Barefoot Hamlin wins digital homestead as NASCAR races once more

CHARLOTTE, NC (AP) – The grandstands were full, Jimmie Johnson caused several wrecks, Denny Hamlin raced barefoot, and damaged cars were repaired with the push of a button – some virtual signs that NASCAR was sponsoring a rather unreal race.

NASCAR released the brakes on the real sports world suddenly stalled by the coronavirus and introduced the country to iRacing with some of the biggest sports stars. Hamlin, the three-time Daytona 500 winner, defeated Dale Earnhardt Jr. on Sunday at the virtual Homestead-Miami Speedway from the last corner and won the bizarre spectacle.

“So that the community, the racing community and the NASCAR drivers can get together on such short notice and get the drivers onto the track, everyone is buying up simulation rigs this week and last to prepare for the event and bring it all together I think it was definitely a success, ”said Hamlin.

“IRacing got involved and emailed everyone saying, ‘Hey, we’re thinking about this.’ NASCAR got involved, the TV got involved and said they were interested. But nobody really talked to the drivers about unifying and participating. It was all free will, and that’s exciting that you had full-time Cup people out there, who were ready to spend their time with it. ”

It was Hamlin’s 31st iRacing win, where it was discovered by Earnhardt long before he made it to NASCAR. Hamlin was instrumental in putting together Sunday’s RPG, which was broadcast live on Fox Sports 1 and featured by his regular team of Mike Joy and Hall of Famer Jeff Gordon.

NASCAR has suspended the race until at least May 9th, and with literally nothing else to do, the executives of the series and iRacing have put together the first eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series in about a week. The first event was held in Homestead, where NASCAR was scheduled to race on Sunday before COVID-19 brought the sport to a standstill.

This was a unique competition for most of the home viewers and ended with a well-known winner.

It could serve as a petri dish for other sports to try out the whole gamer thing. The classic games that are televised on weekends are getting old fast, and the networks are desperate for something fresh until the sport resumes.

The drivers immediately showed interest – even those with little to no simulator racing experience. Some rushed to buy “rigs” to join the field of 35 riders, and the social media show and tell of the setups provided fun preparation for the event.

Hamlin, who raced barefoot on an elaborate rig in the living room of his North Carolina home, announced earlier this week that he would donate $ 5,000 to COVID-19 families in Miami if he won the race, and Kevin Harvick said that he’d keep up with Hamlin’s promise. Hamlin also set quotas for the race and was instrumental in a group chat among participants.

Ranked as one of the best iRacers in the world, Truck Series driver Ty Majeski competed at a computer propped up by a steering wheel on a wooden desk. Kyle Larson said he spent $ 6,800 building his rig, while many of the lesser-known riders who use iRacing to improve their skills can build a setup for a few hundred dollars. All a competitor needs is a chair, computer, steering wheel, and pedals, but NASCAR’s superstars have spruced up a lot more to trick their simulators.

Hamlin estimated the cost of his rig at over $ 40,000 – but defended the price because his simulator had motion capabilities – and said better equipment made no difference. He also said he rode barefoot because “I like to feel the pedals”.

Seven-time NASCAR champion Johnson, who has practiced sports car and IndyCar racing on the simulator in his garage, competed against a rig that seemed better suited to one of those cars than his virtual # 48 Chevrolet. But Johnson proved early on as a less than elitist iRacer with a weird crash that made his car look like a ping pong ball off the wall and several other cars.

“I hope everyone enjoyed that today. I clearly have a lot to learn, ”said Johnson.

Among those Johnson met was Alex Bowman, Johnson’s teammate at Hendrick Motorsports and one of the highly rated computer racers. However, drivers can do a reset to fix the damage and continue.

“Don’t worry, my virtual crew did a quick fix and it’s as good as new. I also eat a non-encrustable one, ”Bowman tweeted after Johnson ruined him. “And yes, I still tweet and drive wrong.”

The drivers took the event seriously and took the opportunity to present their sponsor – Landon Cassill even signed a sponsor specifically for the event – and to satisfy the fans’ hunger for racing. Many recruited their real spotters and crew chiefs to help. Bowman’s real crew chief Greg Ives and spotter Kevin Hamlin watched the event from home in team jerseys and gave Bowman advice.

Many of the younger NASCAR drivers are world class iRacers and use the game to work on their craft. The iRacing game is as realistic as any professional sport due to the detailed details and precise reproduction of every NASCAR track. The venues are scanned with a laser scanner to capture the bumps and imperfections in the asphalt, as well as duplicating the grandstands, billboards and pit lane.

The race, called Dixie Vodka 150, lasted 100 laps around the virtual 1.5-mile homestead oval. Dixie Vodka said it would donate $ 10,000 to the NASCAR Foundation, which centralizes charity donations in the NASCAR industry to help those affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Professional iRacing drivers – NASCAR hosts a league – can create their own setups, but a fixed setup was installed for Sunday’s event.

The event gave NASCAR the opportunity to showcase its esports offering on live television while also providing entertainment at a time when most of the world is on lockdown due to fears of the spread of the coronavirus.

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