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2020 TReSports ePreview: Joe Gibbs Racing

EDITOR’S NOTE: Welcome to the twelfth installment of the 2020 TReSports ePreview! The 2020 eNASCAR iRacing World Championship Series kicks off on February 11th, 2020, at the virtual Daytona International Speedway. The goal is to have a preview for each team out before that date.

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Joe Gibbs Racing’s “Gibbs Gaming” eNASCAR iRacing World Championship Series team will feature Graham Bowlin and Malik Ray in the 2020 season. Logos from Joe Gibbs Racing, Numbers from Big EVIL Racing + Designs.

Coming off of a season in the NASCAR Cup Series that included:

…among other incredible accomplishments, Joe Gibbs Racing had quite the calendar year in 2019.

On the eNASCAR side of things, Joe Gibbs Racing started up their new affiliate eSports team, Gibbs Gaming, to compete in both the eNASCAR Heat Pro League and the eNASCAR iRacing World Championship Series.

After the 2020 free agency period saw both of their 2019 drivers leave, Joe Gibbs Racing will have a brand new look for their 2020 eNASCAR iRacing World Championship Season team.

Last year, Bobby Zalenski led the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota to the Championship 4 battle in Homestead-Miami Speedway.

This year, Graham Bowlin will take control of the famed No. 18 for his rookie campaign in the eNASCAR iRacing World Championship Series.

Bowlin collected two victories in the iRacing Pro Series in 2019, and finished the seven-race season in second place overall, three points shy of the title that was won by Ray Alfalla.

Looking forward to the season, Bowlin says that he’s got a lot of confidence to perform well in 2020.

“I’m excited,” Bowlin said. “I’m a rookie, so it’s nothing but steps forward from here. I’m ready.”

The No. 20 Toyota will change over to the No. 51 Toyota in 2020, and Malik Ray will be the new driver behind the wheel.

2019 was Ray’s rookie season, and in 17 starts, he drove the No. 90 Sunoco Toyota to four Top 10 finishes, including a third place finish at Pocono Raceway.

“It’s nice to be coming back into the series,” Ray said. “The series this year has gotten even bigger than it was last year, and last year was already pretty big.

“I’m driving for Joe Gibbs this year… it’s going to be a different experience driving for someone else this year.”

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Bobby Zalenski was victorious at the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL on September 24th, 2019. Photo by Justin Melillo / TRE via iRacing.com.

2019 JOE GIBBS RACING RECAP

In the 2019 eNASCAR iRacing draft, Joe Gibbs Racing took Bobby Zalenski with the fifth pick, and Jake Nichols with the 20th pick.

Out of the gate, Zalenski showed that, as usual, he was ready to compete for a championship once again.

Zalenski collected three-straight Top 10 finishes at Daytona International Speedway, Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and Auto Club Speedway to kick off the 2019 season.

Nichols, meanwhile, played the consistency game for a good part of the season. Nichols had seven-straight finishes between 11th and 19th to start off the season, and that kept him at a decent spot in the standings at that point.

In his first two seasons in the series, Zalenski collected three career victories, and two of them had come at Sonoma Raceway.

When the series visited Sonoma Raceway on June 11th, it was no surprise that Zalenski took the pole, led all 55 laps, and went on to take his third straight victory at the road course.

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Jake Nichols pilots the No. 20 TRD Toyota Camry to his first Top 10 finish of the 2019 season at Pocono Raceway on July 23rd, 2019. Photo by Justin Melillo / TRE via iRacing.com

Coming down the stretch to the playoffs, Nichols was on a run of finishes outside of the Top 20, from Charlotte Motor Speedway to Kentucky Speedway.

At Pocono Raceway, his fortune changed, as Nichols took home his first career Top 10 finish with only two races to go until the Playoffs.

Zalenski continued his hot streak after the Sonoma victory, taking two more Top 5 finishes and four more Top 10 finishes in the final five races in the regular season.

The late season effort placed Zalenski safely in the playoffs, but unfortunately for Nichols, he was too far out to have a shot in the regular season finale.

