FILE – William Byron crosses the finish line and wins the second of two NASCAR Daytona 500 qualifying races at Daytona International Speedway, Thursday, February , 2020, in Daytona Beach, Florida (AP Photo / Terry Renna)
CHARLOTTE, NC – William Byron led most of the rounds in NASCAR's first two virtual races and had nothing to show for his playing skills. The third time he won.
Byron easily won the iRacing event on Sunday at the virtual Bristol Motor Speedway, where NASCAR would have really raced before the coronavirus pandemic brought the sport to a standstill.
"Some things are different, but many things are similar and this is a racetrack that I have always enjoyed coming to," said Byron. "It's fun to put pressure on iRacing. I usually just do it to have fun and get better."
NASCAR changed format this week and started single-car qualifying to prepare the field for two 50-lap races. These heat races determined the starting order. Byron started from pole position and was never challenged.
The entertainment came again from the drivers, most of whom streamed their gaming experiences so fans could eavesdrop on the action and arguing. Clint Bowyer was the reporter in the race and delivered another fun performance.
"I have Bubbaed!" Bowyer shouted after Bubba Wallace got him out of line. "I really need a beer."
Wallace seemed "angry to finish the race" after the incident. "That's why I don't take this (crap) seriously. Take it easy," said Wallace in his game stream.
After the fans fooled him on Twitter, he laughed at how seriously some of iRacing take his answer.
"I ruined so many people a day by … quitting a video game," he wrote. "Bahaha. A video game. The fucking quarantine life is tough. “He also admitted that the anger had stopped in a second post.
Blue-Emu, one of Wallace's sponsors, apparently was not pleased. "Bye Bubba. We are interested in drivers, not slackers, ”said a tweet about the current pain reliever cream. The company added a second tweet that used the image of Donald Trump, who uttered his catchphrase "You're Fired" from "The Apprentice".
Seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson fired his spotter in less than 20 rounds after mistakenly telling him he was free of another car just to crash. Erik Jones had internet issues that caused him to miss qualifying, and Daniel Suarez was parked for the second week in a row, this time accompanied by Kyle Larson after the two got tangled on the track.
Suarez was not happy and complained that Larson should be disqualified like last week. "Incidentally, it was our 'racing event' that he pushed my apron … if this were real life, my Amigo would get his but kicked," he tweeted.
Hendrick Motorsports was the first team to actively involve their sponsors in the virtual race by hosting a live conference from Elliott and Alex Bowman with guests, who would normally visit drivers in a hospitality suite before the race got on the line.
Teams and drivers do everything they can to keep the sport moving as all incoming revenue is frozen. Landon Cassill signed a sponsor for his iRacing and left the Blue Emu logos prominently behind during the race. He also gave fans a tour of his borrowed rig in a plug to help the simulator company sell the setup.
iRacing was a savior for the motorsport industry – IndyCar started a series a week after NASCAR and the second race on Saturday was broadcast on NBC Sports – and the first two NASCAR television events both set eSports records. Last week, more than 1 million people watched Fox make the race available to its partners and also broadcast it nationally on its cable channel.
For Timmy Hill, last week's virtual race winner, the series suddenly unmasked him. Joyce Julius & Associates, which measures and analyzes all types of media, said Hill received only two mentions on TV when the race was suspended for four races in the season. The company found that he had 46 mentions during his victory race and found that "the Pro Invitational Series drivers who normally do not receive them are in the spotlight."
NASCAR broadcast a public announcement during the show with several top drivers thanking the frontline health care workers. The sanction agency has donated face shields made on the five 3D printers at its research center, and several other industry participants either make personal protective equipment or donate in some form.
Rita Wilson, who was recovering from the new corona virus together with husband Tom Hanks, sang the national anthem from her home in California. The call was made by 12-time Bristol winner Darrell Waltrip, and Rob Gronkowski and Mojo Rawley gave the drivers the order to start their (virtual) engines from WrestleMania.
The race was plagued by early warnings and drivers are given two resets to repair their wrecked cars. Because of all the crashes, iRacing officials made all restarts during the race in a single file to clean up the action. It received mixed reviews, as Parker Kligerman stated in his stream: “This changes everything. 2007 NASCAR, we're back, ”but Hill was less satisfied. Tired in traffic, he said: “It screwed everything up. We have a lot to do. "
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