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.
Really, everybody got in on the throwback action.
iRacing’s brand-new North Wilkesboro – available only to the Pro Invitational Series this week – put on a heck of a show. It seems not much has changed since the NASCAR Cup Series raced there.
And, just like days of old, it was an afternoon of attrition – and not just on the virtual track.
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.
And, speaking of Darlington, we may just have to keep an eye on Clint Bowyer, who has been keeping score, apparently.
While technically no official points were calculated, had NASCAR-style points been counted, Timmy Hill would be the Pro Invitational Series champion. Someone get this man an awards banquet!
Great run TimmyPhil! Thanks for running the paint scheme @TimmyHillRacer https://twitter.com/smd_racing/status/1259219156983074817 …SMD Racing@SMD_racing
Hard fought P2 for @TimmyHillRacer at North Wilkesboro Speedway today I’m the RoofClaim Bandit.
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.
Keep another eye on Brennan Poole, who may have made contact with everybody’s favorite and the reason we raced North Wilkesboro in the first place, Dale Earnhardt Jr.
In the end, the race went to Denny Hamlin, who also won this year’s Daytona 500 and Pro Invitational Series opener.
Ross Chastain wasn’t too pleased with Hamlin’s bump-and-run in the closing laps, paying the No. 11 a visit on the cool-down lap.
Here’s what everybody else had to say.
(Just keep it down, though, please! Baby’s sleeping.)
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!
Today we battled everything including the pace car. Had speed to be in the fight but just couldn’t get to the front #ProInvitationalSeries
Thank you @MikeConti5 and team!! Learning curve was steep with an old guy who had barley turned @iRacing on!!! https://twitter.com/mikeconti5/status/1259221172274761728 …MikeConti5@MikeConti5
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!
What a cool thing @iRacing @NASCAR @NASCARONFOX and all the drivers put together! Glad to go back real life racing, but this was fun. Hope everyone enjoyed! Congrats @dennyhamlin on the win and @TimmyHillRacer on the championship. #eSports #eNASCAR @RickWareRacing @GunBroker
I am now considering several full-time Cup crew chief offers.@RandallB14, you’re not safe. https://twitter.com/tylerreddick/status/1259219460373831683 …
What a fun race! Got into my groove halfway through with the help of @KazGrala and @Sloppy_Joe_YT! https://twitter.com/RCRracing/status/1259219046261800961 …
The Pro Invitational Series has been a ton of fun, both on and off the virtual track, but now it’s time to go real racing.