The racing may have been virtual on Saturday afternoon, but the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series brought NASCAR fans back to a golden age of the sport with Saturday’s North Wilkesboro 160 at North Wilkesboro Speedway.
One of NASCAR’s most beloved tracks of yesteryear made its return, legendary drivers like Jeff Gordon and Bobby Labonte were running their most iconic paint schemes, and the fans got a bump and run for the win when Denny Hamlin moved Ross Chastain out of the way in the closing laps to cap off the seven-race invitational campaign with a win.
Hamlin opened the digital season with a photo finish victory over Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Homestead-Miami Speedway, and after two months of ups and downs (highlighted by his daughter turning off his monitor mid-race at Talladega) finally returned to the winner’s circle after running up front all day on the .625-mile oval.
The Joe Gibbs Racing driver led 24 laps, second to only Christopher Bell’s race-high 61, Ryan Preece’s 32 and Chastain’s 31. Cole Custer also spent time up front for 12 laps. Timmy Hill and Tyler Reddick also got around Chastain to finish second and third, while Austin Dillon completed the top five.
North Wilkesboro, which hasn’t seen a real-world NASCAR Cup Series race since 1996, was brought back to life in iRacing after Dale Earnhardt Jr. successfully lobbied to have the track scanned. The process began late last year after extensive cleanup efforts from Speedway Motorsports Inc. staff and a crew of volunteers.
The track was digitally restored to its condition in 1987 after an extensive research project, and will join a pair of vintage stock cars from that season, Bill Elliott’s Ford Thunderbird and Dale Earnhardt’s Chevrolet Monte Carlo, in iRacing’s June build.
The throwback track also inspired plenty of throwback paint schemes. Gordon made his second series start, driving his iconic Rainbow Warrior paint scheme that won the final North Wilkesboro race, while Labonte ran his 2000 NASCAR Cup Series title-winning scheme. Earnhardt Jr. and Jon Wood drove in cars that celebrated their families’ extensive racing heritages, while Richard Childress Racing ran a pair of Dale Earnhardt-inspired throwbacks, JJ Yeley paid tribute to Ken Schrader, Joey Gase celebrated team owner Rick Ware, and Hill’s car ran in homage to Phil Parsons.
Click here for full results from the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series North Wilkesboro 160.
The stars of the NASCAR Cup Series will get back on track on Sunday, May 17 at Darlington Speedway, with 400 miles of racing being shown live at 3:30PM ET on FOX. In addition, the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series returns to action this Tuesday at Charlotte Motor Speedway, streaming at 9PM ET at eNASCAR.com/live and on the iRacing eSports Network. For more information on iRacing and for special offers, visit www.iracing.com.
Perhaps most spectacular of all was Corey LaJoie’s literal mid-race brake pedal failure. While it’s a bummer for LaJoie, it’s better to get that one out of the way in iRacing than behind the wheel at Darlington Raceway next Sunday, when the NASCAR Cup Series returns to real on-track racing.
Jon Wood made his first NASCAR start since 2008, but he did so without audio thanks to a little help from the next generation of Woods. Whoops!
Wood Brothers Racing
So a quick update as to why I ran like absolute poop. @RileyEWood my 7yr old took the whole “DO NOT STREAM DURING THIS RACE” too literally. Bless his heart. He took every device (including my phone) and his them. I yelled for my phone back, killed my audio on the sim.
Wood Brothers Racing
Raced the whole time with no engine sounds. My spotter and CC were on Teamspeak and I was using my iPhone to talk to him. I could hear them but they couldn’t hear me. Hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life.
OK. We’re whispering now. Here’s what everybody else had to say.
What a job by @iRacing, @NASCAR, and @NASCARONFOX to make this #ProInvitationalSeries so great. As the series concludes, it’s crazy to refelect on what a movement this has been for sim racing. It’s going to continue to grow and evolve and I was sure proud to be a part of it!
As the #ProInvitationalSeries comes to a close, I reflect on the opportunities I’ve been presented with over the past couple of months. Working with many of @chadwheeler88‘s #WR1 clients and being atop the virtual box for @KevinHarvick the last few weeks has been awesome!