”
— Bobby Zalenski (@bobbyzalenski) October 26, 2022
Meanwhile, 2021 series champion Keegan Leahy got out in front of the championship fracas, leading the final 57 laps to take the checkered flag and end a disappointing 2022 on a winning note. Leahy’s win also helped him get back in the top 20 to guarantee his spot in the Coca-Cola iRacing Series in 2023.
“Unfortunately, I haven’t had these races when I needed this year to get the win,” Leahy said. “I’m happy to cap the year off solidly and show my face.”
The field wasted no time driving aggressively on the initial start, and that led to an opening lap caution due to a midpack wreck on the backstretch involving Collin Bowden, Ray Alfalla and Zack Novak. The messy start to the race continued on the ensuing restart with another crash toward the back of the pack. Nick Ottinger’s No. 25 William Byron eSports Chevrolet and Allan Boes’ No. 55 Spacestation Gaming Toyota were the principal cars involved in the second caution.
After a slow start, the race settled into a green-flag run. After leading the first 10 laps from pole, Bowlin conceded the lead to Zalenski on lap 11. Zalenski then set sail, opening up a gap and leading the next 42 laps. Bowlin, on the other hand, slid back to fourth place as the run went on, with Kirwan and Wilson right behind him in fifth and sixth, respectively.
The green flag stayed out for 42 laps until the third caution came out for a crash involving Dylan Ault in the No. 40 Letarte eSports Chevrolet and Briar LaPradd in the No. 88 JR Motorsports Chevrolet. This set off a wave of pit stops under yellow, with Wilson coming off pit road first among the championship contenders after taking two tires and second overall behind Leahy.
The field was unable to complete a full lap on the following restart before another wreck in the midpack triggered the fourth yellow flag of the night.
Leahy led the field back to green, with the Championship 4 drivers making up the rest of the top five. While Leahy held the lead, the racing started getting chippy between the contenders, with contact between Kirwan and Bowlin. On lap 71, Kirwan took second away from Bowlin to become the leader among the Championship 4 drivers.
As the laps clicked off, Leahy continued to lead the race as the battle for the championship was waged behind him. Wilson faded after only taking two tires on the last pit stop, and Bowlin fell outside the top 10, leaving Kirwan and Zalenski in second and third to settle the championship between the two of them. Zalenski applied the pressure, but Kirwan pulled away in the final 10 laps and held on for the championship.
Odds & Ends
- Paint Schemes of the Week: This was the last career race for Liam Brotherton, Logan Clampitt and Blake Reynolds, all of whom announced their retirement from the Coca-Cola iRacing Series at season’s end. To commemorate their final races, each driver brought back a special paint scheme from earlier in their iRacing careers.
— Drew Adamson (@thedrewadamson) October 25, 2022
- Special Awards: In addition to the championship, the Coca-Cola iRacing Series gave out a few special end-of-season awards.
- Gas Guzzler of the Year: Novak and his No. 5 Rise eSports Chevrolet team won this award for gaining the most positions throughout the season at 148.
- Paint Scheme of the Year: Reynolds took home this prize for the Travis Pastrana throwback on his No. 15 Jim Beaver eSports Ford at Darlington Raceway.
- Coca-Cola Move of the Race: Kirwan received this award for his pass for the win on Novak in an instant classic finish at Pocono Raceway.
— Blake Reynolds (@blakereynolds66) August 29, 2022
That concludes the 2022 eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series season. The 2023 season will start in February, with the full schedule to be announced at a later date.
About the author
Andrew Stoddard joined Frontstretch in May of 2022 as an iRacing contributor. He is a graduate of Hampden-Sydney College, the University of Richmond, and VCU. He has a new day job as an athletic communications specialist at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Va.
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