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Denny Hamlin bests Dale Earnhardt Jr and the field in eNASCAR Pro Invitational

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Off of Turn 4, Denny Hamlin held off Dale Earnhardt Jr. to win on Sunday at the virtual Homestead-Miami Speedway. Photo by Justin Melillo / TRE via iRacing.com.

THE VIRTUAL HOMESTEAD-MIAMI, Fla. — There was no NASCAR racing last weekend. Earlier in the week, NASCAR fans learned there would be no NASCAR racing until May, at the earliest.

In a time of uncertainty, but also an age where the technology exists, 35 of NASCAR’s past, present, and future stars took to the virtual banks of the Homestead-Miami Speedway for 100 laps of virtual racing, utilizing iRacing, broadcasted live on FOX Sports 1 by the usual crew of Mike Joy, Jeff Gordon, and Larry McReynolds.

They had a pre-race concert by Country musician Tim Dugger on NASCAR’s social media pages. The moments before the green had a prayer, anthem, and “grid walk”, or rather, just Michael Waltrip antagonizing Denny Hamlin with a taco.

Maybe Waltrip and the taco were good luck for Hamlin, as he was able to hold off Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and the rest of the field to take the virtual victory in the Dixie Vodka 150.

 

In a teleconference with NASCAR media post-race, Hamlin explained that the event, which spawned from the inability to go racing at the real tracks due to COVID-19, was something that no other sport can enjoy during the global pandemic.

Although NASCAR has its struggles at times, for the regular fan to go out and simulate a game-winning shot or game-winning pass, like iRacing has given them that platform,” Hamlin said via teleconference post-race. “There’s no other sport — like NBA players can’t go play NBA2K and put it on TV and make it look like the real thing. You can’t go play Madden and make it look like the real thing. There’s so much animation.

            “But iRacing’s platform, like we really — this is something that really can gain a lot of traction simply because it’s as real as it gets. I’m excited that this was just a first step and hopefully something that builds for years and years to come.”

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Denny Hamlin celebrated victory on Sunday at the virtual Homestead-Miami Speedway. Photo by Justin Melillo / TRE via iRacing.com.

Hamlin led 14 laps, and before the race, said that he would donate $100 for each lap led, and $5,000 for a race win, to families affected by the COVID-19 virus.

Both FOX Sports, as well as Kevin Harvick from Stewart-Haas Racing, matched Hamlin’s donation offer. Harvick did not race in the event.

Earnhardt, Jr. took the lead from Timmy Hill with five laps to go, as Earnhardt, Jr. had fresher virtual tires than Hill.

Hamlin, however, had even fresher tires than that, but had a larger distance to make up in the final stint of the race.

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The battle off the final corner on Sunday at the virtual Homestead-Miami Speedway. Photo by Justin Melillo / TRE via iRacing.com.

On the final lap, Earnhardt, Jr. protected the bottom, but allowed Hamlin to take away the top lane. Hamlin ran the corner perfectly, and pinched the No. 8 FilterTime Camaro of Earnhardt, Jr. off the final corner, taking the victory by 0.152 seconds.

“I think of guys like Timmy Hill and (Garrett) Smithley that run iRacing regularly, and think that, well, they’ve got more experience, but that is true, that certainly it’s going to be hard to find anyone in the field that has more — or whose experience dates back further than me and Dale Jr,” Hamlin said.

            “You’ve seen the story, he’s talked about it many times, that he actually saw me for the first time on NASCAR Racing 2003, which is kind of now iRacing, and thought I was good and invited me down to Daytona in 2004 to come stay with him for the weekend because I was just somebody he was interested in meeting.

“I was going through my late model career at the time. He ended up winning the Daytona 500, which was a cool experience for me. I’m down there that same weekend signing my contract with Joe Gibbs Racing as a development driver, and the rest is history. That’s what we did.”

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Garrett Smithley was the pole sitter on Sunday at the virtual Homestead-Miami Speedway. Photo by Justin Melillo / TRE via iRacing.com.

Garrett Smithley, who started on the pole position, led the second most laps at 24, while Hill led 13 of them.

Two guys who normally don’t run up front on Sunday, they were able to showcase their eNASCAR talents during the Dixie Vodka 150, a playground with virtually equal setting.

William Byron would lead the most laps on Sunday, with 28, but fell victim to a lack of “Fast Repairs” late in the event. When he was involved in the final incident with his teammate, Alex Bowman, his car could no longer be fixed immediately, and his day was over with a 34th place finish.

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Ross Chastain (6) gets virtual air after contact with Matt DiBenedetto (21) on Sunday at the virtual Homestead-Miami Speedway. Photo by Justin Melillo / TRE via iRacing.com.

40 drivers attempted to qualify for the event, and a 20 lap knockout qualifying race was held earlier in the day.

All 29 NASCAR Cup Series drivers entered were locked in, and the 11 NASCAR Xfinity Series and NASCAR Gander RV and Outdoors Truck Series drivers had to battle it out for the final six spots in the main event.

Ty Majeski, who has the highest (and second highest) iRating on the iRacing Service, was the winner of the qualifying event. Chase Briscoe, Anthony Alfredo, Ryan Truex, Justin Allgaier, and Austin Cindric rounded out the Top 6 advancement spots.

Jeffrey Earnhardt, Justin Haley, Jesse Iwuji, Myatt Snider, and Stewart Friesen did not make the main event.

Out of the 100 laps run on Sunday in the Dixie Vodka 150, there were 42 that were run under the yellow flag, the field slowing for caution on nine different occasions.

It’s unknown at this time where the next event will take place, and on what platform, but expect these NASCAR stars to show up on the iRacing service more frequently while the world stands still waiting for the COVID-19 pandemic to pass over.

SOURCES:
iRacing
NASCAR Media

RACE RESULTS:

  1. 11 – Denny Hamlin
  2. 8 – Dale Earnhardt Jr.
  3. 66 – Timmy Hill
  4. 98 – Chase Briscoe
  5. 51 – Garrett Smithley
  6. 88 – Alex Bowman
  7. 43 – Bubba Wallace
  8. 37 – Ryan Preece
  9. 45 – Ty Majeski
  10. 20 – Erik Jones
  11. 21 – Matt DiBenedetto
  12. 89 – Landon Cassill
  13. 77 – Parker Kligerman
  14. 6 – Ross Chastain
  15. 22 – Joey Logano
  16. 14 – Clint Bowyer
  17. 40 – Ryan Truex
  18. 19 – Bobby Labonte
  19. 13 – Ty Dillon
  20. 7 – Justin Allgaier
  21. 47 – Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
  22. 12 – Austin Cindric
  23. 34 – Michael McDowell
  24. 9 – Chase Elliott
  25. 2 – Brad Keselowski
  26. 95 – Christopher Bell
  27. 3 – Austin Dillon
  28. 17 – Chris Buescher
  29. 18 – Kyle Busch
  30. 38 – John Hunter Nemechek
  31. 48 – Jimmie Johnson
  32. 33 – Anthony Alfredo
  33. 42 – Kyle Larson
  34. 24 – William Byron
  35. 1 – Kurt Busch
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Justin Melillo View All

Columnist / Reporter / Photographer / Webmaster for TheRacingExperts.com

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