For the next few weeks NASCAR has parked their cars and has shut down races. But the NASCAR community has found an alternative way to get their racing fix with the iRacing Pro Series Invitational – a virtual reality racing series – from Homestead-Miami Raceway.
Thirty five drivers from the Gander RV and Outdoors, Xfinity, and NASCAR Cup Series; along with the return of two retired drivers all climbed into their simulators for a 150 mile race.
Drivers use iRacing as a way to help them learn how to run on a specific track with its realistic features right down to the bumps on the track.
With Mike Joy, Jeff Gordon, and Larry McReynolds in the FOX studios and Clint Bowyer reporting from his iracing simulator to bring the first ever iRacing Pro Series race.
Drivers have simulators that run from only $200 to tens of thousands of dollars. With no fire suit and helmet needed, Denny Hamlin even noted that he was running the race in bare feet.
Like in real racing, there was a qualifying session with Garrett Smithley taking the pole and William Byron starting alongside on the front row.
With the stands full of virtual fans, Motor Racing Outreach Chaplin Billy Mauldin offers the pre race prayer, and singing from his garage Dillon Scott offers the National Anthem. There is even a command to start the engines.
Unlike the real cars, drivers have two chances to reset their cars after a crash and while there will be no crew members jumping over the wall, the drivers will make stops on pit road for fresh tires…and they have an unlimited supply of tires. There aren’t any crew members on pit road, but the cars are raised up as if the car was up on the jack.
IRacing Control has the cars set up identically, it will be up to the drivers to use their skill and strategy to run the race.
After the wave of the green flag, Garrett Smithley gets out in front initially but iRacing champion William Byron passes Smithley and takes the lead.
The first caution flag of the race comes out on lap two when Anthony Alfredo and Austin Cindric make contact and spin out.
The green flag comes back out on lap eight with William Bryon leading the field.
Jimmie Johnson, Kurt Busch,Ryan Truex, and Justin Allgaier bring out the second caution flag of the race for a crash.
The green flag comes out on lap 19 with Denny Hamlin in front after taking only two tires during his pit stop. Hamlin was the only driver to take two tires.
Jimmie Johnson brings out the third caution flag of the race on lap 21 after getting in a crash with Ryan Preece that catches up several other drivers. Clint Bowyer had to use his reset button after the crash.
Jimmie Johnson and John Hunter Nemechek are laps down after having some computer issues.
The green flag comes out on lap 26 with Denny Hamlin getting out in front for the lead.
The fourth caution flag comes out on lap 28 for another crash involving Ross Chastain and Willaim Byron. After the crash, Dale Earnhardt Jr is in the lead with the virtual fans cheering him on.
The green flag comes out once again on lap 33 with Dale Jr in the lead.
Kurt Busch spins out and brings out the fifth caution flag on lap 39, Parker Kligerman, Kyle Busch, Chase Briscoe, and Denny Hamlin were also involved.
The green flag comes out on lap 43 with William Byron taking the lead.
Erik Jones spins out after making contact with Anthony Alfredo and brings out the sixth caution flag of the race on lap 44.
Larry McReynolds reports that among the 35 drivers on the track, there are 32 championships.
The green flag comes back out on lap 50 – half way – with William Byron taking the lead.
Timmy Hill and William Byron battle back and forth for the lead with Timmy Hill getting out in front. An avid iRacing driver, Timmy Hill has won over 600 iRaces.
The seventh caution flag comes out on lap 59 when Bubba Wallace and Chase Elliott make contact with Elliott spinning out. At nine green flag laps, it is the longest run of green flag laps so far.
The green flag comes out on lap 66 with Chase Brisco in the lead after not making a pit stop.
Pole sitter Garrett Smithley takes the lead on lap 68.
Alex Bowman brings out the caution flag on lap 69. Dale Earnhardt Jr, Kyle Busch, and William Byron were also involved.
The green flag comes out on lap 74 with Garrett Smithley in the lead.
The ninth caution flag of the race comes out on lap 77 after Michael McDowell and Ross Chastain made contact. Clint Bowyer and Ryan Preece were also involved.
The green flag comes out on lap 82 with Garrett Smithley getting out in front and Timmy Hill on his bumper.
With only 10 laps remaining in the race, Garrett Smithley is in the lead with Timmy Hill on his bumper; Dale Earnhardt Jr is in third and coming on.
Nine to go, Timmy Hill takes the lead; Dale Jr takes second.
Five to go, Dale Earnhardt Jr takes the lead but Denny Hamlin is coming on.
Dale Earnhardt takes the white flag but Denny Hamlin is challenging for the lead.
Denny Hamlin wins the race by a narrow margin after narrowly avoiding making contact with Earnhardt. With 10 laps remaining in the race, Hamlin was still outside the top 10.
This is Hamlin’s 35th iRacing win.
And what win isn’t complete without a burnout???
Hamlin pledged to donate $100 per lap led and $5,000 if he won to relief efforts for Floridians affected by the corona virus. Kevin Harvick and the NASCAR Foundation have promised to match the donation.
There were no stages, no points, and no big purse; but there was a lot of fun to be had by everyone involved.