After an invocation from the woods, a National Anthem from a garage, and a plethora of cautions, Denny Hamlin found himself in Victory Lane winning NASCAR’s first iRacing Pro Invitational.
Dale Jr. took the lead from Timmy Hill with 3 laps to go and looked to be on his way to winning Homestead and giving NASCAR/FOX/iRacing the biggest story in eRacing history. A hard-charging Denny Hamlin on fresher tires started picking off cars one by one until he got to Earnhardt’s bumper with about a lap and a half to go.
The Daytona 500 champ then went to the high side going into Turn 1 on the last lap. Earnhardt gave Hamlin the top while he continued to run the middle lane. Side by side down the back stretch storming into Turn 3, a lesser duo would have banged fenders. Coming off Turn 4 the two did tough and Earnhardt darted toward the inside wall. A nice save by Earnhardt with two hands on the wheel wasn’t enough as Denny Hamlin and his $40k sim rig went to Victory Lane.
Sunday’s iRacing Pro Invitational was a great escape for NASCAR fans. While it wasn’t “real” racing and the online realm won’t be replacing physical racing any time soon it was the perfect distraction while we face a pandemic. For nearly two hours on Sunday we didn’t think about COVID-19. Unless you’re in Ohio where our Governor announced a 2-week lockdown at 2 P.M. Trying to watch a race and figure out if you can go into work the next day is certainly a first.
Regardless FOX brought us a sense of normalcy on Sunday. Hearing Jeff Gordon, Mike Joy and Larry Mac on the call was nice. They did a solid job calling the race, a first for both of them. Larry Mac had his trends of the race which was humorous considering this is the first time they’ve ever done this but you know, whatever.
Racing on a simulation also gave everyone a level playing field. Bobby Labonte came out of “retirement” to drive the #19 Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing. Kurt Busch, Jimmie Johnson, and Kyle Busch qualified in the last 5 spots putting a combined 10 championships at the tail end of the field. Garrett Smithley got the pole, Timmy Hill led late in the race. All in all it allowed everyone to get some screen time.
Hopefully, FOX/NASCAR/iRacing can make this happen again while we all sit inside and wait out this pandemic.
Stay inside, wash your hands, flatten the curve.
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