The Championship Four who will fight for $100,000 and the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series championship at the NASCAR Hall of Fame are set. The group features a former champion, a veteran back in the championship four with another shot at the crown, and a pair of drivers, including a rookie, making their championship four debut.
Garrett Lowe, Nick Ottinger, Steven Wilson, and Tucker Minter will be alongside each other in two weeks at the NASCAR Hall of Fame to decide who will take home the 2023 title. Wilson, despite claiming his car was killed after being involved in a wreck, recovered to clinch his spot in the championship four via points over the three rounds of the playoffs while Lowe, Ottinger, and Minter secured their spot by winning one of the playoff races.
While any victory in the ultra-competitive eNASCAR series requires some good fortune, most pale in comparison to the swing of luck, and emotions, that came with Minter’s win from the virtual Phoenix Raceway.
Minter had passed and pulled away from reigning champion Casey Kirwan with under 20 laps left to run. The only thing that could stop Minter from securing the win, and the coveted spot in the championship four that came with it, was a caution. That’s what he got.
Minter was now faced with the difficult question of whether to pit for fresh tires and risk the majority of the field staying out, or stay out himself and hope enough cars followed his lead to build a big enough buffer between himself and those on new tires.
He opted to stay out but watched in dismay as Casey Kirwan led the majority of the race’s 38 other drivers down pit road. Just two others chose to stay out with Minter. His cushion to those on new tires was non-existent, Kirwan would start on the row behind him.
Minter punched his desk in frustration, “I can’t believe this has happened to me,” he said. “I’ve done everything right all race, I qualified well, I drove back to the lead after getting shuffled back, and now it’s all falling apart because of a late race caution.”
The one thing that could save him now was the one thing that ruined him just moments before. After wishing against a caution for a dozen laps, Minter soon found himself desperately needing plenty over the course of the next dozen.
First, Minter needed a quick caution to send the race to overtime, and he got it. Then, he needed a quick caution to get to the second overtime – and he got it. He needed a quick caution to get to the third overtime; he got it. Finally, he needed a fourth quick caution to end the race before reaching the white flag. He got it.
On multiple restarts, the caution flew just feet before the field made it the white flag with Minter narrowly ahead of Kirwan and Bobby Zalenski. With all three of them in need of a win to make the championship four, the margins could not have been any closer. Each time the yellow appeared, it was Minter who had his nose ahead of the rest.
The astonishing change of fortune for Minter will allow him to fight for $100,000 at the NASCAR Hall of Fame, the same venue where a year ago he watched in the crowd, as a fan. He looked on awe as Dale Earnhardt Jr., his childhood hero, mingled with the drivers and presented the trophy to Casey Kirwan, the driver he had just now beaten to secure his spot in Charlotte.
Minter’s journey from fan to potential champion has been remarkable, with his goals rising ever higher as he eclipsed milestone after milestone. As a rookie in the series, he entered the season just hoping to avoid relegation. That goal was squashed with two wins on the season, including the first race of his eNASCAR career in the season-opener from Daytona.
Now in the playoffs, the rookie was up against a stacked field of veterans like Michael Conti, former champions such as Kirwan and Nick Ottinger, and even a fellow rookie, Jordy Lopez, who had shown just as much promise. A 24th-place finish in the opening race of the playoffs at Michigan was partially offset by a fifth place two weeks later at Dover, but Minter was still on the outside looking in.
Whether the 22-year-old from Virginia would again be able to ratchet up his expectations was going to come down to the penultimate race of the season. Needing a win, he got it.
Aside from preparing for the biggest race of his life, he’ll have to reschedule the first exams of his college semester. They’re currently slated for the day before the finale, a date Minter is unlikely to be available for.
He wanted to avoid relegation, and he did. He wanted to make the playoffs, and he did. He wanted to make the Championship Four, and he did. Now with a title on the line, it’s time to raise the expectations again.