It’s that time of the season again. We have reached the 2023 eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series playoffs, and it might be difficult to pick favorites with as wild as the action has been this year. However, there are some drivers who have shown more strength than others from Daytona until now. Let’s preview each of the ten playoff drivers.
Zalenski is back in the playoffs once again and comes into this year as one of the easy favorites for the title. With three wins on the year, he has shown the consistency and strength needed to win this title. Two of them have come on the road courses, but he has shown plenty of speed on ovals to be a legitimate threat. Getting to the Championship Four will not be an easy feat with this year’s field, but Zalenski should probably be penciled in to the finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway with his experience and the speed he has shown this season.
In his farewell tour to the series, Conti has arguably had one of the best seasons of his career. Picking up two wins, and being right at the front almost every single week makes him a top threat for this championship. He has been the most consistent when it comes to finishes out of anyone. The five-race stretch from Las Vegas until Chicago, when he had four top-five finishes, five top tens, and a worst finish of ninth was arguably the most impressive part of anyone’s season in the series.
While two of his last three have been weaker than the rest, the 2014 champion is showing that he is ready to go out on top.
Minter is likely the biggest surprise of the 2023 season. The rookie has impressed many this year, scoring wins at Daytona and Charlotte. Gearing up for his first playoff run, it’s hard to say that we should expect anything different than what he has already shown this season. With a total of six top-ten finishes, he has demonstrated the speed and capability to run with the best of the best. However, his last three races have been a disappointing stretch of 25th, 17th, and 36th.
The last time he finished outside the top ten for three straight races, he went on a run of four out of five races inside the top ten. While the playoffs are a different animal, Minter has had enough speed to make a run at making the Championship Four in his rookie season.
The defending champion has been quiet but consistent all year long. Two wins on the year with seven top-ten finishes show he has been in contention more times than not. He only has three finishes outside of the top 20 as well, which seems incredible for the way some of these races have gone. His current streak of four straight top-12 finishes is his longest of the year, which shows he is finding a groove at the right time. With Kirwan’s talent and speed, you can never count him out, especially after being last year’s champion. As always, you will have to keep a close eye on the driver of the X-Set No. 95.
Lopez has been a very interesting story for this 2023 season. He is another rookie scoring a playoff berth, but he has flown under the radar most of this year. Outside of his one win at Gateway, which some have labeled as controversial, he has been consistent but quiet. The outstanding statistic of Lopez’s season is the fact he has only finished outside the top 20 once. Yes, only once. It shows he has been in contention for mostly all this season, which is what you will need come playoff time. While he might not be a favorite going into the postseason, it is hard to count Lopez out. He might just sneak up and have a chance to reach that Championship Four.
Wilson has had a very up-and-down season. After scoring his lone win at Atlanta, he only had one top-ten throughout the next six races. However, he has four finishes of 11th or better in the last five races. Even with some struggles, he has been able to maintain that top 20 points standing which was required for making it to the playoffs. He had a very strong 2022 season, with a deep playoff run. While 2023 probably has not been everything he wanted, he has given himself a fighting chance in the playoffs once again. With the experience he has and the recent success, do not be surprised if he possibly steals a win with this hot streak he has been on and solidifies a Championship Four berth.
Lowe is the driver that mostly all playoff drivers should be scared of right now. Up until the race at Darlington in mid-May, he only had a total of two top-ten finishes with every other finish being 20th or worse. Then at Charlotte, something seemed to click. After winning the pole and scoring an 11th-place finish, his season started to take off. Since then, he has had three top-four finishes, including a win, with his worst finish being 19th. He is the hottest driver going into the playoffs, and he has everything clicking at the right time. As a veteran of the series, he has been in high-stakes spots before.
Even with his past success, this might be his best chance at a title. The key to the playoffs is catching fire at the right time. Lowe has done that exact thing. While it will be hard to top Zalenski, Conti, and Ottinger, Lowe should not be overlooked in the slightest bit.
After a walk-off and first-career win at Pocono Raceway, Guest snuck his way into this year’s playoff field. While he has been able to remain afloat most of the season, it has not been easy. Before his win at Pocono, he only had four top-ten finishes on the season. Many might view the 23XI driver as the biggest underdog going into the playoffs. It’s a very fair statement, but he is a veteran of the series and he knows how pressure-packed the postseason can be.
Momentum is huge in racing, virtual, or real life. By scoring that win, Guest gained some going into this year’s playoffs. While he won’t be a favorite on many people’s lists, anything can happen. One hot streak after this, and he might be able to find his way into contention with the top drivers all year.
Mullis is a driver who had to claw his way into this season’s playoff field. His big win at Nashville, which came with controversy over contact with Lowe, is what allowed him to be in this spot. While it has been a rough season for him, he has once again found himself with a chance at a championship. After that win, he followed it up with a seventh and then a 16th-place finish. Surprisingly, that was his best three-race stretch of this year. If you are gonna pick one time to have that thought, now would be the time. He has been a contender in this position before. He has the experience. He has the team. For Mullis, it has been about putting full races together and getting the result.
He’s only led laps in two races this season, but with some luck and continued consistency from the last three weeks, it’s hard to count him out. It will not be easy, but Mullis will be in the mix until the very end, as he always has been.
If you would have told me that Ottinger would make the playoffs before this season, I would have slapped a major amount of money on that bet. If you would have told me Ottinger would be the only playoff driver without a win, I would have stayed away from it. That is the case though. Ottinger has had a stellar season but has not scored the win he deserved. Three runner-up finishes with countless other top-five and tens, he is bound to break through in the playoffs. There is no doubt he is one of the favorites for the title.
While winning is important during the entire season, consistency and great finishes are what will help propel him to Homestead-Miami. A win would guarantee his spot there, but as long as he runs as he has from Daytona to Pocono, there is no reason he can’t make the Championship Four.
About the author
Brandon is a 22-year-old from NY and has been a passionate follower of motorsports for 14 years now. He recently graduated from Molloy College on Long Island with a BA in Communications. Working within NASCAR has been a dream for Brandon for a while, and he hopes to be able to live out the dream in the very near future.
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