By JENNA FRYER
The Associated Press
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — William Byron showed he’s the sharpest gamer in NASCAR’s iRacing Series with his third victory in four events.
Byron passed Timmy Hill with seven laps remaining at virtual Dover International Speedway, where NASCAR was scheduled to actually race Sunday, to win yet again on the iRacing platform. The Hendrick Motorsports driver has consistently been the best of the NASCAR professionals in simulated racing.
Alex Bowman won last week at virtual Talladega Superspeedway, so Hendrick drivers have now won four consecutive iRacing events.
“I’ve enjoyed this iRacing Series, but I’m definitely ready to get going in my real car,” Byron said. “Racing anything, whether it’s a box car or anything with an engine, is going to give you confidence if you are winning.”
He said that in all his years using iRacing, he’s never been in such competitive events since NASCAR launched the invitational esports series after the stock car series was suspended March 13.
Denny Hamlin earned the pole in qualifying, but NASCAR successfully applied an invert — a glitch last week prevented the top 10 from flipping before the race began — so Ross Chastain cycled into the top starting spot.
Hamlin had his race ruined last week when his daughter accidentally turned his simulator screen off with a remote control she was holding as he was competing. He made sure to hide all remotes before Sunday’s race, but after an incident with John Hunter Nemechek, he seemed to be deliberately wrecked by Nemechek later in retaliation.
It brought out a late caution and a restart with nine laps remaining and Hill leading Byron at the green flag.
Byron didn’t need to use a bump-and-run — the move Hill used on Byron to win the virtual race at Texas Motor Speedway — and easily passed him on the inside with seven laps remaining.
Hill finished second and was shown at times racing with his cat on his steering wheel.
“William has done a great job through this iRacing invitational,” Hill said. “I just wish I could get another win. I’ve had such tremendous support from everyone in the racing community through this; this has been a blast and really brought us all together. We’ve really had a lot of fun racing all these races, but I can’t wait to get back and see everyone’s faces.”
NASCAR will complete its iRacing Series next Saturday at North Carolina’s deserted North Wilkesboro Speedway, a track last raced by the national series in 1996. Overgrown with weeds and clearly neglected, Dale Earnhardt Jr. last year led a group of volunteers in cleaning the speedway so it could be mapped for use in iRacing.
Although the simulated version of North Wilkesboro is not yet available to the public on the iRacing platform, it will be the virtual host for NASCAR’s finale. Then it’s back to the real thing for the stock car series, which plans to resume competition without spectators starting May 17 at Darlington Raceway in South Carolina.