Zalenski had a tough start to the playoffs, with a 21st place effort at Darlington Raceway and a 36th place effort at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He went into the race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL in a must-win scenario.

He did just that, holding off Michael Conti to advance to the Championship 4 event at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

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Bobby Zalenski (18) battles Zack Novak (6) at Homestead-Miami Speedway on October 10th, 2019, with the championship on the line. Zalenski wound up finishing fourth in the race, and third in the standings. Photo by Justin Melillo / TRE via iRacing.com.

Zalenski was a factor in the finale, a constant running in the Top 5 all night. It wasn’t enough, however, as both Keegan Leahy and the eventual champion, Zack Novak, were able to pull away and battle amongst themselves for the title.

Zalenski wound up finishing fourth in the event, and third in the final points standings.

Nichols finished 11th in the season finale, and that placed him 13th overall in the final points standings.

In the offseason, Zalenski made his move over to the new Virtual Racing School team, while Nichols took his talents over to Kyle Long’s Mode Motorsports for the upcoming 2020 season.

Joe Gibbs Racing had two seats to fill during the free agency period, but they didn’t miss a beat, and got two up-and-comers in the series heading into Daytona.

MALIK RAY AND GRAHAM BOWLIN JOIN JOE GIBBS RACING IN 2020

Ray joined the eNASCAR iRacing World Championship Series for his rookie campaign in 2019.

Drafted by Richmond Raceway eSports 14th overall, Ray was poised to turn some heads in his first go in the series.

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Malik Ray finished a career-best third place at Pocono Raceway on July 23rd, 2019. Photo by Justin Melillo / TRE via iRacing.com.

In the first ten races of the 2019 season, Ray collected three Top 10 finishes and had three more finishes between 11th and 19th.

Ray missed Sonoma, which put him in a hole heading towards the playoffs, but a third place effort at Pocono Raceway highlighted the season for the No. 90 team.

At Homestead, Ray closed out the season with a 12th place finish, and wound up finishing 18th overall in the points standings.

Ray would not return to Richmond Raceway eSports in the 2020 season, his ride going to the 2019 champion, Novak.

Still, Ray was able to find a home with Joe Gibbs Racing fairly quickly during the free agency period, and says the goals for the upcoming season are simple.

“I’m trying to make the playoffs,” Ray said. “I want to win at least two races.”

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Graham Bowlin crosses the line as the winner at Richmond Raceway in the iRacing Pro Series on November 5th, 2019. Photo by Justin Melillo / TRE via iRacing.com.

As the 2019 eNASCAR iRacing World Championship season came to a close, the 2019 iRacing Pro Series was just kicking off.

Bowlin threw his hat back into the ring, after attempting the Pro Series back in 2017. Touting a bigger commitment to performing this iteration, Bowlin did not disappoint.

A seventh place effort at Daytona International Speedway and eighth place effort at Atlanta Motor Speedway paved the way for an eventual victory at Richmond Raceway in the third race of the season.

At Dover International Speedway, Bowlin went back to back for his second win on the season, and his run for the Pro Series title was on.

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Graham Bowlin (41) leads at Homestead-Miami Speedway on December 17th, 2019. Photo by Justin Melillo / TRE via iRacing.com.

In the final race of the season at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Bowlin got caught up in an incident, and couldn’t recover enough positions to claim the title. Ray Alfalla took the championship, while Bowlin came up three points short.

Regardless, Bowlin’s Pro Series effort put a lot of worth into his stock for the upcoming free agency period, and that resulted in getting picked up by Joe Gibbs Racing for the 2020 season.

For his rookie season, Bowlin plans to make waves and contend often.

“I want to be Top 10 in the points, and I want to go out and win at least one race,” Bowlin said.

 

***

The eNASCAR iRacing World Championship Series season begins at Daytona International Speedway on February 11th, 2020. The race is expected to be streamed live on iRacing’s Twitch stream, with the start time usually at 9:00 pm ET.

Look for ePreview #13 soon!

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Justin Melillo View All

Columnist / Reporter / Photographer / Webmaster for TheRacingExperts.com

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