On most weekends during the 2022 season, Kaden Honeycutt found himself going up against many of the best short-track drivers in the southeastern United States as a regular competitor on the CARS Tour.
There wasn’t much time to rest in between those events for Honeycutt, who took part in his first season with RFK Racing’s eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series program after successfully qualifying through a Top 21 points finish in the eNASCAR Contender Series the year before.
Honeycutt has grown accustomed to the busy weekly routine. He said his time on the iRacing servers only bolstered his confidence on short tracks while also preparing him for the larger facilities on the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series schedule.
“Being on two different schedules wasn’t too hard,” Honeycutt said. “I was able to put in practice every night before going to bed throughout the season. Nothing conflicted with anything, and I was constantly able to turn laps while staying up to date, so that helped me out a lot.”
Honeycutt is among the growing list of drivers who have turned to iRacing for driver development in recent years. William Byron and Ty Majeski used the service to perfect their race crafts before embarking on their own successful careers. Others like Josh Berry, Timmy Hill and Parker Retzlaff have all competed in the eNASCAR iRacing Series since its inception in 2011.
Prior to joining the service, Honeycutt had heard testimonials from numerous drivers on how iRacing made them feel more comfortable at different types of tracks. It was not until Honeycutt started turning laps on iRacing servers that he gained an appreciation for how closely it resembled racing in real life.
By finding a rhythm at virtual versions of several southeast short tracks, Honeycutt managed to seamlessly transition into his first CARS Tour season without any major hang-ups. He tallied two victories and a second-place points finish during his rookie year before adding another victory in 2022.
For Honeycutt, iRacing also proved invaluable when it came time to make his drafting debut at Talladega Superspeedway in the Truck Series. With no real-life practice on which to lean, Honeycutt used his knowledge from iRacing to time his runs in the draft and avoid a handful of accidents during the closing laps.
Those efforts nearly rewarded Honeycutt with his first top-10 finish, which he later achieved in the Truck Series finale at Phoenix Raceway.
Honeycutt attributed most of his growth in 2022 to simply being around so many informed people at RFK, including his then teammate in Retzlaff. The two leaned on each other for advice throughout the season, which only made Honeycutt respect Retzlaff more as a driver.
“Parker and I were on the same setup,” Honeycutt said. “[Being with RFK] allowed us to build a solid friendship, and if I needed help with anything, he’d offer his input — and vice versa. There was some good correlation between us, and I’m happy to see him in [the Xfinity Series] this year with Jordan Anderson.”
While Retzlaff secured his full-time ride for 2023, Honeycutt’s immediate NASCAR future is not as coherent, as he currently has a part-time Truck Series deal with Roper Racing.
Despite the resources being invested into iRacing, Honeycutt believes the service is not quite at the point where it can be a true steppingstone toward advancing into one of NASCAR’s top three divisions without a driver heavily relying on funding.
Ray Alfalla, a three-time eNASCAR iRacing Series champion, shared Honeycutt’s sentiments about where iRacing currently stands regarding the developmental ladder. But he hopes changes are made in the future that are designed to provide more competitors like him an opportunity to test their skills in the real world.
“I think [iRacing] is on the way for sure, but real-world racing still requires a massive amount of money to participate,” Alfalla said. “That will always be the limiting factor. Having agreements with the top [iRacing] series to put their champions into development contracts would be probably a good way [to start].”
A long-time sim racing veteran, Alfalla needed until 2022 to finally make his real-world debut in racing. It came in the 100-lap Limited Late Model feature for the Fall Brawl at Hickory Motor Speedway.
Even though his race was prematurely cut short by a fuel pump failure, Alfalla was enamored to race at one of NASCAR’s historic tracks. He said his presence at Hickory is an indication of how sim racers are becoming more engrained with racing culture.
That chance for Alfalla was a culmination of several arduous-but-productive years by the staff at iRacing to provide users an ideal simulation of many prestigious tracks from around the world, along with an alternative for drivers in an industry growing more reliant on funded drivers.
With more notoriety coming toward iRacing and eSports in general every year, Alfalla does not see the service’s momentum slowing down any time soon. He’s optimistic its growth will lead to additional success stories like himself, Honeycutt, Majeski, Byron, Berry and others.
“iRacing has become more advanced with their technology as expected compared to 2008,” Alfalla said. “Sponsorship has also increased and there’s a lot more money to race for now than back then. I see it growing more as an eSport with more in-person LAN events with big prizes to win.
“It’s come a long way in 15 years, and it’s still growing.”
The lure of a big prize is a primary reason why Honeycutt has committed himself to the eNASCAR iRacing Series outside of fine-tuning his craft.
At the end of each season, the champion of the eNASCAR iRacing Series receives a paycheck of $100,000, which Honeycutt knows can be crucial toward helping him garner the funding and recognition to potentially earn a full-time ride somewhere in NASCAR.
Honeycutt has his work cut out for him to claim that prize, but he considers himself grateful to be a part of the series and hopes all his laps on the service keep translating into the real world.
“Everything is run well at iRacing,” Honeycutt said. “It’s hard for me [to make suggestions on how to improve things], so I just need to get on it and work on being consistent, which is why I do [the eNASCAR iRacing Series] competitively. I want to compete at a high level.”
Another busy year is ahead for Honeycutt as he balances out iRacing, the Truck Series and short track racing, but he remains more determined than ever to find success in every discipline and show he is capable of one day racing on Sundays.