NASCAR drivers to compete in virtual race Sunday

Jeff Birchfield • Mar 22, 2020 at 11:00 AM

NASCAR is trying to fill the void of live Cup Series racing being postponed through May 3 with several current and recently retired drivers racing simulators Sunday at the virtual Homestead-Miami Speedway.

The NASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series Dixie Vodka 150 race will be broadcast 1:30 p.m. on FS1.

FOX Sports broadcasters Jeff Gordon, Mike Joy and Larry McReynolds will call the race. Homestead-Miami is where NASCAR’s three major series would have been competing this weekend.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., the 16-time Most Popular Driver, and 2020 Hall of Fame inductee Bobby Labonte will compete along with Cup Series champions Kyle Busch, Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski.

Other Cup drivers include: Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson and Clint Bowyer. There are 13 of the top 20 drivers in the NASCAR Cup Series standings entered along with rookie contenders Christopher Bell and John Hunter Nemechek.

It’s the second week in a row Earnhardt has competed in an iRacing event.

Penske Racing spotter Josh Williams won last week’s Replacements 100 at the simulated Atlanta Motor Speedway by holding off NASCAR Cup Series driver William Byron for the win. Earnhardt finished eighth, one spot ahead of Bubba Wallace.

Earnhardt later posted on his twitter account, “Not the real deal, but you won’t get much closer to reality than iRacing. Congrats to Josh. I didn’t think Willie could be beat.”

Drivers from the NASCAR Xfinity Series include Justin Allgaier, Harrison Burton, Chase Briscoe, Austin Cindric and Justin Haley. The NASCAR Truck Series is represented by Stewart Friesen, Ty Majeski, Ryan Truex and Jess Iwuji.

The race will be limited to 35 drivers. All entered NASCAR Cup Series regulars plus Earnhardt, Parker Kligerman and Labonte have been allotted positions in the lineup. On Sunday morning, a qualifying race across the group of Xfinity Series and Gander Trucks drivers will determine the remainder of the grid.

Experience varies with guys like Matt DiBenedetto, Byron and Earnhardt longtime veterans of iRacing. Byron, driver of the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, got his career started through virtual racing.

It will be the first official iRacing start for Clint Bowyer in a virtual NASCAR Cup Series race, although he has done it as a hobby. Bowyer, who will serve as an in-race commentator, is a team owner in the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series. He sees Sunday’s event as a needed diversion from the novel coronavirus pandemic.

“I don’t know if I will be able to keep up with all these young kids who do this all the time, so my goal is to have fun and keep the fans entertained on Sunday,” Bowyer said. “Everyone needs some entertainment right now. This puts a new perspective on life and, when it all comes back, we will appreciate everything much more.”

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